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

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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

Lebanese president says Israel is behind businessman’s murder in Angola

Michel AounThe president of Lebanon said on Wednesday that Israeli intelligence was behind the killing of a Lebanese businessman who was shot dead by a team of assailants last weekend in southwestern Africa. Amine Bakri, 54, who was from southern Lebanon, had lived and worked in Angola since his mid-20s. He was a well-known businessman in the Angola capital Luanda, where he owned a number of factories that make furniture and various medical equipment. On Sunday, Bakri was driving on an unpaved road in the Angolan capital, when his vehicle was ambushed by a group of three armed assailants. According to media reports, one of the men shot the windshield of Bakri’s car and then proceeded to shoot him in the head at close range. The men fled the scene and Bakri was transported to a local hospital, where he soon died from his wounds.

Initial reports stated that Bakri’s killing resulted from a botched robbery by a local gang of youths. But the murdered man’s nephew and business partner, Mohammad Maatuk, told Lebanese media that the men who ambushed his uncle were not interested in money. Maatuk told the Lebanese news website an-Nahar that the men did not give Bakri an opportunity to offer them money or other valuables. Instead they opened fire almost immediately and fled the scene in a calm, pre-arranged, professional manner, said Maatuk.

On Wednesday, the newly elected President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, opened the weekly meeting of the Lebanese government by announcing that there was “information that the [Israeli intelligence agency] Mossad was behind this operation” to kill Bakri in Lebanon. He added that the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration was “collecting information” in light of new evidence about Israel’s alleged involvement. According to media reports, Aoun did not provide details about the evidence that the Mossad was behind Bakri’s murder. Nor is there any information about the reasons why Israel might want Bakri dead.

Angola is home to a sizeable Lebanese community, whose members concentrate mostly in Luanda. As of this morning there has been no information about whether Amine Bakri was in any way related to Imad Bakri. Bakri, a Shiite Lebanese merchant in Luanda, has been identified in several intelligence reports as a link between the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and UNITA, the Western-supported right-wing rebel group that lost in the Angolan Civil War and today is the country’s second-largest political party. Bakri’s body is expected to arrive in Lebanon today. It will be transported to the Iraqi Shiite city of Najaf, where he will be buried.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2017 | Permalink

Mossad identified Hamas drone expert as principal target ‘years ago’: expert

Mohamed ZaouariDespite persistent silence from Tel Aviv, commentators there seem increasingly convinced that Israeli spies were behind last week’s killing of an aviation engineer who worked for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The man, Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip. He was reportedly shot dead outside his home in east-central Tunisia by an unidentified group of assailants carrying guns equipped with silencers. A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, blamed Zaouari’s killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency.

Writing for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the veteran security correspondent Ronen Bergman said on Monday that Israeli spies had identified Zaouari “years ago” as a potential target. Bergman claims that Israeli intelligence agencies monitored Zaouari “as soon as he left Tunisia for [the Syrian capital] Damascus” over a decade ago. Eventually, the Israelis began to see Zaouari as a major contributor to efforts by Hamas and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah to develop unmanned aerial vehicle programs. Through constant surveillance, Israeli intelligence was able to confirm that Zaouari was in regular contact with other Palestinian and Lebanese technical experts. The latter allegedly included Hassan Lakkis, a leading Hezbollah commander, who was one of the Shiite militant group’s primary weapons procurer and developer. Lakkis was killed on the evening of December 3, 2013, outside his home in Beirut, in circumstances that appear to be similar to last week’s killing of Zaouari in Tunisia.

Bergman argues that, if Israeli intelligence was indeed behind Zaouari’s killing, he was targeted because he was seen “as an increasingly dangerous element” and the Israelis believed that his death would cause Hamas “considerable damage”. The decision to target him in a distant location like Tunisia bore considerable risk, says Bergman, given that Zaouari was almost certainly aware that he was under threat from rival intelligence agencies and was taking precautions. Additionally, as the Mossad found out in the aftermath of the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010, the world is now “filled with cameras and biometric systems” that make covert operations dangerous. Consequently, these types of high-risk operations are reserved for principal targets whose removal will subtract strategic abilities from Israel’s adversaries. Bergman notes that, if Zaouari was killed by Israeli operatives, his death will mark one of the first major operations by the Mossad under the new leadership of Yossi Cohen, who was appointed as head of the secretive agency a year ago.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 December 2016 | Permalink

Hamas drone expert shot dead in Tunisia by assailants using gun silencers

Mohamed ZouariA senior aviation engineer who headed the unmanned aerial vehicle program of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, has been shot dead outside his home in Tunisia by a group of assailants using gun silencers. Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for Hamas, the Palestinian group that today controls the Gaza Strip. He had lived outside of Tunisia for much of his life, most recently in Syria, where he is believed to have worked as an engineer in a private firm, while also consulting with the Palestinian group. He had returned to Tunisia in 2011, following the upheaval in the country that sparked the so-called Arab Spring.

Zaouari was reportedly shot on Thursday in his hometown of Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, located 170 miles southeast of the capital Tunis. Local media said he was shot dead at the wheel of his car, which was parked outside his home. His body was riddled with over 20 bullets, according to a police statement. On Friday, Tunisia’s Deputy Prosecutor General, Mourad Turki, said during a radio interview that several people are believed to have participated in Zaouari’s killing. Eight people had been arrested in connection with the crime, while at least two others were still at large, said Turki. All ten are believed to be Tunisian citizens. Among them is a woman, claiming to be a journalist, who has reportedly interviewed Zaouari in the past. She was allegedly arrested as she was boarding a flight from the Tunis-Carthage International Airport to the Hungarian capital Budapest. Additionally, officials from Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said that four rental vehicles had been seized in connection with Zaouari’s killing, and that two weapons equipped with silencers had been found in one of the vehicles.

A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said Zaouari had been a part of Hamas for a decade, and blamed his killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. Hamas leaders said that Zaouari’s contribution to the organization would be celebrated during a specially designated “day of mourning”, and that his killing would be avenged. “The enemy must know the blood of the leader Zaouari will not go in vain”, said a statement issued by Hamas on Saturday. Israel has not responded to Hamas’ accusations. Tzachi Hanegbi, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of National Security and Foreign Affairs, said late on Saturday that Israel was “not connected” with Zaouari’s killing and added that “none of those people arrested are our allies”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 December 2016 | Permalink

Mossad had prior knowledge of Six-Day War plans, says Israeli ex-spy chief

first-post-hIsrael’s intelligence services had access to recordings of secret talks between Arab heads of state in 1965, which helped the Jewish state win the Six-Day War, according to the former director of the country’s Military Intelligence Directorate. The brief but important conflict, which is also known as the Third Arab-Israeli War, broke out on June 5, 1967, when the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies attacked Israel. But within hours the Jewish state had managed to decimate the assailants’ air forces, and went on to deliver fatal blows to its adversaries. By the end of the war, Israel’s territory had increased threefold and Israeli troops were in control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, among other areas.

But according to Major General Shlomo Gazit, who directed Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate in the 1970s, Israel’s victory was sealed in September 1965. At that time, a conference of Arab heads of state was held in Casablanca, Morocco, with the participation of senior Arab military commanders and intelligence chiefs. The centerpiece of the conference was a secret meeting where preparations were made for a war with the Jewish state. Participants discussed plans for setting up a joint Arab military command to coordinate the war and shared insights on the strength and state of readiness of their respective militaries.

Major General Gazit told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that Morocco’s King Hassan II, who was mistrustful of his fellow Arab heads of state, invited the Israeli intelligence services to monitor the conference. Speaking to Yedioth Ahronoth’s military correspondent Ronen Bergman, Gazit said that a team of spies from the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence service, and the Shin Bet, its domestic equivalent, arrived in Casablanca prior to the start of the conference. Acting on the King’s orders, Moroccan authorities designated an entire floor in the luxury hotel where the conference was held for the use of the Israelis. After the conference ended, King Hassan gave the Mossad copies of secret recordings of all closed-door meetings. These were promptly transcribed and translated into Hebrew by the Research Unit of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, said Gazit.

According to the former spy chief, these transcripts produced “massive amounts of intelligence”. They were combined with other sources of information and crucially helped Israel anticipate the Six-Day War. Thanks to these recordings, said Gazit, Israel “was in full knowledge of how unprepared [the Arab forces] were for war”, especially the Egyptian forces, which were “in a terrible shape”. Israeli military commanders were thus certain that the Jewish state would prevail in an armed conflict with its Arab neighbors.

The public disclosure of the fact that the Mossad had access to the content of the secret negotiations between Arab leaders in 1965 is not new. Bergman and his fellow author Shlomo Nakdimon revealed it in a 2015 article about the broader intelligence relationship between Israel and Morocco in the 1960s and 1970s. But the latest revelation highlights the significance of the secret recordings for Israel’s military posture during the Six-Day War. Indeed, Bergman reports that, after the end of the war, Meir Amit, who was the then director of the Mossad, drafted a letter to Israel’s Prime Minster Levi Eshkol, in which he described the Casablanca operation as “one of the greatest moments of Israeli intelligence”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 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