US ‘spied on Israeli prime minister’ during Iran nuclear talks

Netanyahu and ObamaAmerican intelligence agencies spied on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the negotiations between the United States and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, according to officials. Tehran entered a deal, referred to as ‘the Geneva pact’, following drawn-out negotiations with a group of nations that came to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The government of Israel, however, strongly criticized the negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu 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”. Israel’s strong reaction, which included open criticism of US President Barack Obama, caused some in the US to accuse Tel Aviv of trying to “manipulate American institutions”, while the White House did not hide its frustration with the Israeli leader.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal said in a leading article that the Obama administration spied systematically on Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom it suspected of actively trying to kill the Geneva pact. Citing interviews with “over two dozen past and present US officials”, The Journal claimed that the National Security Agency, America’s leading signals-intelligence collector, intercepted the communications between the Israeli prime minister and his senior advisors. The main purpose of the spy program was to find out whether the government of Israel was considering launching military strikes on Iran without first notifying Washington. Such a possibility was eventually ruled out. But in the process the NSA was able to listen in to private conversations between a number of senior Israeli government officials and American lawmakers. The latter were critical of the White House’s efforts to strike a deal with Iran, and were specifically asked by Israeli officials whether Israel could count on them to vote against the Geneva pact in Congress.

The NSA was also able to intercept conversations between Israeli leaders and American members of pro-Israel groups operating in the US. The newspaper implies that the Israeli leaders coached the Americans on how to campaign against the Geneva pact. Ironically, the NSA intercepts showed that Israel was itself spying on America in an effort to access inside information on the negotiations with Iran. The paper said that the Israelis would then regularly leak the information they acquired through espionage, in an effort to sabotage a possible deal. The Journal said it contacted the US National Security Council for a comment, and was told by a media representative that the US does “not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike”, said the spokesman, refusing to elaborate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2016 | Permalink

Speculation ends as Israeli prime minister appoints new Mossad chief

Yossi Cohen and Benjamin NetnayahuMonday brought an end to weeks of speculation in Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed the new director of the Mossad, the Jewish state’s national intelligence agency. At a hastily announced press conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he had chosen Yossi Cohen for the post. A 30-year veteran of the Mossad, Cohen left the intelligence agency in 2013 to chair Israel’s National Security Council and advise the prime minister. Cohen, 54, who has four children, grew up in Jerusalem and became a fighter pilot before joining the Mossad. He gradually rose through the ranks to become deputy director at the agency. Prior to that, he led for several years the Mossad’s Department of Collections, which handles operations officers around the world.

More recently, Cohen led the agency’s Political Action and Liaison Department, which is tasked with facilitating cooperation between the Mossad and foreign intelligence agencies. From that position, he witnessed the worsening relations between Israel and the United States, as Washington struck closer relations with Iran despite Tel Aviv’s strong objections. That unprecedented development sparked a fierce internal debate between the Israeli intelligence community and the executive. The debate culminated when the Mossad’s outgoing Director, Tamir Pardo, objected to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s hardline stance on Iran. In 2011, Pardo, who will be stepping down from his post in January after 5 years at the helm, opined that the Iranian nuclear program was not an existential threat to Israel and that the Jewish state should concentrate instead on its dispute with the Palestinians.

Cohen, who is one of Netanyahu’s most trusted advisers, is expected to bring the Mossad closer to the prime minister’s office. He was reputedly one several candidates for the post, and was chosen from a list that included the Mossad’s former Deputy Director Rami Ben-Barak —currently at the helm of Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence Affairs— and the agency’s second-in-command, who is known publicly only as “N”. Following Monday’s announcement by Netanyahu, which came after an unexplained hour-long delay, there were rumors of last-minute complications with Cohen’s appointment. But The Times of Israel quoted an unnamed “senior diplomatic official” as saying that there had been “no last minute drama [or] pressures” prior to Netanyahu’s announcement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 December 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: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/10/01-1712/

Ex-Mossad chief calls for ouster of Israeli prime minister

Meir DaganBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
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 | intelNews.org
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 | intelNews.org
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.

Mossad breaks with Israeli PM, cautions against new Iran sanctions

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has broken ranks with the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cautioning American members of Congress against imposing new sanctions on Iran. 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. But two members of the Republican-controlled Senate in the United States, Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, have voiced strong displeasure with what they see as the slow pace of progress in the talks. The two senators are co-sponsors of a proposed bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran if the Islamic Republic fails to make substantial progress toward the Geneva agreement by next June. US President Barack Obama opposes the bill, arguing that it would actually prompt Iran to accelerate its nuclear program, and has publicly said he would veto it. Meanwhile, his Secretary of State, John Kerry, quoted this week an Israeli intelligence official who allegedly told him that, if enacted, the Menendez-Kirk bill would “throw a grenade into the process”. It is no secret that the bill enjoys strong support from Netanyahu’s government. Last year, the Israeli Prime Minister called the Geneva 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”. Late on Wednesday, however, the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Mossad has been discreetly approaching US officials and politicians and cautioning them that the Menendez-Kirk bill would indeed torpedo the Geneva agreement. The news agency said that the Israeli intelligence agency has been warning American officials abroad and it recently contacted a US Congressional delegation visiting Israel. The Bloomberg report cited two unnamed “senior US officials”, one of whom told the news agency that “any bill that triggers sanctions [against Iran] would collapse the talks”. If confirmed, the Bloomberg allegations would mean that the Mossad, Israel’s principal intelligence agency, is sharply breaking ranks with the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu on Iran. The Bloomberg article further states that Senator Menendez has contacted Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, to complain about the actions of the Mossad, which, say critics, break diplomatic protocol.