Israeli nuclear whistleblower recalls his 1986 capture by the Mossad

Mordechai VanunuIsraeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in prison for revealing the existence of Israel’s nuclear program, has spoken for the first time about his 1986abduction by the Mossad in Rome. Vanunu was an employee at Israel’s top-secret Negev Nuclear Research Center, located in the desert city of Dimona, which was used to develop the country’s nuclear arsenal. But he became a fervent opponent of nuclear proliferation and in 1986 fled to the United Kingdom, where he revealed the existence of the Israeli nuclear weapons program to the The Times of London. His action was in direct violation of the non-disclosure agreement he had signed with the government of Israel; moreover, it went against Israel’s official policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’, which means that the country refuses to confirm or deny that it maintains a nuclear weapons program.

Soon after Vanunu settled in London, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad began making plans to capture him. The spy agency sent one of its American-born female officers, Cheryl Bentov, to befriend Vanunu. The decision was taken after Mossad psychologists determined that Vanunu was lonely and longed for female companionship. Masquerading as an American tourist by the name of ‘Cindy’, Bentov convinced Vanunu to go with her on Vacation to Rome, Italy. Soon after the couple arrived in the Italian capital, Vanunu was abducted by a Mossad team who injected him with a paralyzing drug before taking him away in a van. Vanunu was then transferred onboard the INS Noga, an Israeli signals-intelligence ship masquerading as a merchant vessel, which transported him to Israel. He was convicted to 18 years in prison and was released in 2004, after having spent 11 years in solitary confinement.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 2 television showed excerpts of Vanunu’s first-ever interview to an Israeli media outlet. The interview, which is to be aired in full on Friday, includes Vanunu’s personal account of his capture by the Mossad. He told the interviewer that ‘Cindy’ first spoke to him as she walked alongside him while the two of them were crossing a London street. But he said that it was he who “initiated the relationship” with the woman posing as an American tourist. That was a critical moment in the whole process, said Vanunu, because “if she initiates you’ll suspect her”. The nuclear whistleblower insisted, however, that he did not “fall in love with her”, as some accounts of the Mossad operation have suggested, though he was “definitely attracted” to her, he said.

Vanunu added that the thought of ‘Cindy’ being a Mossad officer had initially crossed his mind; but he disregarded it and did not realize he was being tricked “until the very last moment”. He told Channel 2 that even after several days after his capture, he still believed that ‘Cindy’ had also been abducted. It was only later that he “reached the conclusion that she was part of the plan”, he said. At another point in the interview, Vanunu said that ‘Cindy’ was not the only Mossad officer who had tried to befriend him while he was in London, but that he was able to detect every other attempt by Israeli intelligence operatives.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 September 2015 | Permalink

New book by ex-Mossad officer examines Israel’s intelligence doctrine

Yossi AlpherYossi Alpher, a former Israeli intelligence officer, who was directly involved in numerous top-secret operations during his spy career, has published a new book that analyzes the overarching strategy behind Israel’s spy operations. Alpher served in Israeli Military Intelligence before joining the Mossad, where he served until 1980. Upon retiring from the Mossad, he joined Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, which he eventually directed. Throughout his career in intelligence, Alpher worked or liaised with every Israeli spy agency, including the Shin Bet –the country’s internal security service.

In Periphery: Israel’s Search for Middle East Allies, published this week by Rowman & Littlefield, Alpher examines Israel’s so-called ‘periphery doctrine’. This strategy was devised by Israel’s founder and first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, and formed the basic operational doctrine of the Mossad since the organization’s inception, in 1949. The strategy was based on forging deep operational ties between Israeli and non-Arab intelligence services in the Middle East and Africa, and then presenting these alliances as assets to the United States, so as to win Washington’s support. In pursuit of the periphery doctrine, Israel focused on strengthening ties with religious or ethnic minorities in the Middle East, including the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, and signed intelligence cooperation agreements with countries such as Iran, Turkey, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

According to Alpher, the most ambitious part of the periphery doctrine was the secret intelligence pact signed between Israel, Turkey and Iran. Known as C’lil in Israel, and as Trident in the United States, the agreement was struck in Ankara in 1958. Almost immediately after signing the treaty, senior Israeli officials contacted Washington and presented the secret pact between three American allies as a barrier against Soviet influence in the Middle East. Alpher says the Americans’ response was so enthusiastic, that the Central Intelligence Agency even agreed to fund the construction of a two-story building in a remote region of Israel, which served as C’lil/Trident’s headquarters. The building still exists today, says Alpher.

In another aspect of the periphery doctrine, the Mossad trained the bodyguards of senior Moroccan government officials and funded the science and technology division of the Moroccan intelligence services, almost in its entirety. In the book, Alpher reveals that Yitzhak Rabin visited Morocco incognito when he was prime minister, wearing a blond wig, in order to avoid being noticed by the press, diplomats or foreign spies. Alpher also discusses in unprecedented detail Operation ROTEV, a secret program implemented by the Mossad in the 1960s to arm the Yemeni royalists involved in the North Yemen Civil War. He told Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that he was personally tasked with inspecting Israeli weapons and ammunition destined for the Yemeni royalists, in order to ensure that they could not be traced back to Israel.

A number of Israeli authors, notably Shimon Shamir, professor emeritus of Middle East history at Tel Aviv University, have authored highly critical appraisals of the Mossad’s periphery doctrine, arguing that it prevented Israel from seeking peace with its Arab neighbors. Additionally, the periphery strategy prompted the Mossad to collaborate with several governments that Yedioth Ahronoth calls “dark regimes and terrible dictatorships, by actively supporting them and sometimes tipping the scales in their favor”. Alpher recognizes the ethical problems of the periphery doctrine; however, he remains supportive. The periphery doctrine allowed Israel to survive by giving it funds to develop weapons programs, which in turn allowed it to win two wars against Arab armies, he says.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 June 2015 | Permalink:

CIA chief paid secret visit to Israel ahead of Iran nuclear deal

John BrennanThe director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency visited Israel in secret last week to discuss the Jewish state’s refusal to endorse an emerging deal with Iran over its nuclear program. Citing “two senior Israeli officials”, the Tel Aviv-based Israeli newspaper Haaretz said on Tuesday that CIA Director John Brennan arrived in Israel last Thursday. Although he was officially hosted by Tamir Pardo, director of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Brennan used the opportunity to hold secret meetings with several senior Israeli officials, said Haaretz. Among them were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, as well as Major General Hartzl Halevi, who heads Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate.

According to Haaretz, Brennan’s visit to Israel had been planned “long ahead of time”, and should not be interpreted as a sudden diplomatic move from Washington. However, it came just weeks ahead of a deadline for a far-reaching settlement next month between Iran and six world powers over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. If successful, the much-heralded deal will mark the conclusion of ongoing negotiations between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Israel, however, has strongly criticized the negotiations, referred to as ‘the Geneva pact’. Last year, the Israeli Prime Minister called the pact a “historic mistake” that would enable “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”.

It is not known whether Brennan brought with him a message from US President Barack Obama addressed to the Israeli Prime Minister, said Haaretz. On Monday, just 72 hours after Brennan’s departure, another senior American official landed in Tel Aviv —openly this time. It was General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was hosted by his Israeli counterpart, General Gadi Eisenkot. Like Brennan before him, General Dempsey met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon. Haaretz contacted the CIA about Brennan’s secret visit to Israel, but an Agency spokesperson refused to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 June 2015 | Permalink:

Mossad allegedly behind arrest of ‘Hezbollah bomber’ in Cyprus

Larnaca police stationA team of officers from Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency were heading to Cyprus late yesterday to be briefed on the arrest of a dual Lebanese-Canadian citizen, who was found to be in possession of 67 thousand packages of ammonium nitrate. It is not yet clear whether the passports held by the 26-year-old man are genuine. Cypriot police said he used his Canadian passport to enter the Mediterranean island about a week ago. But he was arrested on Wednesday, after police found 420 boxes of ammonium nitrate in the house where he was staying. The boxes amount to nearly 2 tons of the highly flammable fertilizer. They were discovered in the basement of a house in a residential neighborhood of the city of Larnaca, on the southern coast of Cyprus.

On Monday, Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida said the Lebanese-Canadian man was arrested after Cypriot police were tipped off by the Mossad. The Kuwaiti newspaper, cited “exclusive sources from Israel” in saying that the 26-year-old is thought to be an operative of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Al-Jarida added that the man is thought to have contacted several Hezbollah operatives in recent months, and that he has even met Hezbollah’s reclusive leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Cypriot police are working on the assumption that the ammonium nitrate was going to be used to blow up the Israeli embassy on the island, or to attack Israeli tourists holidaying there. But he was stopped because the Israelis were able to monitor his phone calls to other Hezbollah operatives, said Al-Jarida.

The Kuwaiti newspaper’s claims appeared to be confirmed on Monday morning, as the alleged Hezbollah operative was brought under heavy police protection to the Larnaka District Court. The authorities then promptly admitted a request by the prosecutor to conduct the proceedings behind closed doors, due to “concerns pertaining to the national security of the state”. Meanwhile, a local Cypriot newspaper, the Famagusta Gazette, said a team of Mossad officers were on their way to the island to be briefed by the police and possibly speak to the detainee. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Israel’s Minister of Defense, Moshe Yaalon, said the house in Larnaka was a “Hezbollah hideout” that served as a safe house for the Shiite group’s “international terrorism network”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 June 2015 | Permalink:

Ex-Mossad chief calls for ouster of Israeli prime minister

A longtime former director of the intelligence agency Mossad has called for the ousting of the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dismissing him as dangerous for Israel’s security. Meir Dagan stepped down from his post as head of the Mossad in November of 2010, after leading the agency for over eight years —the longest tenure of any Mossad director in history. Soon after his retirement, Dagan emerged as a leading critic of the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom he accuses of endangering Israel’s security by wrecking its international reputation and isolating the country from its friends and allies around the world. In 2011, Dagan gave a lengthy interview in which he admonished calls by Netanyahu to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities as “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard. In a subsequent interview to Reuters news agency, Dagan insisted that the military option should be last on the table and said that the Iranian nuclear issue should be “left in the hands of the international community”.

Responding to the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial trip to the United States last week, Dagan said last week it had been destructive to Israel’s interests. Speaking on Israel’s Channel 2 television, the former spy chief did not deny that Iran’s nuclear program was a potential threat to Israel’s security, “but going to war with the US [over Iran] is not the way to stop it”, he said. Dagan’s supporters, who come mostly from the center-left of the Israeli political scene, accuse the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu of focusing almost exclusively on the Iranian nuclear program and neglecting the increasingly volatile relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Many Israeli left-of-center voters blame the Prime Minister for the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, which they say damaged Israel’s reputation and failed to provide a long-term solution to the lingering Palestinian issue.

Last weekend, the former Mossad chief was the keynote speaker at a rally against the Netanyahu administration that brought together nearly 40,000 people in Tel Aviv. He told the crowd that the prime minister’s policies were leading to an apartheid state in the Occupied Territories and was making Israel less safe. “For 45 years I have served this country, all of them dedicated to safeguarding its security”, said Dagan. “I don’t want that dream to disappear”, he added, at one point breaking down in tears. Many of the speakers at the rally also called on the Israeli government to refocus its policy priorities away from Iran and toward domestic social issues, including education, housing, healthcare, income levels in relation to the rising cost of living, and services for the elderly.

Israeli ex-military, intelligence leaders, join forces against Netanyahu

Sunday's press conference in IsraelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
Nearly 200 former senior officials in Israel’s intelligence and security services called a public press conference on Sunday and denounced the foreign policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, who has been in office since 2009, has spoken out repeatedly against attempts by the United States and other Western countries to improve relations with Iran. As his critics held the press conference, the Israeli prime minister was leaving Tel Aviv for a controversial trip to the US, where he is scheduled to speak before a joint session of Congress. He was invited by senior Republicans in Washington, who, like Netanyahu, are sharply critical of US President Barack Obama’s policy on Iran. Netanyahu is also expected to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is widely considered the most powerful arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the US. But President Obama has refused to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister, whose trip to DC is seen as an attempt by the Republican Party to subvert the US leader’s foreign-policy agenda on Iran.

On Sunday, notable figures from Israel’s military and intelligence establishment gathered at a press conference to deliver sharp criticism against Netanyahu’s controversial trip to Washington and to blast the Israeli leader for allegedly injuring the Jewish state’s relationship with America. Among the numerous speakers at the press conference was the decorated veteran of Israel’s 1973 war, Major General Amnon Reshef. He appealed to Netanyahu to scarp his trip to the US and stop criticizing the Obama Administration “before it is too late”. The rift between Washington and Tel Aviv “cannot be accepted”, said Reshef, as it poses “clear and present dangers to the very security of Israel”.

Another speaker at the event, former deputy director of the Mossad, Major General Amiram Levin, told reporters that it was not easy for him to criticize Netanyahu, who had served under him in the Israel Defense Forces. But the Israeli prime minister’s actions left him with no choice, he said. Instead of working with President Obama to resolve the dispute with Iran, Netanyahu had chosen to “go there and stick his thumb in his eye”, said Levin. Such actions, aside from offending Obama, damage Israel’s image in the US among Americans. The latter, even when they are friends of Israel, said Levin, “are Americans first and foremost”. The former Mossad official concluded by saying that, without the strong support of Washington, Israel would be “far weaker strategically” and would allow Iran to get closer to building a nuclear arsenal.

A spokesman for the Likud party, which backs Prime Minister Netanyahu, dismissed the press conference as “a propaganda vehicle of the left”, whose campaign “is funded with millions of American dollars originating from left-wing circles abroad”.

Mossad saw pause in Iran nuke program in 2012, leaked file shows

Benjamin NetanyahuBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
A file leaked to the media on Monday shows that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad differed from the Israeli leadership’s position that Iran was advancing its nuclear weapons program in 2012. In September of that year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations in New York with a dramatic plea to help stop the Iranian nuclear program before it was too late. Holding a diagram showing a bomb about to explode, the Israeli leader urged UN member states to “draw a clear red line” forbidding the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons in less than two years’ time, as it was poised to do, he said.

But a report drafted by the Mossad just weeks after Netanyahu’s UN address, said that Iran appeared to have stopped pursuing activities that were necessary to building a nuclear arsenal. The report was produced by the Mossad and distributed to a number of allied intelligence agencies around the world, including those of South Africa, from where it was presumably leaked to the media. British quality broadsheet The Guardian, which published the report, said it was able to “independently authenticate” the report, and added that it clearly went against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assessment about the Iranian nuclear program. The top-secret document, which was communicated to the South Africans by the Mossad in late October of 2012, was also published by Qatar-based news agency Al Jazeera. It states that Iran did “not appear to be ready to enrich [uranium] to higher levels” and was thus “not performing the activity necessary to produce [nuclear] weapons”. According to The Guardian, the content of the Mossad communique is “in stark contrast to the alarmist tone set by Netanyahu” in his September 2012 address before the UN.

If the leaked document is genuine, it would appear to confirm previous indications of a difference of opinion on the matter of Iran’s nuclear program between Israel’s political leadership and its intelligence community. In January of this year, the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Mossad had been discreetly approaching US officials and politicians in order to raise support for a pending agreement between Iran, the United States and other countries, which would ease economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of its nuclear program. According to Bloomberg, the Mossad appeared to be acting behind the back of the Israeli prime minister, who has blasted the agreement as a “historic mistake” that enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. But in contrast to the Israeli leader, the Mossad appears to have urged American officials to support the agreement, saying that any move “that triggers [further] sanctions [against Iran] would collapse the talks” between Tehran and Washington, something which Israeli intelligence officials do not wish to see.


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