Israel revises intel-sharing rules with US, after alleged disclosure to Russians

Donald Trump and Benjamin NetanyahuAuthorities in Israel have revised their intelligence-sharing protocols with the American government after it became known that United States President Donald Trump inadvertently exposed Israeli secrets to Russia. The alleged exposure of Israeli secrets came earlier this month, during a meeting between Mr. Trump and a delegation of Russian government officials, which included Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, Moscow’s Ambassador to Washington.

During the meeting, the US President allegedly gave the two Russians details about plans by the Islamic State to smuggle explosives onboard airplanes, by hiding them inside laptop computers. However, according to reports in the American press, the information shared by Mr. Trump originated from Israel, which had voluntarily shared it with US intelligence. What is more, Tel Aviv had not authorized Washington to share the precise details behind this intelligence with other countries. Some reports in the US media suggest that Mr. Trump shared the Israeli-derived intelligence with the Russians in such a way as to expose ‘sources and methods’ —that is, the most sensitive aspects of the intelligence business, which intelligence agencies typically never disclose to adversaries. Additionally, even though the US president claims he never disclosed the source of the information, American media reports suggest that the Russians could easily determine that it came from Israel.

Israeli sources allegedly complained strongly to Washington, claiming that the intelligence shared by the US president “had put an [Israeli] agent’s life in peril”. Tel Aviv’s reaction appears to have been swift. On Wednesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in an interview that Tel Aviv promptly “did our checks” and “clarified [things] with our friends in the United States”. Speaking to Israel Army Radio, the official radio station of the Israel Defense Forces, Mr. Liberman said that Israel had done “a spot repair”, prompting the Voice of America to claim that the Jewish state had altered its intelligence-sharing methods with the US. Liberman was asked by the Israel Army Radio to clarify, but refused to specify what changes had been made in the Israel-US intelligence-sharing arrangements. He only added that “there is [now] unprecedented intelligence cooperation with the United States”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 May 2017 | Permalink

Advertisements

Israeli spy agencies’ budget has doubled in ten years

Yossi CohenThe combined budget of the two primary intelligence agencies of Israel, the Mossad and the Shin Bet, has doubled in the past decade, according to a report issued by the Israeli Ministry of Finance. Shin Bet is Israel’s domestic intelligence service, and is primarily responsible for counterterrorism and counterintelligence. The Mossad is Israel’s primary intelligence service, which means that it collects intelligence from foreign targets. The secretive agency also conducts covert and clandestine operations when authorized to do so by Israel’s government. The two agencies tend to work together with varying degrees of succces, but have distinct budgets.

Last week saw a rare instance of the release of a government report on the finances of these two agencies, which tend to shy away from discussing details about their financial scope. The information was included in a larger report about the Israeli government budget for 2018. The Finance Ministry report said that the 2018 budget for the Shin Bet and the Mossad will reach 8.6 billion shekels in the coming year. That amounts to approximately $2.5 billion. The ministry report noted that the budget for the two spy agencies has increased by just under 10 percent since last year. The same budget for 2017 was 7.8 billion shekels. That represented an increase of 300 million shekels from the 2016 budget.

Observers noted, however, that, although seemingly incremental, Israel’s spy budget for the Shin Bet and the Mossad appears to have doubled in just a decade. In 2006, under the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the combined Shin Bet/Mossad annual budget was below 4.5 billion shekels. By 2009, when Olmert was succeeded by Benjamin Netanyahu, the budget for the Shin Bet and the Mossad had reached 5.3 billion shekels. But Netanyahu, who promotes his image as a big believer in the capabilities of the Israeli intelligence community, presided over large budgetary increases for the Shin Bet and the Mossad alike. During his presidency, the Israeli intelligence community has seen near-unprecedented rates of growth in both its size and wealth.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 May 2017 | Permalink

Sophistication of Hamas official’s killing points to Mossad, say sources

Mazen FaqhaThe sophistication behind the killing of a senior Hamas official, who was assassinated in his home in the Gaza Strip on Friday evening, points almost certainly to Israel, according to observers. Mazen Faqha, 38, helped plan several lethal operations by the Palestinian militant group, including a 2002 suicide bombing that killed nine and wounded over 50. Following an extensive manhunt, Israeli authorities arrested Faqha in the West Bank and in 2003 convicted him to nine life sentences. But in 2011, Faqha was among 1,027 Palestinian and Arab-Israeli prisoners that Israel released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, who was held prisoner by Hamas. Since that time, Faqha had lived in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave that has been under strict Israeli blockade since 2006.

Last Friday, March 24, Faqha was found dead inside the garage of his apartment block in Tel el-Hawa, a densely populated neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City. Initial reports stated that the Hamas official had been shot dead by a team of assailants outside his home. But subsequent accounts revealed that several gunmen were waiting for Faqha inside the car garage located on the bottom floor of the building that houses his apartment. It now appears that the assailants had been hiding in the garage for several hours before Faqha entered it with his car. Minutes earlier, his wife and young daughter had exited the car and made their way to the front door of their apartment. As soon as Faqha drove his car to the garage and closed the garage’s electric door, the gunmen shot him four times in the head from point-blank range and vanished. There was hardly a sound, because the assailants used weapons equipped with silencers. Faqha’s body was not discovered until 7:30 in the evening, a full 90 minutes after he was shot dead. His wife apparently thought that he was talking to their neighbors.

Investigators who are looking into Faqha’s murder say that his killers were intimately familiar with the architectural details of the apartment building where he lived, and had studied his daily routine. They also made sure to leave no traces behind. Consequently, their identity remains a mystery despite the presence of security cameras around the building. Hamas security officials say they believe that Faqha’s killers entered and exited the Gaza Strip by boat. The Palestinian militant group lost little time in blaming the murder on the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, which has targeted several Hamas officials for assassination in the past. Khalil al-Haya, Hamas’ second-in-command in the Gaza Strip said that Israel was the only beneficiary of Faqha’s demise. Khaled Mashal, who chairs Hamas’ Political Bureau, said Israel had “changed the rules of the game” by killing Faqha, adding that Hamas would “accept the challenge”. There has been no official comment from Israel in regards to Faqha’s killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 March 2017 | Permalink | Research credit: SF

Israel’s chief of staff says Hezbollah killed its own commander in Syria

Mustafa Amine BadreddineAn Israeli military official has repeated claims in the Arab media that the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah killed its own military commander in Syria, following a dispute with Iran. Mustafa Amine Badreddine, 55, an expert in explosives and former bomb-maker, was a senior military commander in the military wing of Hezbollah. He rose through the ranks of the organization to become a trusted adviser to Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah. In 2011, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up by the United Nations, charged Badreddine with organizing the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri was killed with over 20 other people in a massive bomb blast in Beirut, in February of 2005.

Soon after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, the leadership of Hezbollah dispatched Badreddine to the Syrian capital Damascus. His stated mission was to command thousands of Hezbollah troops, who fought under Iranian guidance in support of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But on May 13, 2016, Badreddine was reportedly killed in Damascus, causing observers to describe his death as the biggest setback for the Shiite militant group since the 2008 assassination of its leading commander, Imad Mughniyeh. Initial reports in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese media suggested that Badreddine might have been killed in an Israeli air attack. But a press statement issued later by Hezbollah said the commander had been killed as a result of an armed attack by Sunni rebels. However, on March 8 of this year, the Saudi-owned pan-Arab television network al-Arabiya said it had conducted its own investigation into Badreddine’s death, and had concluded that he was killed by Hezbollah itself. The network claimed that Hezbollah’s Secretary General Nasrallah had ordered Badreddine’s killing, after the Iranians demanded it. Apparently the Iranians wanted him killed because he disputed the authority of Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who is often credited with having saved the Syrian government from demise during the Civil War.

The claim that Badreddine was killed by Hezbollah was echoed on Tuesday by Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Speaking to the Associated Press, Lt Gen Eisenkot said that reports from Arab media that Badreddine was killed by his own forces agreed “with intelligence we have”, referring to the Israeli military. It is worth noting that Israeli officials rarely comment on intelligence operations, including assassination operations, choosing instead to adhere to a “refuse to confirm or deny” policy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 March 2017 | Permalink

Lebanon claims arrests of five Israeli spies holding third country passports

GDGS LebanonThe security services of Lebanon announced on Wednesday that they had arrested five foreign nationals who were allegedly spying of Israel. A brief statement issued by Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security (GDGS, also known as the General Security Directorate) said the five individuals were members of a “spy ring” set up by the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. The five —three men and two women— are accused of contacting Israeli embassies in countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, with the aim of passing information about domestic Lebanese affairs.

The statement from the GDGS said the alleged spy ring consisted of two male holders of Lebanese passports, a Palestinian Arab man (passport not specified), and two women with Nepalese passports. It said that the five foreigners were interrogated and “confessed to the charges”, which include “spying for Israeli embassies abroad”. According to articles in the Lebanese media, the members of the alleged spy ring admitted that they had dialed telephone numbers that were operated by the embassies of Israel in: Amman, Jordan; Ankara, Turkey; London, United Kingdom; and Kathmandu, Nepal. The reports state that the five foreigners said the reason they contacted the Israeli embassies was to “pass on information”, but no specifics were offered.

According to An Nahar, Lebanon’s leading daily newspaper, the two Nepalese women had been tasked with recruiting other Nepalese women working in Israel as maids or nannies. The recruits were allegedly instructed to call telephone numbers belonging to Israel’s embassy in Nepal and share information about their employers’ activities. No information has been given about the identity and occupation of those who employed the domestic workers. The GDGS statement said that the agency was seeking to arrest “the rest of the culprits”, but did not specify whether these were members of the same alleged spy ring.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 January 2017 | Permalink

Israeli officials were advised not to share intelligence with Trump’s White House

Donald TrumpAmerican intelligence officials allegedly warned their Israeli counterparts not to share intelligence with Washington once Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. The reason was that, according to the US officials, there was no guarantee that the intelligence would not be leaked to Russia. There was also the danger, they claimed, that the compromised intelligence would end up in the hands of Russia’s ally Iran, a regional adversary of Israel. The claim was made on Thursday by Ronen Bergman, senior political and military analyst for Israel’s largest-circulation daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.

According to Bergman, the American intelligence officials spoke in depth with their Israeli counterparts during a recent meeting between the two sides. He did not give details about the time and location of the meeting, so as “to protect the sources of the report”, he said. During the meeting, the US officials allegedly “voiced despair” over Trump’s electoral victory and his apparently poor relationship with the US Intelligence Community. They also suggested that Israeli intelligence officials should “be careful” when sharing intelligence with the White House or the US National Security Council, which is chaired by the president. The reason was that the intelligence —including sources and methods— might end up in the hands of the Kremlin, they said, and from there to Israel’s regional adversaries, such as Iran —and presumably Syria, though Bergman does not mention that.

The American officials further recommended that the Israelis wait until a clearer picture emerges of the alleged connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. It was also implied during the meeting that Trump may be subject to blackmail by Moscow and forced to reveal sensitive information relating to America and its allies, including Israel. According to Bergman, the Israelis are concerned about the Trump-Russia controversy and there are even some in Tel Aviv who raise fears of exposure of information given to the US by the Israeli intelligence community “over the past 15 years”. There has been no comment on the subject from Israel or Trump’s transition team.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 January 2017 | Permalink

Israeli military says Hamas lured its soldiers using online profiles of women

Cellular telephoneThe Israel Defense Forces told a press conference on Wednesday that hackers belonging to the Palestinian militant group Hamas lured Israeli soldiers by posing as young women online. Wednesday’s press conference was led by an IDF spokesman who requested to remain anonymous, as is often the case with the Israeli military. He told reporters that the hackers used carefully crafted online profiles of real Israeli women, whose personal details and photographs were expropriated from their publicly available social media profiles. The hackers then made contact with members of the IDF and struck conversations with them that in many cases became intimate over time. At various times in the process, the hackers would send the Israeli soldiers photographs of the women, which were copied from the women’s online public profiles.

The anonymous IDF spokesman said that, if the soldiers continued to show interest, they were eventually asked by the hackers posing as women to download an application on their mobile telephones that would allow them to converse using video. Once the soldiers downloaded the application, the ‘women’ would find excuses to delay using the application, or the relationships would abruptly end. But the soldiers would leave the application on their telephones. It would then be used by the Hamas hackers to take control of the camera and microphones on the soldiers’ mobile devices. According to the IDF spokesman, dozens of Israeli soldiers were lured by the Hamas scam. No precise number was given.

Media reports suggest that the Hamas hackers were primarily interested in finding out information about IDF maneuvers around the Gaza Strip, the narrow plot of densely inhabited territory that is controlled by the Palestinian militant group. They were also interested in collecting information about the size and weaponry of the Israeli forces around Gaza. Media representatives were told on Wednesday that the operation “had potential for great damage”. But the IDF claims that the harm to its operations was “minimal”, because it primarily targeted low-ranking soldiers. Consequently, according to the Israeli military, the hackers were not able to acquire highly sensitive information.

In 2009, dozens of members of Sweden’s armed forces serving with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan were found to have been approached via Facebook, and asked to provide details on NATO’s military presence in the country. The Afghan Taliban are believed to have carried out the operation.

Hamas has not commented on the allegations by the IDF.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2017 | Permalink