Israeli armed raid in Syria reportedly led to US banning laptops on some flights

Ibrahim al-AsiriA temporary ban issued by United States authorities on laptop computers onboard some commercial flights earlier this year came from a tip by Israeli intelligence, according to a new report. The report was published last week in the American magazine Vanity Fair. It claimed that Israeli commandos carried out a dangerous night-time operation deep inside Syria, in order to acquire physical proof that the Islamic State had  built bombs that were not detectable by X-ray screening systems at airports. But some Israeli intelligence officials became infuriated with Donald Trump after the US President allegedly gave Russia background information about the commando operation, according to the article.

The order to temporarily ban electronic devices larger than cellphones was issued by the US government on March 20, 2017. It applied to direct flights to the US departing from a dozen international airports in the Middle East. In June, the New York Times alleged that the ban was aimed at stopping Islamic State operatives from bringing onboard airplanes bombs disguised as laptop batteries. The paper also said that the information about these bombs had been acquired by Israeli government hackers who had penetrated Islamic State computer systems. But now a new report by Vanity Fair claims that Tel Aviv tipped off the Americans following a commando raid deep inside Syrian territory, which acquired physical evidence of the bombs. The magazine alleges that the raid was carried out by the Sayeret Matkal, an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces, under the supervision of the Mossad, Israel’s external spy agency. Its target was a highly secretive cell of explosives experts, who were led Ibrahim al-Asiri, a Saudi militant who built bombs for the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The Mossad shared some of the intelligence from that raid with the Central Intelligence Agency, which in turn told President Trump. That led to the decision to ban laptops from selected flights, until X-ray machines at airports were modified to detect the new type of bomb.

The Vanity Fair article repeats earlier claims that President Trump shared intelligence given to him by the Israelis with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak, when he met them in May of this year. According to Israeli sources, Mr. Trump did not tell the Russian officials that Israel was behind the operation. But he allegedly identified the city in Syria where the raid took place, and in doing so placed the life of an Israeli human asset at risk, according to some. The Israeli government will not comment on these allegations. Additionally, Vanity Fair said that one “former Mossad officer with knowledge of the operation and its aftermath” would not say whether the asset in question had been safely exfiltrated from Syria or even whether he or she was still alive.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 November 2017 | Permalink

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Iran upholds death sentence for man accused of helping Mossad kill scientists

Ahmadreza DjalaliA court in Iran has sentenced a prominent Iranian academic to death for allegedly helping Israel assassinate nuclear scientists and sabotage Tehran’s nuclear program. Four Iranian physicists, who were employed in Iran’s nuclear program, are known to have been assassinated between 2010 and 2012. Most were killed by magnetic bombs that were placed on their vehicles by unknown assailants, who were then able to escape on motorcycles. Tehran believes that the assassinations were carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, with the help of agents recruited by the Israelis from within Iran’s nuclear program.

On Tuesday, Iranian authorities revealed that one of these alleged Israeli agents has been sentenced to death following a secret trial. The office of Tehran’s public prosecutor did not name the alleged agent, but said that he admitted holding “several meetings with the Mossad”. During those meetings, the agent allegedly “provided [the Mossad] with sensitive information about Iran’s military and nuclear installations”, according to Iranian authorities. The Iranians claim that the agent, who is himself a physicist, gave Israel the names and addresses of at least 30 senior members of Tehran’s nuclear program. The list included nuclear physicists, engineers, as well as intelligence and military officials with nuclear specializations. In return for supplying inside information, the Israelis helped the alleged agent secure permanent residency in Sweden and financed his move there, according to the Iranian prosecutor’s office. Iran claims that the information given to the Mossad by the agent resulted in the assassination of at least one Iranian scientist.

In a statement published on Monday, the international human-rights pressure group Amnesty International identified the alleged Mossad agent as Ahmadreza Djalali, an expert in disaster medicine. Djalali’s name had been reported before in connection with a trial in Iran, but authorities in Tehran had not mentioned any connection between the accused and the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. Amnesty said that Djalali has taught and carried out research at several European universities, including the Universiteit Brussel in Brussels, lUniversity of Eastern Piedmont in northern Italy, and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. It is believed that he was arrested in Iran in 2016, during a visit from Sweden, where he has been living for several years. Iranian media said that Djalali was sentenced to death on October 21, and must appeal by November 10 if he wants to challenge his death verdict.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 October 2017 | Permalink

Norway invites Israeli nuclear whistleblower who is barred from leaving Israel

Mordechai VanunuThe controversial Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who was jailed for 18 years for revealing the existence of Israel’s nuclear program, has been invited to go to Norway to be reunited with his new wife. Vanunu was employed at Israel’s top-secret Negev Nuclear Research Center, located in the desert city of Dimona, which was used to develop the country’s nuclear arsenal. But he became a fervent supporter of nuclear disarmament and in 1986 fled to the United Kingdom, where he revealed the existence of the Israeli nuclear weapons program to the London-based newspaper The Times. His action was in direct violation of the non-disclosure agreement he had signed with the government of Israel; moreover, it directly challenged Israel’s official policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’, which means that the country refuses to confirm or deny that it maintains a nuclear weapons program.

Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, managed to lure Vanunu to Italy with the help of a female intelligence officer who befriended him. Vanunu was abducted by a Mossad team in Rome and secretly transferred to Israel, where he was tried and convicted to 18 years in prison. He was released in 2004, after having spent most of his sentence in solitary confinement. His release is conditional on a number of restrictions, which means that Vanunu is barred from speaking to foreigners and barred from leaving the country. However, in May 2015, Vanunu married a Norwegian theologian, Kristin Joachimsen. Last Friday, Joachimsen spoke on Norway’s TV2 channel about her marriage with the Israeli nuclear whistleblower. During her interview, she revealed that she had successfully filed a request for family reunification with her husband with the Norwegian government. According to Norwegian law, a family member living abroad is entitled to apply for reunification with a family member who is legally living in Norway. Reporters from TV2 contacted the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, which confirmed that Joachimsen’s family reunification request had been granted by the government. Consequently, Norway had officially contacted Israel stating its willingness to host Vanunu so that he could be reunited with his wife.

However, there is no guarantee that Vanunu will be permitted to leave Israel. In her interview, the nuclear whistleblower’s wife said that his application was scheduled for review in Israel sometime in November. But she added that she had no idea whether Vanunu would be allowed to leave the Middle Eastern country. On Sunday, a spokesman from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted that the restrictions on Vanunu’s freedom of movement following his release from prison were imposed “due to the danger that he posed” to the security of Israel. In a subsequent written statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Israel would “continue to review updates of the situation in order to determine appropriate restrictions in accordance with security dangers” posed by Vanunu.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 October 2017 | Permalink

Israeli weapons, airpower, secretly given to Libyan warlord, source claims

Khalifa HaftarIsrael is secretly providing military assistance to Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, one of the factions in the Libyan Civil War, according to a British-based publication. Libya has remained in a state of war since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Currently the strongest faction in the ongoing Libyan Civil War is the eastern-based Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011 to launch his military campaign.

In February of 2011, shortly after the popular uprising erupted in Libya, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, which —among other things— forbids the export of war materiel to Libya. In June of this year, the United Nations accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of violating the embargo by providing secret military assistance to Haftar and the LNA. Now a new report in a British-based Arab news outlet claims that, in addition to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Israel too is helping the LNA. Allegedly, Tel Aviv has given the LNA war materiel and air power support, with the help of the United Arab Emirates.

Published in the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab) newspaper, the report claims that the Libyan strongman has been holding secret meetings with Israel since 2015. The publication cites a high-ranking official in the LNA, who spoke on condition of anonymity “out of fear for his safety”. The source, who is reportedly close to Haftar, told the newspaper that he is personally aware of two meetings held between Haftar and agents of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, in 2015 and 2016. The LNA official said the meetings between the LNA and the Mossad were held in Jordan “in strict secrecy”under the supervision of the United Arab Emirates. Soon after the meetings, said the unnamed official, Israel began to provide the LNA with military aid, including night vision equipment and various sniper rifles. He also claimed that this is known to the LNA fighters on the ground, because there are Israeli markings on the rifles issued to them. The official also claimed that Israel may have secretly provided air cover during at least one of the LNA’s offensive in recent years.

The claim of collusion between Israel and the LNA is bound to raise popular pressure against the pro-LNA government in Egypt, which borders with Libya. It will also increase tension between the LNA and Algeria, which borders Libya from the west. According to The New Arab, the government of Algeria issued “a strong warning” against Israel’s involvement in Libya, following reports of secret cooperation between the LNA and Tel Aviv.

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

Israeli spy agency to launch anonymous technology investment fund

MossadThe Mossad, Israel’s primary intelligence agency, is preparing to launch a technology investment fund that will support Israeli-based hi-tech startups, with an eye to utilizing cutting-edge technologies in its spy operations. Israeli spy services are known internationally for their advanced use of technology in intelligence collection and special operations. But the planned investment fund is expected to systematize the Mossad’s use of cutting-edge technological solutions to intelligence challenges. It is interpreted by some commentators as “mark[ing] a new and surprising turn” in the spy agency’s approach to technology.

On Wednesday, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz said it spoke to several unnamed Israeli bankers, who confirmed that the Mossad was “putting the finishing touches” on the anonymous technology investment fund. The bankers also told the newspaper that the fund would be officially launched “at the end of this month”. Once launched, the fund will invest in Israeli-owned technology startups, using money from the Mossad’s budget, without any outside capital. But instead of getting its share of the financial profit, the Mossad will ask instead to own the rights to the startup companies’ end-products and to be able to use them in intelligence-related work, said Ha’aretz.

According to the Israeli newspaper, the move by the Mossad is partly modeled after In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit venture capital firm that operates as the technology investment firm of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Based in Arlington, Virginia, In-Q-Tel invests in hi-tech technology startups focusing on new technologies that may be of use to the US Intelligence Community. Ha’aretz said it contacted the office of the Israeli prime minister for information about the Mossad’s alleged investment fund, and was told that the prime minster was looking into the matter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 June 2017 | Permalink

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