Israel should negotiate with Hamas, says former Mossad chief

Efraim HalevyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A former director of the Israeli covert-action agency Mossad, who helped forge a historic peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in the 1990s, has called for the Jewish state to negotiate with Palestinian group Hamas. Efraim Halevy, who directed the Mossad from 1998 to 2002, told American television network CNN on Tuesday that numerous radical groups in the Gaza Strip would be far more threatening to Israel’s security than Hamas. Speaking to CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, Halevy said that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, “is a very bad option” for Israel, but that the militant Sunni Islamist groups coming out of Syria and Iraq are “a lot worse” and posed a much more pertinent challenge to regional stability. He specifically mentioned the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, known as ISIS, which has emerged as the most powerful non-state actor in the region, saying that “ISIS has its tentacles in the Gaza Strip too”. Amanpour retorted that, by negotiating with Hamas, Israel would effectively legitimize the militant group. But Halevy said that, while it would be “politically inconvenient” for Israel to reach out to Hamas, the fact is that Tel Aviv has been negotiating with the Palestinian group “for years”. Even though Israel and Hamas insist on refusing to publicly acknowledge each other’s existence, in reality they have been negotiating with each other for a long time, he said. “We [presumably the Mossad] have had several rounds with Hamas in recent years, and the previous rounds ended up in agreements —arrangements, as it was called”, said the former Mossad chief. “But in effect”, he went on, “it was a negotiation between us and Hamas”. As an example, Halevy mentioned the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in 2006 in a cross-border raid by Hamas forces. He was released in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange agreement between the Palestinian group and Israel. In 2012, Halevy issued a public call for dialogue between Israel and Iran, saying that “the Iranians, in their heart of hearts, would like to get out of their conundrum”, referring to Tehran’s nuclear program. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #879

Mossad sealBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Israeli spy budget close to $2 billion. According to reports in the Israeli media, the 2014 budget for Israel’s secret services is 6.88 billion shekels, which amounts to US$1.97 billion). This figure represents an approximate increase of 4 percent compared to last year. The funds cover the operations of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, and the Mossad, which is the country’s external covert-action agency.
►►Australia and France sign intelligence accord. Australia has struck a second intelligence-sharing agreement in less than a week, this time with France, as fears rise about the Syrian civil war becoming a hub for home-grown terrorism. The two countries have agreed, among other things, to share intelligence on their respective citizens who have gone to Syria to fight in that country’s civil war. A week earlier, Canberra had signed a similar intelligence-sharing agreement with the government of Indonesia.
►►Nazi spy could have changed course of D-Day. Days before the Normandy landings, the Lisbon-based Nazi spy Paul Fidrmuc got wind of the final details of Operation Overlord and sent an urgent message to Berlin. The Allies were not planning to land in Calais, as the Nazis thought and where they had massed 200,000 soldiers. Instead, he wrote, “the preferred plan is around La Manche”. But his dispatch was ignored by his Berlin handlers.

Iran serious about nuclear deal, says senior Israeli intelligence official

Israel and IranBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Israeli intelligence official said on Monday that Iran appears to be genuinely interested in entering an agreement with world powers that would lead to the termination of its nuclear program. In November of 2013, Iran signed a Joint Plan of Action with six world powers in Geneva, Switzerland. Known as the Geneva interim agreement, the pact eases economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of the Iranian nuclear program. The Israeli government’s negative response to the agreement was headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister called the pact a “historic mistake”, which enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. Since that time, Tel Aviv has continued to criticize the governments of the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, known as P5+1, for signing the interim agreement with Tehran. On Monday, however, Israel’s senior intelligence analyst, Brigadier-General Itai Brun, told a conference near Tel Aviv that Iran has so far abided by the interim agreement and added that he was cautiously optimistic about the future of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. Brun was speaking at the Herzliya Conference, an annual gathering of senior Israeli political leaders, which typically serves as a public platform for articulation of Israel’s national policy on critical issues. Senior figures in Israel, including the President and Prime Minister, typically use their keynote addresses at the conference to set the tone for the future policies of their administration. Brig. Gen. Brun, 51, has led the research division of the Military Intelligence Directorate of the Israeli Defense Forces. His position is generally viewed as the second most senior within Israel’s military intelligence establishment. Brun’s address at the conference appeared to be deliberately designed to challenge Netanyahu’s skepticism of the Geneva interim agreement. He told conference participants that it was “very possible” that Iran and the P5+1 were “moving toward the signing of a permanent nuclear deal”. Read more of this post

Brussels Jewish museum shooting spree ‘could be tied to intelligence’

Shooting aftermathBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Belgian police investigating last weekend’s shooting spree at a Jewish heritage center in Brussels do not rule out the possibility that the attack may have been part of an intelligence operation directed against Israeli agents. The incident occurred on Saturday at the Musee Juif de Belgique, located in the heart of the Belgian capital. A man wearing a dark-colored jacket, baseball cap and sunglasses walked in the museum in broad daylight, pulled a Kalashnikov rifle out of a bag, and opened fire, killing three people. A fourth person remains in critical condition. Observers initially classified the shooting as an anti-Semitic attack. There is speculation, however, that the bloody assault may have been a targeted assassination that was part of a wider intelligence war between Israel, Iran, and Lebanese-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Several counterterrorism experts, including Claude Moniquet, Co-Director of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, have expressed the view that the shooter appeared to be a trained professional. Referring to publicly available surveillance footage of the shooting, Moniquet said that the perpetrator of the attack, who remains at large, behaved as “an unemotional murderer, someone who had already witnessed death and perhaps killed before”. Moniquet’s comments came shortly after an article by Amir Oren, military affairs correspondent for Israeli daily Ha’aretz, in which he suggested that the attack may have been an act of retaliation by Iranian or Hezbollah operatives, who have been engaged in a lengthy tit-for-tat war with Israeli intelligence since at least 2009. Oren noted that two of the victims of the attack, Emmanuel and Mira Riva , were civil service accountants who had spent years in government service. Read more of this post

US Secretary of Defense ‘not aware’ of Israel spying on America

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgChuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John Brennan
The supreme official of the United States Department of Defense has said he is “unaware of the facts” behind recent media reports that Israel is aggressively spying on America. Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator who assumed the leadership of the Pentagon in 2013, is on a three-day official visit to Israel, where he is scheduled to hold meetings with Israeli military and security officials. He was responding to a question posed by an Israeli reporter about allegations, made by American newsmagazine Newsweek on Tuesday, that Israel’s spies “have gone too far” in targeting American interests. In an article published in Newsweek last week, veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein quoted Congressional staffers as saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal secrets from the United States. According to Stein, that was reportedly relayed to US lawmakers in classified briefings on Capitol Hill by officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, as well as the National Counterintelligence Directorate. In a subsequent piece, Stein revealed that Israeli intelligence tried to spy on US Vice President Al Gore during an official state visit to Jerusalem 16 years ago. The effort was allegedly aborted after a US Secret Service agent caught an Israeli spy trying to enter the Vice President’s hotel room through a ceiling vent. But American officials have so far remained silent on the matter. When asked about it a press conference in Tel Aviv, Hagel said he had “heard of the report” but was “not aware of any facts that would substantiate the report”. He was standing beside Israel’s Minister of Defense, Moshe Yaalon, who also responded to the journalist’s question by reminding his audience that he served as Director of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate in the late 1990s. In that capacity, he said, he was “not allowed to spy in the United States whatsoever”. Read more of this post

Israel sends top intel official to US to complain about spy claims

Yuval SteinitzBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A senior Israeli intelligence official will be meeting with the head of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee today to complain about reports in the media that Israel spies aggressively on American targets. The Israeli government reacted angrily last week to claims by Newsweek magazine’s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein that Israeli spies were aggressively trying to steal American secrets. Stein quoted Congressional staffers saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal secrets from the United States. One staffer told Newsweek that Congress members had been briefed by American intelligence officials about Israeli espionage operations against the United States that were “very sobering [...], alarming, even terrifying”. The Israeli embassy in Washington reacted angrily to Newsweek’s revelations, condemning what it called “outrageous, false allegations [...] being directed against Israel”. Stein, however, did not back down. In a follow-up article published last Thursday, he quoted US intelligence officials and Congressional insiders who said Israel had been “caught carrying out aggressive espionage operations against American targets for decades”. The article included an allegation that Israeli intelligence tried to spy on US Vice President Al Gore during an official state visit to Jerusalem 16 years ago. The effort was allegedly aborted after a US Secret Service agent caught an Israeli spy trying to enter the Vice President’s hotel room through a ceiling vent. In other instances, Israeli intelligence operatives have allegedly tried to entice American officials visiting Israel with drugs and prostitutes. Stein reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, America’s primary counterintelligence agency, regularly summons Israeli diplomats stationed in Washington “for a scolding” after uncovering Israeli espionage operations on American soil. Such “scolding” sessions have taken place “dozens of times” since 9/11, says Stein, citing a former senior FBI official. Read more of this post

Israel reacts angrily to claims it spies on the United States

Embassy of Israel in Washington, DCBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of Israel has reacted angrily to claims in the press that its spies are aggressively trying to steal American secrets. Tel Aviv instructed its embassy in Washington, DC, to “strongly protest” allegations, made by American newsmagazine Newsweek on Tuesday, that Israel’s spies “have gone too far” in targeting American interests. In an article published in Newsweek Tuesday, veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein quoted Congressional staffers as saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal secrets from the United States. That was reportedly relayed to US lawmakers in classified briefings on Capitol Hill by officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, as well as the National Counterintelligence Directorate. At the closed-door briefings, members of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees were told that Israel’s espionage operations against US interests were both “unrivaled and unseemly” and had reached levels far higher than similar activities by other allied countries, such as Britain or Japan. One Congressional staffer told Stein that “no other country continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do”. Another staffer, who was present during one of the classified briefings, described the information given to lawmakers as “very sobering [...], alarming, even terrifying”. The Newsweek article reported that Tel Aviv’s main intelligence goal in America is to acquire inside information on US technical projects and industrial secrets. It added that this is done through Israel’s trade missions or through Israeli companies that work in collaboration with American firms. In other cases, Israeli intelligence operatives work directly out of the Israeli embassy in Washington. However, Aaron Sagui, a spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Washington, reacted angrily to Newsweek’s revelations, condemning what he called “outrageous, false allegations [that] are being directed against Israel”. He added that “Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period”. Read more of this post

Article sheds light on life of legendary Israeli spy Jacob Cohen

Jacob “Yakuba” CohenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Within the ranks of the Israeli intelligence community, Jacob “Yakuba” Cohen is considered a legend. An intelligence officer for the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad, and finally for Shin Bet, Cohen remains a deeply mysterious figure in the history of Israeli intelligence. Now a new article, published in Israel Defense magazine, which includes parts of a testimony Cohen allegedly gave to a close friend in the years before his death, sheds light on the life and times of one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic intelligence operatives. Cohen was born in 1924 in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood of central Jerusalem. His family, however, had Persian origins, and he spent most of his childhood fraternizing with the Arab populations of nearby neighborhoods and villages. In the late 1930s, Cohen joined the Haganah, a violent paramilitary force set up by nationalist Jews to resist the formation of the British Mandate for Palestine. Cohen eventually entered the ranks of the Palmach, a special-forces outfit of the Haganah, which also conducted intelligence operations. Cohen’s asset, which eventually made him a good fit for Israeli intelligence, was his ability to assimilate into Arab society. He spoke fluent Arabic and was able to observe Arab Muslim cultural conventions and religious practices, regularly attending Mosque services. Soon after the establishment of the state of Israel, Cohen assumed the cover of Jamil Mohammad Rushdi, a Syrian Arab, and moved to Lebanon, where he worked as a taxi driver, regularly transporting customers from Lebanese capital Beirut to Tripoli, Syria, and back. Israeli intelligence historians credit Cohen’s stint in Lebanon as having been instrumental in laying the infrastructure that enabled the eventual creation in Arab countries of Israeli intelligence networks consisting of long-term sleeper agents and other non-official-cover operatives. After Israel’s Sinai campaign of 1956, Cohen was tasked with interrogating thousands of Egyptian prisoners of war. Read more of this post

US denies it offered to release American who spied for Israel

Jonathan PollardBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
United States officials have denied reports in the Israeli media that Washington has offered to release an American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel. The Israel Army Radio, which is operated by the Israel Defense Forces, said on Wednesday that the administration of US President Barack Obama had offered to release Jonathan Jay Pollard, a former US Navy analyst who has so far served 28 years of a life sentence in a US prison, for spying on the US for Israel. Many in US counterintelligence consider Pollard, who acquired Israeli citizenship in 1995, one of the most damaging double spies in American history. But he is widely viewed as a hero in Israel, and many conservative Israelis, as well as pro-Israel Americans, are actively pressuring the US administration of President Barack Obama to release him. According to Israel Army Radio, the offer was placed on the negotiation table last week during Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Washington. Allegedly, the offer to release Pollard is part of an attempt by President Obama to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which have stalled in recent months. The original US-brokered talks between the two sides included an agreement by Israel to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in four separate groups. The first three groups were released in 2013; but Israel is currently refusing to release the fourth and final group, originally scheduled to be freed this month, arguing that the prisoners in that group are all Israeli citizens and have no connection to the Palestinian National Authority. According to Israel Army Radio, Washington has offered to release Pollard in return for Israel’s release of the last batch of Palestinian prisoners, providing that the Palestinian National Authority will then return to the negotiation table. Late on Wednesday, however, US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Washington had “no plans to release Jonathan Pollard”. Read more of this post

Analysis: The war between Israel and international arms smugglers

Sinai PeninsulaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The interception earlier this week of a civilian cargo vessel in the southern Red Sea by Israeli commandos has brought to light the ongoing war between weapons smugglers and the Israeli state. The vessel, named Klos-C, was seized by Israeli forces in international waters, over 1,000 miles away from Israel’s coast. Few observers were surprised by the location of the seizure, which took place in the waters between Eritrea and Sudan. Israeli security planners consider the East African country as a major link in the complex smuggling network that supplies goods and weapons to the Gaza Strip. Tel Aviv has long asserted that the smuggled weapons, which usually originate from Iran or Syria, are secretly carried from Port Sudan into Egypt before eventually ending up across the border into the Palestinian enclave that is controlled by militant group Hamas.

Regular readers of this blog will remember the October 2012 Israeli air attack on the outskirts of Sudanese capital Khartoum, which destroyed an alleged illicit weapons warehouse. In May of 2012, a missile attack in Port Sudan, which was also linked to Israel, killed Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, an eminent member of the Red Sea’s Ababda Bedouin tribe, whose members have a long history of smuggling weapons and goods to and from Sudan.

Read more of this post

Israeli reports accuse US of denying entry visas to Israeli spies

US Department of StateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed. However, many of them are now having their visa renewal applications rejected, or are made to wait “several weeks” before having their entry permits renewed by American consular staff. The paper quoted a “senior [Israeli] security expert”, who said he had been denied an entry visa to the US this past January, for the first time in his career, despite having visited the US numerous times in the past “without trouble”. He told Maariv that he had “traveled to the US dozens of times in the past for my job and never faced issues getting a visa” on time. Read more of this post

Are Israeli arms merchants selling weapons to Iran?

F-4 aircraftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A leaked report by American and Greek investigators suggests that an intercepted shipment of military hardware intended for Iran probably originated in Israel. Greek broadsheet Kathimerini said on Sunday it had in its possession a copy of the classified report, which describes the interception of a large shipment of spare parts for military use. The parts are believed to have been intended for use by the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF). The shipment allegedly contained spare parts for F-4 Phantom aircraft, which were originally built in the United States in the 1960s for use by the US Navy. The Islamic Republic still maintains a sizable fleet of F-4s, which Iran bought from the US in the 1970s, when the two countries were close allies. But a US-imposed embargo on Iran, which has been in effect since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has prevented Tehran from easily acquiring spare parts for its aging fleet of F-4s. The Kathimerini report said that the intercepted shipment had been detected following a joint operation by the Greek Financial Crimes Squad and the US Department of Homeland Security. According to the paper, the secret operation began was underway in late 2012 and concluded in April of 2013. But the most shocking part of the report is that the illegal shipment appears to have originated from Binyamina-Giv’at Ada, a small Israeli town located 30 miles south of Haifa. Investigators said the illicit transfer had been facilitated via a Greek firm registered in the Athens district of Votanikos, called “Tassos Karras SA”, which appears to be a front company. Is it possible that Israeli arms merchants are supplying military spare parts to Iran? The Israeli government has refused comment on the case. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #867 (Syrian uprising edition)

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Al-Qaeda breaks link with Syrian militant group. Al-Qaeda’s general command said on Monday it had no links with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in an apparent attempt to reassert its authority over fragmented Islamist fighters in Syria’s civil war. The move is likely to bolster a rival Islamist group, the al-Nusra Front, as al Qaeda’s official proxy in Syria. The switch is seen as an attempt to redirect the Islamist effort towards unseating President Bashar al-Assad rather than waste resources in fighting other rebels.
►►Is Israel secretly working to target al-Qaeda in Syria? Reports already indicate that Israel is providing humanitarian aid for Syrians, but do these contacts also include intelligence and military cooperation against radical groups linked with al-Qaeda? And, if so, does this mean that Israel is assisting troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?
►►Australians ‘flocking to Syrian front line’. Some experts say there are more Australians journeying to Syria to participate in the ongoing conflict than any other Western nation. The number of Australians killed in Syria’s civil war is at least 15 —double the number previously reported. The claim comes from a prominent member of the country’s Syrian community. He says there is no shortage of Australian support for the Syrian rebels —and that that support is being grossly under-reported.

Israel jails Orthodox Jew who offered to spy for Iran

Neturei Karta membersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Israeli citizen, who belongs to an Orthodox anti-Zionist Jewish group that rejects the existence of the state of Israel, has been jailed for offering to spy for Iran. Yitzhak Bergel, 46, a father of eight, who resides in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood, is a member of the Neturei Karta —which translates in English as “Guardians of the City”. The Jewish group opposes Zionism —the belief that a state-sanctioned Jewish homeland ought to be created in the territory described as “Land of Israel” in Jewish scriptural texts. The group, which was founded in the 1930s and has thousands of adherents in Israel, the United States and Europe, is one of several branches of conservative Judaism whose members believe that Jews are forbidden by the Torah to create their own state before the coming of the Jewish Messiah. Its members therefore oppose the existence of the current state of Israel and favor its dismantling as a Jewish state. According to his indictment, Bergel, who became religious 20 years ago, traveled to the German capital Berlin in January of 2011, intent on contacting Iranian diplomats. He walked into the Iranian embassy there and offered to collect intelligence on Israel on behalf of Iran, in return for regular payments. Israeli government prosecutors said Bergel remained in contact with his Iranian handlers until his arrest last summer. According to court documents, Bergel pleaded guilty to charges of contacting foreign agents with intent to commit treason and attempting to aid an enemy of Israel. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #863

Carmi GillonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Al-Qaeda controls more Arab territory than ever before. Al-Qaeda currently controls territory that stretches more than 400 miles across the heart of the Middle East. Indeed, the group appears to control more territory in the Arab world than it has done at any time in its history. Its affiliates now control much of northern and northwestern Syria as well as some parts of eastern Syria, as well as much of Anbar province, which is around a third of Iraqi territory.
►►German diplomats survive shooting in Saudi Arabia. Two German diplomats survived a shooting attack on their car while on a visit to eastern Saudi Arabia on Monday, the state news agency SPA reported, but their vehicle was burned. In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that there was an incident during a drive out in the country. The car was shot at and it caught fire. There were no injuries. The embassy in Riyadh has launched an investigation”.
►►Israel’s ex-security chief flees Denmark to avoid arrest. Carmi Gillon, former director of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, who is also Israel’s former ambassador to Denmark, has left the Scandinavian country following a formal complaint accusing him of committing crimes of torture and brutality against Palestinian detainees. Gillon is reported to have left the country hastily to avoid being detained.

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