Trump pardons alleged recruiter of US Navy analyst who spied for Israel

Jonathan PollardDURING HIS LAST DAY in office, United States President Donald Trump issued a federal pardon for Aviem Sella, an Israeli former intelligence officer, who allegedly recruited Jonathan Pollard, an American who sold secrets to Israel. Pollard was released in November of 2015, after serving a 30-year sentence for being what US government prosecutors called “one of the most damaging spies in American history”. The convicted spy recently relocated to Israel, where many see him as a national hero.

In 1987, along with Pollard, the US government indicted Sella, accusing him of recruiting and helping handle Pollard on behalf of Israeli intelligence. Sella, who today is 75, was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. He allegedly began working for Israeli intelligence in the early 1980s. He left the US just days before Pollard was arrested while trying to enter the grounds of the Israeli embassy in Washington, seeking political protection. Israel refused to extradite him to the US and refused to charge him with a crime.

But in his last day in office yesterday, President Trump included Sella’s name in a list of 144 names of individuals to whom he granted last-minute federal pardons. In a statement, the White House explained Trump’s decision by saying that Israel had “issued a full and unequivocal apology [for Pollard’s spying], and has requested the pardon in order to close this unfortunate chapter in US-Israeli relations”. In a statement issued a few hours later, Pollard and his Israeli wife, Esther, said they were “truly happy” about Trump’s decision. They went on to day that pardoning Sella “puts an end to the affair’s bleeding wounds after 35 years”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 January 2021 | Permalink | Thanks to A.B. for corrections

Isaac Shoshan, Israeli undercover operative and case officer, dead at 96

MossadIsaac Shoshan, an Israeli undercover operative, who was involved in some of Israel’s most daring and controversial intelligence operations for over 40 years, has died. In 1990, Shoshan co-authored the book Men of Secrets, Men of Mystery with another Israeli former intelligence officer, Rafi Sutton. In 2019, his career was featured in the book Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel, written by the Israeli-Canadian journalist Matti Friedman.

In 1942, Shoshan, a Syrian Jew, traveled for the first time from his native Aleppo to Palestine, which was then under a British mandate. The 18-year-old was soon recruited by the Palmach, the intelligence wing of the Haganah, an armed underground Zionist organization. He carried out undercover work under the Palmach’s so-called ‘Arab Section’, or ‘Arab Platoon’, which consisted of Zionist paramilitaries and intelligence collectors who had grown up speaking Arabic.

After undergoing Islamic religious and cultural training, Shoshan participated in a Palmach operation to kill Sheikh Nimr al-Khatib, in early 1948. Al-Khatib was a Palestinian warlord that the Haganah feared would lead an Arab insurrection against Israel after the impending British withdrawal from Palestine. Although the assassination operation failed, al-Khatib was seriously injured and effectively incapacitated for the rest of his life.

Shoshan was then tasked with carrying out operations in several Arab countries, posing as an Arab. His base was Beirut, where he operated a taxi and worked at a kiosk as a cover. His activities included an elaborate assassination operation against Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Riad al-Suhl, which was aborted at the last minute by the Israeli leadership.

In the mid-1950s, Israeli intelligence disbanded its Arab units, following several failed operations, such as the so-called ‘Lavon affair’, which led to the arrests and executions of some of its undercover operatives. At that time, Shoshan was recalled to Israel, where he began to work as a case officer, with occasional undercover trips abroad, during which he posed as an Arab. He retired in 1982, but continued to carry out contracting work for the Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies until the late 1980s.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2021 | Permalink

Mossad helped Syrian intelligence official flee to Austria, despite alleged crimes

BVT AustriaA SYRIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL, who was denied political asylum in France due to claims he committed serious war crimes, received protection from Austria with assistance from Israel, according to a report. This was revealed on Sunday by British newspaper The Telegraph, which said it had been given the information by “a judicial source”.

The Syrian official in question is Khaled al-Halabi, a former Brigadier General in the Syrian Military Intelligence Directorate (MID). He served as head of the MID in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa amidst the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011. But in 2013, as the civil war became fiercer, al-Halabi defected from Syria and took his family to France, where applied for political asylum.

Two years later, al-Halabi was notified by the French authorities that his application for political asylum had been denied, due to serious concerns that he had been involved in criminal acts against opponents of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, soon after being notified that his application for asylum had been rejected, al-Halabi mysteriously disappeared from France, and was never seen there again.

According to The Telegraph, while waiting for a decision from the French authorities in regards to his application for asylum, al-Halabi was negotiating with the Israeli external intelligence agency, the Mossad. The Israeli spy agency allegedly whisked al-Halabi away from France and took him to nearby Austria. Once there, al-Halabi went into the custody of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT), Austria’s primary intelligence agency.

In December of 2015, al-Halabi was granted asylum in Austria, and today he is believed to live in Vienna, in a four-bedroom apartment provided to him by the Austrian government. The decision by the Austrian government to give the former Syrian spy official asylum made headlines in Austria in October, causing significant controversy. This is because at least one lawsuit has been filed against al-Halabi for his alleged participation in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Syrian Civil War, according to The Telegraph.

But the alleged involvement of the Mossad in al-Halabi’s case was not known until last Sunday. If true, the Mossad’s role in this case could signify that al-Halabi had established a relationship with the Israeli spy agency prior to his defection from Syria in 2013. According to the Austrian press, al-Halabi denies that he was involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 December 2020 | Permalink

Iranian authorities said to have photos of assassins of leading nuclear scientist

Mohamed AhwazeREPORTS IN BRITAIN AND Israel claim that Iranian authorities have visually identified the assassins who were allegedly involved in the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist believed to have led Iran’s nuclear program. Fakhrizadeh was a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s elite paramilitary force. He was accused by the United States and Israel of leading the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program, whose existence Tehran strongly denies.

Fakhrizadeh was killed on Friday during an armed assault that took place in the eastern outskirts of Tehran. He was attacked by assailants using automatic rifles, as he and his wife were traveling to Absard, a town located 60 miles east of the Iranian capital. His wife is also believed to have been killed in the attack, which lasted no more than 3 minutes and took place in broad daylight. Iranian leaders have accused Israel of the attack, and some believe the Israelis may have been provided with assistance from the United States. Israeli and American officials have not confirmed or denied that they were involved in Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

Late on Sunday, Mohamed Ahwaze (a.k.a. Mohamed Majed), an Iranian-born reported based in Britain, tweeted photographs of four men, who are allegedly believed by the Iranian authorities to have been involved in Fakhrizadeh’s assassination. Ahwaze said that Iranian officials were busily distributing the photographs of the four men at various hotels and restaurants across Iran, and were asking for information about the alleged culprits. A few hours prior to Ahwaze’s tweet, a report from the state-owned FARS news agency in Iran claimed that the country’s Ministry of Intelligence had confirmed the identities of the assassins and that the details would soon be released to the public.

Earlier on Sunday, Ahwaze claimed on Twitter that over 60 intelligence operatives were involved in Fakhrizadeh’s killing, with the vast majority having a logistical role in the operation. He added that Iranian military units and IRGC forces had deployed along the Iranian border with Iraqi Kurdistan, believing that Fakhrizadeh’s assassins would try to exit Iranian territory by crossing the border on foot. Numerous Israeli media outlets are now reporting the information tweeted by Ahwaze on Sunday. However, the Israeli government has refused to comment on the claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 November 2020 | Permalink

Trump administration cancels parole for US Navy analyst who spied for Israel

Pollard - aA UNITED STATES NAVY analyst who spent 30 years in prison after being convicted of spying on the United States for Israel, is expected to receive a hero’s welcome in Israel in the coming days, after the administration of President Donald Trump lifted his parole restrictions that prevented him from leaving the country. Jonathan Pollard, a former intelligence analyst for the United States Navy, was released from an American prison in 2015, after serving a lengthy sentence for selling US government secrets to Israel.

Throughout Pollard’s time in prison, the government of Israel lobbied for his release, claiming that the convicted spy did not harm American interests, but was simply trying to help Israel. However, the US Intelligence Community and successive American presidents consistently rejected Israel’s claims, arguing that Pollard’s activities were severely detrimental to US interests. Pollard was eventually released after serving the entirety of his sentence.

Ever since his release, Pollard had been required to wear an ankle monitor at all times. His Internet browsing was strictly regulated by the US government and he was not permitted to leave his New York home after sunset. He was also not permitted to leave the US, and Washington had refused to allow him to move to Israel, for fear that the Israeli government would provide him with monetary rewards for his espionage.

But now Pollard is expected to travel to Israel soon, after the Department of Justice announced on Friday that his parole would not be renewed —a move that effectively allows Pollard to leave the United States for the first time since his imprisonment. His lawyer, Eliot Lauer, told an Israeli television station that Pollard would soon be departing for Israel, adding that he looked forward to “seeing our client in Israel”. On Saturday, a press statement issued from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the lifting of Pollard’s parole restrictions, and said Israeli leaders “hope to see Jonathan Pollard in Israel soon”.

Pollard is expected to receive a hero’s welcome in Israel, where he has achieved celebrity status. He is especially revered by supporters of the center-right Likud party, which is currently led by Netanyahu. There are, however, many in Israel who see Pollard as an opportunist and have derided him publicly for accusing the state of Israel of abandoning him. Others in the Israeli intelligence community see the Pollard episode as deeply damaging to relations between the United States and Israel, and are critical of the decision to recruit Pollard, whose carelessness and brazen espionage style were bound to lead to his arrest sooner or later.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 November 2020 | Permalink

Opinion: Mishandled analysis of 1982 Tyre attack had implications for US, France

1983 Beirut barracks bombings

BETWEEN 1982 AND 1983, 450 defense personnel and civilians from Israel, the United States and France were killed in Lebanon as a result of four consecutive terrorist attacks conducted by Hezbollah. For years, questions have been raised whether these attacks could have been prevented.

In 2000, a senior Israel Security Agency (ISA) official wrote a report on the huge explosion in the Israeli compound in Tyre, Lebanon, in 1982. Based on the available intelligence, he reached a firm conclusion: it was a suicide bombing by a Shiite terrorist inside a booby-trapped vehicle, and not a gas balloon explosion, as was officially claimed. Requests to publish the new report with the recent conclusions were denied by ISA senior officials, for reasons that remain unknown. This prompted questions and strong doubts among counterterrorism experts and the Israeli the public, about whether the initial report from 1982 was actually a serious mistake of judgement, or even a cover-up.

Twenty years later, in November 2020, an investigative article was published in Israel by Ronen Bergman, which shed light on new details indicating a high probability that the attack in Tyre was a Hezbollah terrorist attack and not a result of an explosion of gas balloons. The article stated that in 1982 Israeli authorities, especially the ISA, were not ready to admit that their intelligence missed the attack and did not stop it in time. As a result, lessons were not learned regarding the immediate need to strengthen the security of foreign compounds in Lebanon against possible threats from Hezbollah. In 1983 Hezbollah used the same modus operandi of car bombs to attack US and French forces in Beirut and later the —then new— Israeli compound of Tyre.

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More details emerge about alleged killing of al-Qaeda #2 in Iran by Israeli spies

Abu Mohammed al-Masri

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS SAYS it has confirmed a claim made last week by The New York Times, according to which an Israeli assassination team killed al-Qaeda’s deputy leader in a daring operation inside Iran in August. The paper said on November 13 that Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the operational name Abu Muhammad al-Masri, had been assassinated in Tehran on August 7. He was the deputy leader of al-Qaeda, and was wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation for helping plan the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

On Sunday, the Associated Press said it was able to corroborate the The Times’ story with “four current and former US [intelligence] officials”, one of whom had “direct knowledge of the operation” and another, a former CIA officer, had been briefed about it. The news agency said the operation was carried out by Israel, acting on information given to it by the US. The Americans gave the Israelis information about al-Masri’s whereabouts in Iran, as well as the cover he was using to avoid detection.

Al-Masri was killed by a team of Israeli assassins while driving his car in a quiet street in the suburbs of Tehran, according to The Times. The assassins, who were riding on motorcycles, shot him with guns equipped with silencers. Al-Masri’s daughter, Maryam, who was riding with him in the car, was also killed. This was part of the plan, said the Associated Press. Al-Masri’s daughter was also the widow of Hamza bin Laden, the son of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Hamza bin Laden was killed in 2019 by the US at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the Associated Press, US intelligence planners believed Maryam was “being groomed for a leadership role in al-Qaeda” and “was [already] involved in operational planning”.

Iranian media portrayed the incident as the murder of Habib Daoud, a Lebanese professor of history, who was gunned down in the Iranian capital along with his daughter by unknown suspects. In reality, said the Associate Press, the father and daughter were killed by the Kidon, (“tip of the spear” in Hebrew), an elite assassination unit within Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 November 2020 | Permalink

Opinion: Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination 25 years ago was an intelligence failure

Rabin Arafat

THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZHAK Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, on the evening of November 4, 1995, by an extreme right-wing Jew was one of the most traumatic events in the history of the State of Israel. Contrary to the public perception that the assassination happened as a result of a security failure and poor management of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), I argue that the murder was mainly due to an ISA intelligence failure.

“The Shamgar Inquiry Commission”, as it was known because it was chaired by Meir Shamgar, former president of the Supreme Court, submitted its report in March 1996. This commission found significant failures in the security measures taken by the ISA to protect the late Prime Minister. But, in my opinion, its findings were seriously wrong, as it avoided diving into the major intelligence failure that led to this tragic incident.

On the evening of November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed by Yigal Amir, a 27-year-old student who was known as an extreme rightwing activist. Amir was waiting for the prime minister next to his car and shot Rabin three times from a close distance, in spite of the fact that four of Rabin’s bodyguards were surrounding the prime minister. Amir claimed to have done it “for Israel, for the people of Israel and the State of Israel”. He was found guilty and was sent to serve a life sentence in prison.

The progress in the peace process with the Palestinians, known as the Oslo Accords of 1993, allowed the political breakthrough of a peace agreement with Jordan in October 1994. Rabin was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, for their role in the creation of the Oslo Accords.

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Israeli Mossad secretly secured COVID-19 vaccine from China, say sources

Yossi Cohen Mossad

THE ISRAELI EXTERNAL INTELLIGENCE agency, the Mossad, has allegedly secured a Chinese-produced vaccine against the coronavirus, according to reports on Israeli television. The report came as the Israeli government confirmed over the weekend that “several diplomatic efforts are occurring behind the scenes” to acquire various vaccines against COVID-19.

According to The Jerusalem Post newspaper, an unnamed senior official in Israel’s Ministry of Health “who is in the know” said that Israel was close to reaching agreements with developers in several countries to purchase coronavirus vaccines. On Monday, however, Israel’s Channel 12 television said “multiple sources” had confirmed that the Mossad had secured the Chinese vaccine and “brought it to Israel”, so that it could be studied by Israeli scientists.

It was not immediately apparent why the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, was involved in the acquisition of the coronavirus vaccine. The implication in the report was that Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Ministry of Health, were not involved in the effort to acquire the Chinese-made vaccine. On the other hand, this should not be taken to mean that the Mossad stole the vaccine from China. As intelNews has reported, the Mossad Director Yossi Cohen previously served as head of a national committee to secure resources needed to combat COVID-19, including medicines and protective supplies.

Channel 12 news said no Israeli government officials would agree to comment on the story on record. According to one theory, the Mossad purchased the vaccine from China in secret, because Israel did not want to offend the United States at a time when tensions between Washington and Beijing are growing. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health referred questions about Mossad’s role in acquiring a COVID-19 vaccine to the Office of the Prime Minster. A spokesman there refused to comment on the story.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 October 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: The second intifada, a spontaneous act that shocked Israelis and Palestinians

Guest Ed PostOn the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the second intifada (October 2000), the debate arises again in Israel as to whether the Palestinian move was an initiative of Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority or whether it was a spontaneous evolution on the Palestinian side that largely surprised not only Israel but also the Palestinians.

One opinion in Israel states that the intifada was the result of an initiative by the head of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, and that Israeli intelligence knew about it in advance and warned Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who did not listen. This opinion was expressed in the memoirs of Maj. Gen. Res. Amos Gilad, formerly the head of the research division in the Israeli Military Intelligence (IMI) and former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff, Lieutenant Gen. Res. Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon. However, the picture presented by the two former IDF senior personalities seem to be wrong, and in this article, I’ll present another view showing that actually, the IMI (which is responsible for Israel’s national intelligence estimates), contrary to its allegation, failed to predict the Palestinian moves and did not warn the IDF and the Prime Minister to prepare for the intifada.

The different and probably correct opinion has been argued by the ISA (Israel Security Agency, known also as Shabak or the Shin Bet) former managing directors at the time, who discussed the event very openly and presented a clear conclusion: namely that Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat did not initiate the intifada but was as much surprised by it as was Israel. The source of the views presented by ISA leaders is the book The Gatekeepers (in Hebrew) by David Moreh (2014), in which six former ISA leaders were interviewed. Among other things, the book raised the question of how the second intifada broke out. It is important to mention that there is no doubt in Israel that the ISA is the organization that has the best intelligence on the Palestinian territories. Read more of this post

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

Rare internal budgetary report shows Mossad ‘explosive growth’ since 2016

Yossi Cohen MossadA rare declassified budgetary report shows that Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, the Mossad, has received large increases in funding since 2016. The report was released on Monday by the Office of the State Comptroller. It covers a two-year period starting from August 2016. It is extremely rare for any document on Mossad’s internal affairs, including its budget, to be made available for public viewing.

The document shows that the Mossad exceeded its budget by over 50 percent during the two-year period covered in the report. It also includes statements made by Mossad director, Yossi Cohen, which show that the agency’s leadership is aware that requests for more funds are typically approved by Israel’s Ministry of Finance without much resistance. One of the Mossad’s deputy commanders is quoted as saying that “the Finance Ministry is a partner [of the Mossad] whether it wants to be or not”.

Observers have attributed the recent growth of the Mossad to the close personal relationship between Cohen and his political mentor, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Increased support by the government in recent years has helped the agency augment its technical resources and add to the ranks of its operations officers, which are believed to have reached record numbers this year. But the State Comptroller’s report criticizes the Mossad, saying that it has argued in favor of growth without having explained in detail how it intends to utilize its newly acquired resources. The report also criticizes the Office of the Prime Minister and the subcommittee of ministers for having failed to restrain the Mossad’s spending and inquire in detail about how the agency uses its funds.

In response to the release of the State Comptroller’s report, the Mossad issued the following press statement: “Due to the increasing security threats against Israel and due to its unique and decisive contributions, the Mossad’s role and missions as part of the [nation’s] national security campaign have broadened in recent years. As a result of this, the Mossad has received additional resources and budgets in order to carry out its goals and to perform at the highest levels preserving the state’s security”. The statement adds that budgetary decisions at the Mossad involve “careful planning, transparency and full oversight from the Ministry of Finance, taking into account the approved budget for the Mossad, and taking care not to create budgetary obligations which were not approved by the Ministry”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2020 | Permalink

World can’t stop Iran from going nuclear, says former Mossad chief

Shabtai ShavitShabtai Shavit, one of the longest-serving directors of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, has said that Israel and the world cannot stop Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal, and should focus instead on establishing a deterrence mechanism. Shavit, who is now 80, rose through the ranks of the secretive intelligence agency and became its director in 1989, under Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin. He stepped down in 1996 and was succeeded by Danny Yatom.

Shavit has rarely spoken since his retirement from the intelligence world. But earlier this month he gave an interview to David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel Newspaper. The former spy chief’s book, Head of the Mossad, which was published in Hebrew in 2018, is expected to become available in English in September. Horovitz said he spoke to Shavit on June 2 of this year. The English-language translation of the interview was published by The Times of Israel on July 8.

In the interview, Shavit is sharply critical of Israel’s Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accuses of “not making decisions as a statesman”. Instead of being statesmanlike, says Shavit, Netanyahu makes decisions on matters such as Israel’s national security, or the coronavirus, with reference to his trial for alleged corruption. Under Netanyahu’s leadership, says Shavit, Israel’s standing “is among the worst in decades” internationally, with the exception of the United States. But that alliance is also in doubt, as President Donald Trump’s re-election in November —a prospect Shavit calls “a catastrophe for the United States and the world”— is doubtful.

On the issue of Iran, Shavit says he is obligated to speak, not as politician or other public figure, but as an intelligence officer, and thus consider the worst possible outcome for Israel. He argues that the worst-case scenario is that Tehran will refuse to abandon its ambition to develop a nuclear arsenal. If Iran decides to pursue that goal with full speed, it would be very difficult —even impossible— for Israel to avert such an eventuality. However, the Jewish state could potentially deter Iran from using a nuclear weapon, he argues.

For this to happen, Israel must recognize that Iran’s prime rationale “is not necessarily: ‘I want to have a bomb in order to drop it on Tel Aviv’”, says Shavit. On the contrary, its prime rationale is to elevate its “influence and status” in the region, primarily vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. Additionally, the regime in Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons in order to attain what Shavit calls “immunity” from a potential military attack by the United States.

Once Israel recognizes that Iran is not necessarily intent on destroying the Jewish state, it can stop trying to prevent Tehran from building nuclear weapons, and seek instead to deter it from using them. It can do so, says Shavit, by convincing the Iranians that “Iran will cease to exist” if it decides to make use of its nuclear arsenal. This policy of deterrence can be exercised no matter whether the clerics remain in charge in Tehran, or whether they are removed from power by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps —something that Shavit believes is possible.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 July 2020 | Permalink

Speculation grows that Israel may be behind spate of mystery blasts in Iran

Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facilityThere is growing speculation that Israel’s intelligence services may be behind a spate of blasts that have damaged military and civilian industrial sites in Iran in recent days. Citing a “Middle Eastern intelligence official”, The New York Times reported on Sunday that Israel was behind at least one of the blasts, which struck an Iranian nuclear complex.

The earliest known attack took place on May 9, when one of Iran’s busiest shipping hubs, the Shahid Rajaee Port, experienced a major cyber-attack that brought the port terminal “to an abrupt and inexplicable halt” and caused “massive backups on waterways and roads leading to the facility”. On June 26, a massive  blast destroyed a liquid fuel production facility for ballistic missiles in Khojir, a military complex located 20 miles southeast of Tehran. Four days later, on June 30, there was another explosion at a medical clinic in the Iranian capital, which killed 19 people.

On July 2, a major blast and subsequent fire were reported at the site of the Natanz nuclear facility, which is situated 150 miles south of Tehran. The attack is believed to have targeted a laboratory facility housing advanced centrifuge systems for enriching uranium. The BBC reported on Monday that a previously unknown group calling itself “The Homeland Cheetahs” claimed responsibility for the attack. The group sent BBC reporters information about the Natanz blast, including a video of the incident, before it was reported by Iranian media. In its statement, the group claimed to represent dissidents in the Iranian military, but some speculated that it could be a front for a foreign intelligence agency. On Sunday, The New York Times said the Natanz blast was orchestrated by the Israeli Mossad.

On July 3, a large fire broke out in Shiraz, Iran’s fifth largest city, while on the next day a fire engulfed the Zargan power plant in Ahwaz, following a large blast that was reportedly audible several miles away. Also on July 4, a large leak of chlorine gas occurred at the Karoun petrochemical plant in Bandar-e Mahshahr, in Iran’s Khuzestan Province. The leak caused 70 workers at the plant to be hospitalized.

In recent days, Iranian officials have claimed that the above incidents have been part of a sabotage campaign orchestrated by the Mossad, and have warned Israel of an impending retaliation. At a press conference in Jerusalem last Thursday, reporters asked the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whether the country’s spy agencies were behind the attacks in Iran. Mr. Netanyahu responded by saying: “I don’t address such topics”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 July 2020 | Permalink