Israel leaked video that brought down Austrian government, says German ex-spy chief

Strache GudenusIsraeli intelligence was likely behind the leaked video that brought down the far-right governing coalition in Austria on Monday, according to the former deputy director of Germany’s spy agency. The surreptitiously recorded video was leaked to two German media outlets on May 17, days before Austrian voters participated in the continent-wide elections for the European Union. In the video, two senior members of Austria’s governing far-right Freedom Party are seen conversing with an unnamed woman posing as a Russian investor. The two men in the video were Heinz-Christian Strache, the the Freedom Party’s leader and until recently Austria’s Vice Chancellor, and Johannes Gudenus, the party’s deputy leader and a member of parliament. In the video, Gudenus and Strache promise to award the woman’s firm state contracts if her uncle —a Russian oligarch— purchases an Austrian newspaper and uses it to support the Freedom Party. The video threw Austria’s political system into disarray and prompted the resignations of both Strache and Gudenus. On Monday, Austria’s Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, was removed from power during a special parliamentary session in Vienna.

But the question is who leaked the video, and why? In an article in the Cicero, a monthly political magazine based in Berlin, a former senior official in Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) argues that Israeli intelligence was probably behind the leak. The article’s author is Rudolf Adam, who served as deputy director of the BND from 2001 to 2004, before serving as president of the Federal Academy for Security Policy of the German Ministry of Defense. Adam argues that the actions of Strache and Gudenus, as shown in the leaked video, seem “half mafia-like and half-treasonable”, and that the two should face legal consequences. But he goes on to ask “a far more interesting question”, namely “who is behind this intrigue [and] what were the intentions of its initiators?”. Adam points out that nothing is known about the woman in the video; she reportedly met Gudenus several months before the video was filmed. She posed as the Latvian niece of a Russian oligarch with ties to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. In exchanges that lasted for several months, the woman told Gudenus that she planned to move with her daughter to Vienna and was interested in investment opportunities. She eventually invited him and Strache to a meeting in a villa in the Spanish resort island of Ibiza. It was there where the video was recorded. Read more of this post

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Jonathan Pollard, US spy for Israel, complains of neglect by Israeli state

Jonathan PollardJonathan Pollard, an American who spied on his country for Israel in the 1980s, and is now free after spending 30 years in prison, has spoken of his frustration with the Israeli government, which it claims has forgotten about him. 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. But 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 has been required to wear an ankle monitor at all times. His Internet browsing is strictly regulated by the US government and he is not permitted to leave his New York home after sunset. He is also not permitted to leave the US, and Washington has refused to allow him to move to Israel.

Last week, Israel’s Channel 12 television station aired a rare interview with Pollard, in which the former spy claimed he had been “forgotten” by the Israeli government. Speaking from a restaurant in New York with his wife Esther by his side, Pollard told Channel 12 that no officials from the Israeli government had made contact with him since his release. He added that he felt “there is always something more urgent than me” for the government of Israel, whether it is “the [nuclear] deal with Iran or the [US] embassy’s move to Jerusalem, or the sovereignty of the Golan Heights”. When the Channel 12 reporter asked him whether he was disappointed by Israel’s perceived lack of efforts to bring him to Israel, Pollard replied that he would be “very depressed” if his “faith in God and [his] love for Israel and its people [was not] so strong”. At another point in the interview, Pollard appeared to criticize the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I am very concerned about what this entails for the [government’s] commitment and for [Israel’s] security”, he said. “If you do not care about someone like me, who spent 30 years in prison for the land of Israel and its citizens, how much concern is there for others in the country, [whether they are] soldiers or civilians?”.

In November of 2017, Israel’s Channel 2 television reported that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had asked the United States President Donald Trump to allow Jonathan Pollard to move to Israel. However, despite the popular perception of the Trump administration as strongly pro-Israel, there are no indications that such a move may be taking place any time soon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 May 2019 | Permalink

Intel that prompted US to deploy aircraft carrier to Middle East ‘came from Israel’

USS Abraham LincolnThe sudden decision by the United States to deploy significant firepower to the Middle East was partly in response to intelligence that was given to Washington by Israeli officials, according to a report. On Wednesday, the US announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group had received instructions to sail to the Middle East. The aircraft carrier is reportedly sailing alongside a cruiser and four destroyers, while an unspecified number of B-52 heavy long-range bombers have been ordered to fly to a US military base in Qatar.

Commenting on this last-minute development, US National Security Adviser John Bolton warned Iran that it would face “unrelenting force” if it threatened American interests in the Middle East and beyond. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, said that the move aimed to “deter Iran […] so that there would be no ambiguity about our preparedness to respond to any threat against our people or partners in the region”. Speaking in Congress, the US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said that the decision to move a significant amount of firepower to the Middle East came in response to intelligence showing that Iran had “made plans to target US forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East”. According to ABC News, the intelligence suggested that “Iran or its proxies were planning attacks against US forces in Iraq, Syria and at sea”. But there was no further information reported about the precise nature of the alleged warnings.

Meanwhile, the American news and information website Axios said on Monday that the intelligence that caused Washington’s response was given to the US by Israeli officials. Citing “senior Israeli officials”, the website said that the intelligence given to the US had been gathered “primarily by the Mossad”, Israel’s main external intelligence agency. It added that the information about possible Iranian attacks against the US or its allies in the Middle East was “raised two weeks ago” during closed-door talks at the White House between a US team led by Bolton and an Israeli delegation headed by his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben Shabbat. The intelligence, said Axios, showed that the US or its allies, including the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, would be targeted by Iran. The information is “understood to be part of the reason for Bolton’s announcement” this week, said Axios.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 May 2019 | Permalink

Israel extends intelligence document classification period to 90 years

MossadThe government of Israel has increased to 90 years the period during which documents belonging to intelligence and security agencies can remain secret, extending it by 20 years. Until last month, government documents produced by Israeli spy agencies, such as its external spy organization, the Mossad, or its domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, could remain hidden from public view for up to 70 years. Last year, however, the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commissioned a study into the possibility of extending the classification period for such documents. Israel’s Supreme Council of Archives, a body within the Israel State Archives that advises the Office of the Prime Minister on matters of classification, recommended against extending the classification period by more than five years.

Last month, however, Netanyahu rejected the recommendation of the Supreme Council of Archives and managed to pass an amendment to the classification regulations that will keep documents secret for 90 years from now on. The existence of the amendment was revealed publicly for the first time on Monday of this week. In addition to agencies such as the Mossad and the Shin Bet, the extended regulation will also apply to several cyber-oriented military units, as well as to government-run research institutes and commissions, including the Israel Institute for Biological Research and the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which published news of the amended regulation on Tuesday, said that documents from 1949, the year that the Shin Bet and the Mossad were founded, would normally have been published this year. But now they will remain hidden from public view until 2039. Documents relating to more recent cases, such as the death of Ben Zygier, Mossad’s so-called ‘prisoner X’, or the assassination of Hamas arms procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, which took place in 2010, will not be released until 2100.

The office of President Netanyahu said on Monday that the goal of the amendment was to protect Israel’s assets and informants who remain alive, or their descendants in foreign countries. It added that many documents produced by Israel’s spy agencies described operational methods that were “still in use today” and could therefore “harm national security”. Last but not least, said the Prime Minister’s Office, some of the information in classified documents “could harm Israel’s foreign relations”. The statement did not elaborate on these claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 February 2019 | Permalink

Israeli team spotted in Gaza was installing advanced surveillance system, says Hamas

IDF Gaza Strip HamasAn undercover Israeli team that clashed with Hamas in Gaza on November 11 —an incident that brought the region to the brink of war— was installing an advanced surveillance system, according to Palestinian sources. Local media reports said that the Israeli undercover team —believed to be members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)— killed seven members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas’ armed wing. The IDF troops eventually escaped into Israel with the help of air support, having lost one team member. The incident was followed by a barrage of nearly 500 rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The Israelis responded by firing more than 160 missiles that fell throughout the Palestinian enclave. Hostilities were halted on November 13, when Hamas declared a unilateral ceasefire brokered by Egypt. The incident prompted the resignation of Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman, and may bring about early parliamentary elections in the Jewish state.

In the ensuing political crisis, little has been said about the reason for the Israeli undercover incursion into Gaza. The IDF has refused to comment on the team’s mission, admitting only that its troops “operated […] in the Gaza Strip”. It is believed that the members of the undercover team were dressed in civilian clothes and that at least two of them were disguised as women. After entering Gaza in a civilian Volkswagen vehicle, they drove to Khan Yunis, a city in the south of the Strip, near the Egyptian border. It was there that they were discovered by the al-Qassam Brigades, who stopped them at a checkpoint, asking for identification. The Israeli team killed at least one Palestinian at the checkpoint by shooting him with a silenced gun. Following a high-speed car chase, they left via helicopter after their pursuers were killed by Israeli tank and aircraft fire. Their abandoned Volkswagen car was then blown up by an Israeli fighter jet.

Speaking on Saturday at a media conference held in Gaza City, and aired live on the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas’ Gaza City Deputy Chief Khalil al-Hayya claimed that the Israeli undercover incursion was significant. Had it been successful, said al-Hayya, the IDF would have “achieved a major security breakthrough” by installing a new, state-of-the-art surveillance system. Had it been able to “install the surveillance equipment”, the undercover team would have given Israel the ability “to kill, hack and abduct”, and it would have “possibly made it easy for [Israel] to discover tunnels and other” activities pursued by Hamas, according to the Palestinian side. Video footage aired by Al-Aqsa TV on Sunday showed what the television station said was remnants of “surveillance devices” left behind by the IDF undercover team. Al-Hayya finished his statement on Saturday with a warning, saying that “penetrating the security of the Gaza Strip will not be an easy task”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 November 2018 | Permalink

Iran has clandestine missile factories in Lebanon, claims Israel’s ex-spy chief

Amos YadlinThe government of Iran is smuggling parts for ballistic missiles to Lebanon, where they are secretly assembled in clandestine factories operated by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, according to Israel’s former spy chief. For several months now, the international news agency Reuters has been claiming that Tehran has transported short-range ballistic missiles to secret bases controlled by pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. Iran’s move was aimed at “deterring attacks on [Iran’s] interests in the Middle East and to give it the means to it reginal foes”, said Reuters, citing “Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources”. Both Iran and Iraq denied the Reuters report.

In September, another report, citing “Western intelligence sources”, said that Iran had begun smuggling parts of short-range ballistic missiles to Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon, using commercial flights. The report pointed to at least two flights that are suspected by Western intelligence agencies of having illegally transported precision weapon parts to Lebanon. Both flights were operated by Qeshm Fars Air, a company believed to be used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Members of the IRGC, arguably the most loyal branch of the Iranian military, are selected on the basis of their ideological commitment to the defense of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The two flights identified in the report departed from commercial and military airports in Tehran and landed in Lebanon after taking “uncharacteristic flight paths” through Syria, said Western intelligence sources.

On Sunday, Israel’s highest-circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, carried an interview with the former director of the Jewish state’s Military Intelligence Directorate, Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin. Yadlin, who also served as Israel’s military attaché in Washington, said that Iran used to hide ballistic missile parts in Syria, hoping to establish de facto missile bases there. However, Tehran’s plan suffered a major setback last May, said Yadlin, when Israel’s air force destroyed approximately 50 targets inside Syria, including —according to Yadlin— Iranian missile factories. Since then, he said, Tehran has been relocating its missile factories to Lebanon, believing that Israel will not attack its neighbor to the north. But Yadlin, who is a known supporter of left-of-center parties in Israel, and a proponent of the two-state solution to the Palestinian problem, argued that Israel should consider attacking Iran’s military factories in Lebanon. The Jewish state faces two choices, said Yadlin: “to strike [Lebanon], not necessarily by air”, or to allow Hezbollah to acquire precision missiles. “Israel will not accept this change”, he added.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 October 2018 | Permalink

Syrians accuse Israel of assassinating top missile scientist in Hama province

Syrian Scientific Studies and Research CenterOne of Syria’s leading pro-government newspapers has said that Israel was behind a bomb blast in Hama province that killed a senior scientist working for the country’s missile program. Aziz Azbar was reportedly a senior research director at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, known as CERS. The Damascus-based agency is thought to be at the center of the Syrian government’s formidable chemical weapons program. Last year, the United States Department of the Treasury imposed economic sanctions on nearly 300 CERS employees, after Washington accused them of being directly responsible for the Syrian government’s repeated use of chemical weapons against rebels and civilians. The European Union, as well as the French and British governments, also imposed sanctions on CERS and its staff.

According to Syrian media, Azbar specialized in developing and maintaining rocket systems in the city of Masyaf, located about 160 miles north of Damascus, where CERS maintains a research facility. He reportedly died last Saturday night when his car suddenly blew up. According to some reports, the blast originated from a bomb that had been placed in the headrest of his car seat and was detonated remotely. His driver was also killed in the blast, according to Syrian media reports. An insurgent group calling itself the Abu Amara Battalions, which is linked with the Sunni Levant Front in Syria’s Aleppo province, issued a statement claiming responsibility for Azbar’s killing. The Abu Amara Battalions have previously issued similar statements after reportedly assassinating Syrian government officials or militia commanders.

However, on Sunday Syria’s al-Watan newspaper said that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad was responsible for Azbar’s death. The Syrian scientist was “a person of the utmost interest to Israel” said the paper, because of his direct connection to Damascus’ Russian- and North Korean-built Scud missile arsenal. However, officials in Israel refused to acknowledge that Tel Aviv had any connection with Azbar’s killing. “Every day in the Middle East there are hundreds of explosions and settling of scores”, said Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. “Every time they try to pin the blame on [Israel], so we won’t take this [latest accusation] too seriously”, he added. The Syrian government has not made any formal statements regarding Azbar’s death.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 06 August 2018 | Permalink