Elite Hamas military commander reportedly defects to Israel

Kerem Shalom border crossingA senior member of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, is believed to have defected to Israel. News of the rumored defection first appeared on the website of Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank. On Tuesday, Al-Hayat said that the man, a member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, had not been seen for several days.

The alleged defector was later named as Bassam Mahmoud Baraka, and reportedly comes from a well-known family in Kahn Younis, on the southern sector of the Gaza Strip. Baraka’s father is believed to be a religious judge that serves in Gaza under Hamas’ jurisdiction. According to Al-Hayat, the missing man is an elite member of the al-Qassam Brigades and specializes in operating inside the numerous underground tunnels that are said to span the entirety of the Palestinian enclave. The tunnels are of strategic importance to Hamas, as they secretly connect it with the outside world, despite Israeli efforts to prevent the trafficking of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip. Some Israeli military officials believe that Hamas operatives are able to travel from one end of the Strip to the other without having to emerge from the ground. Since the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza, Tel Aviv has said that it views the elimination of Hamas’ vast underground tunnel network as a national security priority.

According to Palestinian websites, Baraka told members of his family that he was stepping out for a brief hike but never returned. He is believed to have voluntarily approached the border fence that separates Gaza from Israel and surrendered himself to a group of Israeli soldiers. Al-Hayat reports that Baraka’s family has already been informed from representatives of the Red Cross that he is in Israeli hands. Palestinian sources suggest that the Israeli soldiers that took in Baraka were aware of his pending defection and were waiting for him at the border. He was also reportedly carrying a laptop computer with him.

Israel is known to aggressively recruit informants in the Gaza Strip, many of them affiliated with Hamas. In 2010 it was revealed that Mosab Hassan Yousef, whose father is a senior Hamas official, was a secret informant for Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency. Yousef defected to Israel and is now believed to be living in the United States.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 15 June 2016 | Permalink

Ex-Mossad chief calls on Israel to speak with Hamas

Efraim HalevyA former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency has called on the Israeli government to reach out to Hamas, arguing that the Palestinian group is now ready to accept a peace settlement. Efraim Halevy directed the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, for five years before retiring in 2002. He is best known for helping forge a historic peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994, which made the Hashemite Kingdom the second Arab country, after Egypt, to sing a peace accord with the Jewish state.

Halevy was speaking last week at an annual conference hosted in New York by the Israel-based newspaper The Jerusalem Post. During a panel entitled “Does the World Have an Answer to Islamic Terror?”, Halevy said it was time for Israel to speak to Hamas about the possibility of a peace treaty. The former Mossad director said he knew that “senior figures in the United States” had already established contacts with the Palestinian militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip. He also said that he knew “with certainty” that the leadership of Hamas was prepared to consider some kind of a “temporary settlement” based on the promise of the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 Six-Day War borders. “The leadership of Hamas knows that they have no chance of destroying Israel”, said Halevy, adding that “now is the time to talk to Hamas”. According to the retired spy, a temporary settlement between Israel and Hamas that seeks to establish a Palestinian state would amount to a start in negotiations for a recognition of the state of Israel by Hamas. Halevy criticized Israel for refusing to speak with Hamas, saying that “as long as Israel refuses to talk with Hamas, and in the absence of any other alternative, [Hamas] has no option but to do what it does now”.

Last week was not the first time that Halevy has called for Israel to negotiate with Hamas. In July 2014, he told the American television network CNN that there were numerous radical groups in the Gaza Strip that were more threatening to Israel’s security than Hamas, not to mention Sunni Islamist groups like the Islamic State, which posed a much more pertinent challenge to regional stability. Two years earlier, n 2012, Halevy had 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.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 June 2016 | Permalink

Analysis: How does Israel recruit Palestinian informants in Gaza?

Erez border crossingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
According to human-rights organizations, the Palestinian group Hamas has executed over 50 alleged Israeli informants in the Gaza Strip. Nearly two dozen Gaza residents were accused of collaborating with Israel and summarily shot in the weeks following the recent war between Israel and Hamas. There are serious concerns over the absence of appropriate legal processes in these executions. The issue of legal standards aside, however, there is little question that Israeli intelligence agencies have for decades relied on Palestinian informants to gather information on Arab communities in Israel and the Occupied Territories. These individuals provide the Israeli intelligence establishment with human intelligence or plant technical surveillance equipment as instructed by their handlers. But how do Israeli intelligence agencies, including the Mossad and Shin Bet, recruit Palestinian informants in difficult-to-penetrate places such as the Gaza Strip?

Palestinians who have been personally wronged by Hamas, or who oppose the militant group’s seven-year rule in the Gaza Strip, constitute low-hanging fruit for Israeli recruiters. Other informants, such as petty-thieves and other small-time criminals, are recruited through traditional intelligence techniques that include entrapment or blackmail. But it would be reasonable to assume that most recruits are lured by direct cash payments. Unemployment in the Gaza Strip is currently estimated at 40 percent, which makes offers of cash extremely enticing for a significant segment of the Gazan population. One officer in the Shin Bet —Israel’s domestic intelligence agency— said recently in respect to the recruitment of informants that “everything starts and ends with money”.

Read more of this post

Mossad officer who saved Hamas leader’s life appeals for moderation

Mishka Ben DavidBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An Israeli intelligence operative, who in 1997 saved the life of the leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, has published a letter calling on Hamas to show moderation in the dispute with Israel. In 1997, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, like today, was Israel’s prime minister, authorized an ambitious operation to assassinate the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal. The operation was carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, which sent several of its members to Jordanian capital Amman, where Mashal was living at the time. On September 25, two Mossad assassins were waiting for Mashal to arrive at his office, ready to dispense a fast-acting poison in the form of an injection. But as the Hamas leader entered the premises, his young daughter called his name, causing him to turn his head in the opposite direction. As a result, the needle with the deadly poison landed on his ear, as opposed to his neck, and much of it was spilled. Mashal started yelling and before too long the two Mossad assassins had been captured alive by Hamas security guards. Mashal was then rushed to hospital and was about to die, when a furious King Hussein of Jordan contacted Tel Aviv with an ultimatum: either an antidote would be provided to save Mashal’s life, or the captured Mossad agents would be speedily tried and most likely sentenced to death by execution. The director of the Mossad operation then contacted a support officer, Mishka Ben-David, who was awaiting orders in an Amman hotel, and asked him to deliver a vial of antidote to a Jordanian security officer who would be waiting at the lobby of the hotel later that evening. Ben-David did as he was told and handed to the Jordanians the vial of antidote, which the Mossad had prepared in case one of their operatives was inadvertently injected with the poison. The antidote saved Mashal’s life and enabled him to continue to lead Hamas, the organization that is now in command of the Gaza Strip. Last week, Ben-David published an open letter addressed to Mashal, the man whose life he once saved, in which he calls on the Hamas strongman to stop taking his cues from “the most extreme side” of his organization. In a subsequent interview with British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, Ben-David said his intention in authoring the letter was to “appeal to the rational side of Khaled Mashal”, and urge him to “accept a compromise” in order to “end the war with Israel”. Read more of this post

Destroying Hamas won’t solve conflict, says top US Pentagon official

Lieutenant General Michael FlynnBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The most senior military intelligence official of the United States has warned that the destruction of Palestinian militant group Hamas will not solve, and might even intensify, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Hamas, otherwise known by its full name, Islamic Resistance Movement, was founded with Israeli help in 1987 to combat the power of its secular rival, Fatah. Since 2007, Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip, after winning most of the votes in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election. Fatah, which refused to hand over power to Hamas, now governs the West Bank. Israel has for many years accused Hamas for leading what it describes as the “rejectionist” camp of the Palestinian nationalist movement, by refusing to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state. The US is in broad agreement with its close ally Israel, and has designated Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization. On Saturday, however, the outgoing director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, warned Israeli officials that wiping out Hamas will not mean the end of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, and that the group’s demise will probably lead to a far more radical group taking its place. Lieut. Gen. Flynn was speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering of senior defense leaders in Aspen, Colorado. The top US military intelligence official told his audience that “if Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse”. He went on to add that the militant group’s place in Gaza would probably be replaced by “something like ISIS”. Lieut. Gen. Flynn was referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, known as ISIS, which has emerged from the Syrian Civil War as the most powerful non-state actor in the region. The group has already announced the creation of an Islamic State in territory under its control in the borderlands of Iraq and Syria. Lieut. Gen. Flynn was echoing similar views expressed earlier this month by former Israeli intelligence official Efraim Halevy, who directed Israel’s covert-action agency, Mossad, from 1998 to 2002. Speaking to American television network CNN, Halevy said that numerous radical groups in the Gaza Strip would be far more threatening to Israel’s security than Hamas. Read more of this post

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

US spy agencies probed job seekers with links to al-Qaeda

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One in five applicants for jobs in American intelligence agencies, who were rejected due to questionable backgrounds, were found to have connections with foreign intelligence or militant groups, including al-Qaeda.  This is revealed in an internal document provided to The Washington Post by American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), is currently living in Russia, where he has been granted political asylum. Last week, he gave The Post a top-secret document containing the 2012 budget summary for the US National Intelligence Program. Among other things, the document reveals that individuals with links to what the United States Intelligence Community terms “hostile intelligence”, or foreign terrorist organizations, have sought to obtain intelligence-related jobs in the US. According to the paper, roughly one out of every five job seekers at the CIA,  whose applications were rejected by the Agency due to suspicious backgrounds, had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections”. Such connections allegedly included links with Lebanese Hezbollah, Islamic Hamas, as well as various al-Qaeda affiliates, all of which are on the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The Post subsequently spoke to a CIA source who argued that the number of applicants found to have ties with militant groups was relatively small. The leaked document also mentions that the NSA has launched a major counterintelligence scheme aimed at uncovering “potentially suspicious or abnormal […] activity” among its employees. Read more of this post