Intelligence insiders see Israeli alliance with Gulf States as ‘biggest change in decades’

Marc PolymeropoulosIntelligence insiders, including a former senior Central Intelligence Agency operations officer who spent decades in the Middle East, have described the establishment of official relations between Israel and some Gulf States as “the biggest change in the region in decades”.

The former CIA official, Marc Polymeropoulos, who worked closely with both Israel and the Palestinians in his 26-year career, told SpyTalk’s Jeff Stein and Jonathan Broder that secret intelligence links between Israel and some Arab countries are nothing new. However, “this [new] overt alliance is the biggest change in the region in decades”, said Polymeropoulos. He added that these intelligence links will only deepen now that official diplomatic relations have been established between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

In their analysis, Stein and Broder explain that these historic developments in the Middle East were initially forged “in secret political interactions” facilitated in the intelligence domain. These were led by the Mossad, which has been tasked by the Israeli leadership with creating a regional alliance against Iran. These efforts have intensified in recent years, especially after the administration of United States Donald Trump annulled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, which effectively signaled the resumption of Tehran’s nuclear program.

The end of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the deepening polarization between Sunni and Shia populations in the Middle East, were the context in which the Israeli outreach to Arab states took shape. This context essentially convinced Arab leaders that their populations are sufficiently concerned about Iran to “stomach an alliance with Israel” Polymeropoulos told SpyTalk.

What’s next in this process? Stein and Broder suggest that Mossad officials will continue to reach out to their Arab counterparts, in secret, in the coming months, as part of Israel’s effort to build an alliance against Iran. These efforts will be crucially amplified by the White House, which recently sent US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Sudan in order to pressure the country’s new government to recognize Israel. In the meantime, say Stein and Broder, Mossad will become a lot more active in the Emirates and Bahrain.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 September 2020 | Permalink

Israel intel official says Bahrain and Oman could follow UAE in normalizing relations

Eli CohenIsrael’s minister of intelligence has said Bahrain and Oman could follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, following last week’s historic announcement. Israel said on Thursday that the UAE had agreed to establish formal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, in return for Israel’s pledge to cancel its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank. The agreement, which was sponsored by Washington, makes the UAE only the third Arab country to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm and skepticism, with some observers claiming it could reshape Middle East politics, and others warning it could bring Palestinian factions closer to Iran. But on Sunday, Eli Cohen, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and member of the country’s Security Cabinet, said the agreement between Israel and the UAE was likely to be the first of several similar deals. Speaking on Israel Army Radio, Cohen said that “additional agreements” would follow “in the wake of this agreement”, and that “Bahrain and Oman are definitely on the agenda”. The two Gulf countries are close allies of the United States and Saudi Arabia, which is one of Iran’s strongest regional rivals. In official statements issued on Thursday, Bahrain and Oman praised the normalization of relations between the UAE and Iran, but did not speak to whether they were contemplating following in the UAE’s footsteps. Meanwhile, the government of Kuwait said in an official statement last week that its position toward Israel remained unchanged, signaling that a change of status in its treatment of the Jewish state was not on the horizon.

Cohen also told Israel Army Radio that, in his assessment, “there is a chance that already in the coming year there will be [agreements between Israel and] Muslim countries in Africa […] chief among them Sudan”. In recent years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Omani and Sudanese leaders. The Israeli prime minister said last week he expected “more countries will be joining us in the peace circle”, adding that the Israel-UAE agreement signaled “a historic change which advances peace with the Arab world and will eventually advance a real, sober and secure peace with the Palestinians”. There are many critics of this view, especially among Netanyahu’s own voter base, which was highly supportive of his prior pledges that Israel would annex parts of the West Bank.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2020 | Permalink

Bahrain accuses Iran of ‘biological aggression’ as COVID-19 stirs Gulf tensions

Tehran IranA senior Bahraini cabinet minister on Thursday accused the Iranian government of ‘biological aggression’ for spreading COVID-19 to several other countries in the Gulf, a claim that Iran promptly rejected. The allegation refers to Iran’s customary practice of not stamping the passport of visitors from some Sunni-majority nations.

The practice aims to shield visitors from perceived discrimination upon their return to their Sunni-majority home countries. Several Sunni Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, have either criminalized or openly discourage trips to Iran by their Shi’a citizens. The latter are often viewed as suspicious or disloyal by their own governments. However, many of them continue to travel regularly to Iran in order to visit some of Shi’a Islam’s most revered pilgrimage sites.

Thousands of Shi’a pilgrims from predominantly Sunni nations have been repatriated to their home countries following the outbreak of COVID-19, which is also known as coronavirus. Earlier this week, Bahrain announced that at least 77 of its citizens, who were recently repatriated from Iran on government-supplied airplanes, tested positive for the disease. However, many others returned home from Iran on their own and are hesitant to tell local authorities that they have traveled to Iran, fearing discrimination or —in some cases— imprisonment. Since the passports of these individuals are not stamped with Iranian entry visas, local authorities have no way of telling whether they have recently traveled to Iran.

On Thursday, Bahrain’s Minister of Interior, General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla al-Khalifa, condemned Iran on Twitter for its “behavior, [which] has allowed the disease to travel abroad and put in danger our safety and health and that of others”. General al-Khalifa added that Iran’s behavior constituted “a form of biological aggression that is criminalized under international law”. But Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by rejecting the claim that the practice of not stamping passports was related to an intention by Tehran to spread the coronavirus to the Gulf region.

Bahrain’s accusation came less than a week after Saudi Arabia publicly chastised its citizens who have traveled to Iran and issued a reminder that traveling to Iran is considered a criminal act.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 March 2020 | Permalink

Saudi ex-spy director urges Gulf states to join Iran nuclear talks

Turki Al FaisalBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The influential former director of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency has urged Arab oil states to participate directly in the ongoing international negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. Nearly a decade of diplomatic deadlock on this contentious issue appeared to come to an end on November 24, when a preliminary deal was struck between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1. The group represents the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council —the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France— plus Germany. Under the deal, Tehran has provisionally agreed to limit the scope of its nuclear energy program in exchange for the P5+1 group of nations taking initiative to have certain economic sanctions on Iran lifted. Several Middle Eastern nations, including Israel and Iran’s primary energy rival, Saudi Arabia, initially dismissed the agreement, causing British foreign secretary William Hague to warn that critics of the deal should “confine their criticism to rhetoric”. On Sunday, however, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, said the kingdom should be among several Arab oil states that must have a seat at the table during the negotiations with Iran. Prince Turki, who is the youngest son of the late King Faisal, directed the kingdom’s intelligence agency, the Al Mukhabarat Al-A’amah, from 1979 until 2001, following which he briefly became ambassador to Britain and the United States. Speaking at the Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital on Sunday, the Prince urged that the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program should “not be limited to the P5+1”. Instead, he said, the Gulf Cooperation Council should be involved. He was referring to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (commonly referred to as GCC), a political and economic union of Arab oil states bordering the Persian Gulf, which is led by Saudi Arabia. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #730

Majid Jamali FashiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Iran executes man convicted of killing nuclear physicist. Iran on Tuesday hanged Majid Jamali Fashi, convicted of playing a key role in the 2010 murder of Iranian nuclear scientist Masoud Ali Mohammadi, and of spying for Israel. Mohammadi, a particle physics professor at Tehran University who was killed in a bomb attack outside his home in January 2010.
►►Bahrain sentences man accused of spying for Iran. Bahraini authorities accused the unnamed 47-year-old man of having leaked high-level information on Bahrain’s military, Interior Ministry and US Naval Base. He was allegedly paid more than BD27,000 on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard by two Iranians who lived in Kuwait. The two Iranians, who worked as diplomats in the Iranian Embassy in Kuwait, were convicted in absentia for selling military, industrial and economic information to Iran between 2002 and last April.
►►NSA declassifies document after publishing it. The National Security Agency last week invoked a rarely-used authority in order to declassify a secret document that was mistakenly posted on the NSA website with all of its classified passages intact. The article (.pdf) is a historical study entitled Maybe You Had to Be There: The SIGINT on Thirteen Soviet Shootdowns of US Reconnaissance Aircraft. It was written by Michael L. Peterson and was originally published in the classified journal Cryptologic Quarterly in 1993.

US resumes controversial weapons sale to Bahrain

Gulf Cooperation Council countriesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States has announced that it will resume a controversial weapons deal with the Kingdom of Bahrain, despite its government’s substandard human rights record, which has been internationally criticized in the context of the Arab Spring. The administration of President Barack Obama halted all weapons sales to the oil-rich Gulf state in September of 2011, nearly a year following the eruption of widespread popular protests in the Kingdom. On May 11, however, Washington announced that the weapons sale would go ahead after all, with the exception of some items that could be used against human rights protesters. According to The Christian Science Monitor, one of a handful of American news outlets that covered the story, US officials said that the decision to resume weapons sales to Bahrain was taken “in light of US national security interests”. The paper quotes an unnamed US government official who told reporters that Washington had given the go-ahead to the weapons sale in order to “help Bahrain maintain its external defense capabilities” against Iran. The regime in Bahrain has accused human rights activists of operating under the control of the Iranian government. The Monitor says that the resumption of US military aid to Bahrain has dealt a significant blow to the pro-democracy movement, and appears to have “incensed opposition activists”, who see it “as a signal that that the US supports Bahrain’s repression of opposition protests”. The article quotes one such activist, Mohammed al-Maskati, who describes the weapons deal as a “direct message [from the US] that we support the authorities and we don’t support democracy in Bahrain, we don’t support protesters in Bahrain”. Meanwhile, all eyes are in Saudi Arabia this week, as Arab Gulf leaders are meeting to discuss plans for forming a pan-Arab Gulf union. Read more of this post

Western companies help Bahrain spy on democracy activists

NSN Logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
While Western governments preach to the world about the benefits of democracy, Western companies supply some of the most detestable dictatorial regimes with surveillance technologies for use against pro-democracy activists. One example in point is the repressive government of Bahrain, which, according to Amnesty International, is responsible for some of the most extensive human rights violations anywhere in the Middle East. Bahrain is the kind of place where even medical professionals who treat people wounded by police or soldiers in demonstrations are charged with “incitement”. Despite the fervor of the pro-democracy movement that has risen as part of the Arab Spring, the oil-rich royal clique that rules the nation has managed a series of debilitating hits against the reformists. The success of the crackdown is largely due the use of sophisticated telecommunications surveillance systems that allow Bahraini authorities to spy on cell phones and social networking platforms used by members of the pro-democracy opposition. Who supplied the Bahraini dictators with this equipment? Step forward German engineering conglomerate Siemens AG, and Finnish multinational Nokia. An article published this week in Bloomberg’s Markets magazine, fingers the German company as the primary supplier of telecommunications surveillance systems to the Bahraini royals. The latter rely on contracts with Nokia’s Trovicor GmbH subsidiary to maintain the sophisticated software and hardware. Bloomberg says it was notified of the Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) partnership by two unnamed insiders, “whose positions at the companies gave them direct knowledge of the installations and the sale and maintenance contracts”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #346 (Iran spy ring edition)

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US Looks Away from Worsening Philippines Rights Record

Lumbera

Lumbera

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS and IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Just days after Filipino prizewinning poet and dramatist Bienvenido Lumbera caught a Naval Intelligence Security Force agent spying on him outside his home, another Filipino intellectual has come forward with allegations of government spying. Pedro “Jun” Cruz Reyes, professor of creative writing at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, said he has been the subject of surveillance investigations by government agents since 2006. Such incidents are not a new phenomenon in the Philippines. In 2005, the US State Department noted in its annual human rights report that the Philippines National Police was the country’s “worst abuser of human rights” and that government security elements often “sanction extrajudicial killings and vigilantism”. However, the report adds that these practices are utilized “as expedient means of fighting crime and terrorism”, which may explain why no discernable action has been taken by US authorities to prevent them. In an article published today in The Foreign Policy Journal we examine the recent record of US-Philippine relations. Continue reading at The Foreign Policy Journal

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