Spy Wars heat up!

The long-simmering Spy Wars between Israel on the one hand, and Iran and its allies in the Jebhat al-Mumana’a (Blocking Front) on the other, have been heating up a lot over the past couple of weeks.
Does all this accelerating string of revelations and counter-revelations indicate that the two sides are doing some deck-clearing preparatory to a military encounter that perhaps both of them now see as increasingly inevitable, or is there another explanation for what’s been happening?
Today, the security forces in heavily Hizbullah-influenced Lebanon announced that two weeks ago they arrested the latest in a long string of Lebanese citizens who have now been formally accused of (or in many cases, convicted for) involvement in the once-extensive spy network that Israel’s Mossad used to run in Lebanon.
This announcement comes hot on the heels of the revelation publicized out of Israel yesterday that a young man called Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a prominent Hamas leader in the West Bank who embraced Christianity a decade ago (the son, not the dad) had in fact also worked as an agent for the Shin Bet during the Second Intifada.
And all this comes, of course, as the authorities in Dubai continue to dribble out additional, extremely incriminating and well-documented details about the Mossad’s involvement in last month’s killing of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
And then, there was Tuesday’s announcement from Tehran that the Iranian authorities had captured Abdel-Malek al-Rigi, the accused head of Jundallah, an armed opposition group that’s been active active near Iran’s border with Afghanistan. The Iranian authorities did this by forcing down into one of their southern airports a plane on which Rigi was flying to Kyrgyzstan from Dubai, just a day after Rigi allegedly met with his CIA handlers in the emirate.
Dubai and Lebanon are both significant ‘entrepot’ locations whose enthusiastic embrace of free-market capitalism made them both of them, for many years, into places where agents, spymasters, and arms salesmen loyal to a dizzying range of paymasters and ideologies would interact– often engaging in unlikely-seeming collaborations with each other, but also, very frequently rubbing up against each other, or rubbing each other out, while all keeping close eyes on each other…
Beirut, certainly, played that role for many years (Kim Philby, etc), though it became far less ‘cosmopolitan’ and free-wheeling as the civil war set in in earnest in the late 1970s. But still, Israel and Syria each retained strong networks of spies and operatives in the country for many years thereafter. Last year, the Lebanese security forces succeeded in uncovering and rolling up much of Israel’s remaining spy network inside the country, which has probably significantly crimped Israel’s long-vaunted ability to dominate in the region’s long-summering spy wars.
So let’s turn to Dubai. As I blogged here recently, one of the most notable things about the fallout from Mossad’s assassination of Mabhouh there last month has been not– as some have claimed– the capability that the Dubai authorities showed in their investigation, but rather the intentionality and commitment they have shown thus far in their pursuit of it.
And then, we heard about the Iranian regime’s success in identifying and capturing Rigi on Tuesday.
Where did they get that information from, I wonder?
There have been some reports that they got some help from Pakistan in getting him. But most likely they did most of the footwork themselves– including by using the broad network of their own operatives and contacts that they have doubtless maintained inside Dubai for many years now.
Dubai may seem to many westerners like it’s only a kind of playground for their tastes– whether for shopping, beaches, tennis tournaments, ‘democracy’ seminars aimed at Iranian dissidents, military/naval bases, or whatever… But it has an even longer history as a entrepot with Iran; and throughout many years of various western sanctions efforts against Iran, dhows and larger ships would regularly ply between Dubai and ports in southern Iran, carrying large volumes of traffic both ways.
Don’t forget that– though the federation of which Dubai is part, the United Arab Emirates, has many close military relationships with Washington– still, the UAE leadership has been notably unenthusiastic about the prospects of a US or US-Israeli military attack against Iran.
And regarding Hamas, its head, Khaled Meshaal, was in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, holding an apparently friendly meeting with UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin-Zayed al-Nahyan, just a few days before Mabhouh’s ill-fated visit to Dubai…
I think that fact provides some helpful background to the question as to why the Dubai authorities have been so dogged and committed in their investigation of Mabhouh’s Israeli killers. It is also quite possible that the UAE security authorities are undertaking even wider measures against Mossad’s continued and longterm activities within the federation than anything anyone there has thus far announced.
I guess my big question is whether this intensifying “war of the spies” that Israel and its allies have been conducting against Iran and its allies are a way for the intel agencies in these two countries to try to prepare the regional battlefield for a future war.
And just lest I be misunderstood, I certainly do not see this war being started by Iran. Iran has been doing very well in the region over recent years, thanks to the numerous massive mis-steps taken there by both Israel and its close friend the United States. It has every interest in just continuing to see the two western allies bumble along in the self-destructive way they’ve been going over the past decade or more… But Tehran’s decisionmakers are doubtless well aware that there are serious forces inside Israel trying to push the U.S. into an attack against their country. And, realists that they are, they no doubt want to prepare for every eventuality.

Dan Halutz’s ‘recipe’ for success… against Iran?

Why does it so frequently seem as if members of Israel’s political elite have no shame? Case in point: Dan Halutz, the former IDF chief of staff who was last heard of shuffling off the world stage in January 2007 after the brilliant “campaign” he had designed to bring Lebanon and Hizbullah to their knees the previous summer has been shown (1 and 2) to be be completely flawed…
Oh and also after, lest we forget, considerable criticisms were raised in Israel in the early days of the war about the fact that, just three hours after the incident that provoked that war, Halutz had also sold off his portfolio of investments in Israeli companies…
But now, he’s back!!!!
In an interview with Defense News, Halutz said recently that,

    “In Iran, there’s no need for a ground operation. If there is a case where air power can demonstrate its decisive effect — and I’m not speaking specifically here about the Israeli Air Forces — it’s the Iranian scenario.”

(Hat-tip Jim Lobe, there.)
Sadly, Halutz’s pearls of wisdom are only available in DN’s print edition. So you’ll have to go out and buy it.
Halutz is “back”, in fact, in the context of being out there, in DN and elsewhere, trying to sell his new book. In that context, he gave an interview to DN’s Barbara Opall-Rome in which he had the following reflections on the challenges Israel faces in its war-fighting:

    “The solution to rockets and missiles is to operate in a manner that imposes an unbearable cost to the other side for the enemy and civilians, by way of severely damaging national infrastructure and exacting a price beyond expectations…
    “In this neighborhood, after you’ve tried all other options, you need to act in ways the other side understands. Restraint cannot be part of the vocabulary because the other side views that as a weakness. What they understand if force…
    “If you’re dealing with terrorists and their leaders, you have to cut their heads through constant targeting operations. But if you’re dealing with governments, you need to severely damage the country. No rational leader wants to be held accountable for severe damage to his country… And by severe damage, I mean all infrastructure, bridge by bridge, power station by power station, communications center, airport by airport.

DN and Opall-Rome also have this from Halutz’s memoirs, about his recollections of the assault against Lebanon in 2006:

    “In meetings of the Cabinet and the Security Cabinet, I wasn’t convincing enough about implementing the plan to attack the national infrastructure of Lebanon. It was a plan I believed in and, in my opinion, its implementation would have lent itself to a clear and sharp response that would have exceeded expectations of the enemy and helped shorten the war fighting.

Oh, the fanatical, militaristic bully as “humanitarian”, there: He tugs at my heartstrings! (Irony alert.)
Before he became IDF chief of staff in 2005, Halutz had already, as air force chief of staff, been a tech-whiz who honed the IAF’s practices of undertaking extra-judicial killings (assassinations) from the air. He had gained renown, when asked how he felt about ending someone’s life through the air force’s stand-off bombing of them from a great distance, by replying,

    if you nevertheless want to know what I feel when I release a bomb, I will tell you: I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb’s release. A second later it’s gone, and that’s all. That is what I feel.

So this is the man who is telling us, now, that he wishes the cabinet had allowed him to be even more destructive against Lebanon in 2006, and who tells us that he thinks the U.S. air force (though notably not, this time, the Israeli air force) should implement the same kind of massively destructive campaign against Iran.
He makes Hizbullah Hassan Nasrullah look positively moderate in comparison.
Nasrullah, after all, has proposed only a strictly “lex talionis” kind of campaign, in which an Israeli attack on Beirut’s Hariri International Airport would be replied to with a Hizbullah attack on Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, etc… Whereas Halutz was widely reported, during the 2006 assault on Lebanon, to have vowed that, for every Hizbullah rocket that fell on Haifa, Israel would level ten multi-story buildings in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Aaaah, I guess that these days the guy is only trying to sell a few books.
But that certainly doesn’t mean anyone else has to buy them– either his books, or the horribly destructive, anti-humane, and above all quite counter-productive policy prescriptions that he’s peddling.
He’s arguing that the U.S. air force should launch the same kind of campaign against Iran today that that Israeli air force launched against Lebanon in 2006?
Has he no grasp of human history, or human psychology?
Does he have no idea that in Lebanon, in 2006, the more the Israeli air force bombed the country’s infrastructure, the more the country’s people rallied round Hzibullah?
(As I argued at the time, anyone with any knowledge of what had happened during, for example, the Nazi regime’s Blitzkrieg on London could easily have predicted that this wuld be the case.)
So what on earth does Dan Halutz, or anyone else, imagine would happen in Iran if the USAF tried to follow his prescriptions there?
… People like Halutz should be called out for what they are: fraudulent, petty impostors who have no idea what they’re talking about in politico-strategic terms.
And who, yes, are also, almost certainly, war criminals.

Tel Aviv municipality supports racist ‘chastity’ patrols

Tel Aviv is often portrayed by Israeli hasbaristas as a hip, modern, and very liberal kind of place. So why do we learn now, from Dimi Reider, that the city is putting money into a program to “treat” young Jewish women who date and/or marry Arab men?
Petty apartheid, anyone?
Reider translates a Hebrew-original article by Moria Ben Yossef in Zman Tel-Aviv that tells us the municipality is putting around $66,000 into a program to locate and “treat” up to 120 of these allegedly “troubled” young women under 22.
The program was reportedly advocated primarily by council member Benjamin Babyouf of the Shas Party.
Ben Yossef quotes a Shas activist as saying,

    “It’s happening across the country and in Tel Aviv, too, but it’s particularly rife in Jaffa and the south of the city, where the population is more diverse.. They [go] out hunting for girls… we’re talking about local Arabs and Arabs from villages coming to Tel Aviv for work. At first they shower them with love and money, they spoil them, and then they take them back to their village – usually after getting married… ”

Actually, I see two things happening here. One is the municipality giving funding to an effort aimed at enforcing “racial purity” and blocking (gasp!) dating and sexual liaisons that cross national/religious lines.
The other is the municipality supporting the efforts of members of a tightknit and socially conservative community– in this case, the Bukharan Jewish community– to control the sexual activities of its own young women members.
When this happens in Muslim societies, rights activists in the west immediately (and imho, rightly) issue loud protests. So when will we hear them do so in this case?
Reider tells us that in Israel itself, the head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, ACRI, has already publicly criticized the measure. That’s great.

More questions about Mossad’s Dubai debacle

Israeli military analyst Ronen Bergman had an interesting contribution in yesterday’s WSJ about the almost-certainly-Mossad killing of Hamas operative Muhammad al-Mabhuh in Dubai last month. (HT: Phil Weiss.)
It’s true, Bergman seemed clearly to be condoning the concept of Israeli hit squads roaming the earth, killing whomsoever they please in a completely lawless (= extra-judicial) way.
But he did also ask these questions:

    did Mabhouh constitute an immediate threat? Was eliminating him worth violating international law and risking the ire of so many states at a time when the international community seems to have finally gotten serious on Iran?
    … [S]uch acts need to be extremely rare. In the case of Israel, such operations require the explicit approval of the prime minister, and they are authorized only after the political risks are carefully weighed. In the case of Dubai, it seems that this did not occur. Either the risks were not explained to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, or he made a serious miscalculation.

He also wrote this:

    the real, and so far unappreciated, achievement in this affair belongs to the Dubai police, who were able to integrate all the evidence at their disposal into one clear picture and do so with remarkable speed.
    Whoever sent the hit squad to Dubai was not aware that the police and security services had such advanced capabilities at the ready. The investigators managed to put together still and video shots taken in seven different locations and place them on a single timeline together with the cellphone records of the individuals in the footage. Doing this requires sharp analysis and advanced computer skills, and computerized intelligence systems able to cross check information from various sources.
    How did the Dubai police manage all this? Did they have help? For now, it remains a mystery. But in any case, misjudging the ability of the Dubai authorities so spectacularly is evidence of a serious intelligence failure on the part of the organization that sent out the squad.

Personally, I would say that putting together video and stills footage from surveillance cameras doesn’t seem like a terrifically tough job. I mean, they’re all time-coded anyway.
I think what the Mossad people misread was not the capability of the Dubai police but their intentions, namely, their willingness to investigate this crime quickly and with an apparently high degree of honesty and thoroughness.
I think the Israelis– from Netanyahu on down– most likely assumed that, regardless of what the capabilities of the Dubai police were, the Dubai authorities would be happy to bumble or cloud the investigation in an attempt to keep their undoubted continuing links with Israel untouched by the affair.
That was also the key mistake of arrogance that Netanyahu made when he authorized the Mossad’s 1997 assassination attempt against Khaled Meshaal in Amman, remember. On both occasions, it seems to me, Netanyahu and his security advisers, committed not one but two serious mistakes of arrogance:

    1. In both cases there was probably an assumption that Mossad ‘tradecraft’ was of a high enough caliber that these agents– who turned out to be Keystone Cops type assassins, in the event– could perform their task undetected.
    2. In both cases, there was also an assumption that, even if evidence about these assassins’ doings and identities should emerge, the local government would be happy to sweep the whole affair under the rug in the interest of keeping its relations with Israel and its western backers in good order.

Of course, there is also an underlying arrogance in all such cases, too. Namely, that it’s quite okay to go round the world killing anyone you want just based on some suspicion of something.
But back to #2 above. In the case of Jordan 1997, Netanyahu and his advisers seriously under-estimated the willingness of King Hussein to kick up a huge fuss when the bumbling would-be killers’ antics came to light. Yes, Hussein doubtless valued the relationships he had with the Israeli government (and its US backers) at the time. But he was also subject to non-trivial internal pressures from Hamas– an organization with which, anyway, he had had a lengthy previous relationship.
Netanyahu seemed not to understand that, back in 1997. And he seemed not understand this time round that, for all the services that Dubai offers to the western governments and their armies of consumers– and doubtless also to Israel as well, in many respects– nevertheless its government also has a longstanding relationship with Iran as a key entrepot for that country’s traders, and government leaders also have a great degree of sympathy for Hamas.
Also, Dubai’s whole reputation as a ‘free-wheeling entrepot’ type of place, like Singapore or whatever, depends on its being able to safety and security to all kinds of visitors from other countries. Having the Israelis violate this norm is not something that any of the city-state’s managers would be happy about, at all.
Netanyahu and his people seem also to have mis-forecast the responses of two other actors in this drama: the western governments, especially the British government, and those Israeli citizens of European origin whose identities the Mossad blithely chose to steal/forge, and whose names are therefore now about to be posted on every Interpol warning around the world.
Previously, those Israeli citizens could have been expected to comply with a kind of nationalist vow of omerta about the fact of the identity theft. But now, it seems, no. Some of them have been outspoken in their criticism of the security agencies misuse of their identities. That’s new. And another significant aspect of this case.

Israelis call for talks with Hamas

On February 15, Israeli ‘refusenik’ soldiers Arik Diamant and David Zonscheine published a short, tightly argued piece in the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ section under the title ‘Talk to Hamas’.
Here’s the core of their argument:

    An open dialogue with Hamas is clearly in Israel’s interest.
    First, because Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza and has won the trust and respect of a significant part of the Palestinian people, anyone hoping to resolve this conflict will eventually need to bargain with the group.
    Second, Hamas has proven capable of delivering peace and quiet to the citizens of southern Israel. As demonstrated before, Hamas has a strong hold on all organisations acting in Gaza and can enforce a truce.
    Third, a prisoner exchange deal is our only chance to bring back the abducted IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit.

Diamant and Zonscheine are founders of the flagship, eight-year-old organization Courage to Refuse, which has organized a persistent campaign to refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.
A few quick notes regarding news of Diamant and Zonscheine’s latest campaign:

    1. Actually, it’s not a brand-new campaign. Back last November, the two men and their supporters were already issuing a public call, I think in Hebrew, for people to support their call for their government to talk with Hamas. That account notes that, at the Rabin Memorial Rally held in Tel Aviv on November 7, the pro-talks activists “managed to collect hundreds of signatures.”
    2. They are not the only Israelis calling openly for their government to talk to Hamas. Back in March 2008, a Haaretz-Dialog poll found that 64 percent of Israelis favored their government talking directly to Hamas. (As reported here.) Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy has been arguing since at least 2006 that Israel should talk to Hamas. In general, despite the occasionally heated and hateful rhetoric coming from some hard-right leaders in Israel, the public there has a far more realistic view of what’s needed for peace than do most Americans.
    3. I just recall that in the long years before the Oslo Accord of 1993, the idea of “talking with the PLO” was a complete taboo within just about all of the U.S. political elite. But then– in the very instant it was revealed that the Rabin government in Israel had not just been negotiating secretly with the PLO for many months but also that it had concluded an entire interim peace agreement with it– the whole U.S. political elite turned on a dime… Members of congress, TV news anchors, big-name pundits, you name it: They were lining up and drooling to have their photos taken with Yasser Arafat.
    This time around, regarding Hamas, it may end up being the same dynamic that will shake opinion in the U.S. But I certainly hope not… Not least, because the political elite in Israel (if not, perhaps, the entire populace) has shifted considerably to the right since Rabin’s day. Anyway, the U.S. can and should include Hamas in its peace diplomacy if it judges that is a wise thing to do. Why should have to wait for a seal of approval from the government in that tiny country in the Eastern Mediterranean?
    4. Just a final note about Diamant and Zonscheine’s broader refusenik movement. In the waning days of apartheid South Africa, the End Conscription Campaign, which in the circumstances was an almost wholly “White” organization, played a huge role in organizing those “White” South Africans who wanted to start questioning and then oppposing the whole apartheid system. I think “Courage to Refuse” and the other anti-militarist movements within Jewish Israeli society have a similarly prophetic role to play. because after all, the occupation and all its iniquities are sustained only through the barrels of the IDF’s extremely sophisticated arsenal of highly advanced and mega-lethal guns. Wielding those guns in battle inevitably exacts a moral and psychological price from those forced to do it.

Hats off to Diamant, Zonscheine, and their comrades!

Far-right Israeli gov’t cracks down– on members of US Congress!

Well, they do say that those whom the Gods want to destroy, first they make crazy… And here is the evidence that it this is indeed happening in today’s Israel. The ultra-right in Israel has always attacked many members of the ethnic-Palestinian leadership in Israel for being “anti-patriotic”, “traitorous”, or a “fifth column”. But in recent weeks, a really vile proto-fascist organization called Im Tirzu has come out with a campaign of unprecedented vituperativeness against such pillars of the left-Zionist establishment as Naomi Chazan, a former deputy Speaker of the Knessset who is the chair of New Israel Fund.
Just scroll down in this recent post by the indefatigable Didi Remez to see the grotesque caricature of Dr. Chazan that Im Tirzu published recently.
And now, Israel’s hard right has gone even crazier. Yesterday, the foreign ministry, which is headed by the ultra-rightists Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Ayalon, even intervened to prevent four visiting members of the U.S. Congress from meeting Israel’s president, the veteran politician and former prime minister Shimon Peres!
The four are are William Delahunt (D-Mass.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), and Mary Jo Kilroy (D.-Ohio)
The foreign ministry reportedly sought to block their visit with Peres because the short regional tour on which the four are traveling was organized by J Street, the newish Jewish organization in town that proudly describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace”, and Churches for Middle East Peace, a much smaller pro-peace advocacy group that is also a staunch supporter of Israel’s existence and security. (Full disclosure: I sit on the Leadership Council of CMEP.)
No word on whether Peres himself, who used to the head of the Labour Party and who always used to pride himself on being pro-peace, tried to over-ride the foreign ministry in the matter.
This morning, Rep. Delahunt issued a statement noting that the group had just returned from Sderot in southern Israe, “where we had a very emotional meeting with the Mayor and residents from whom we better understood the trauma and pain they have endured…
He added,

    We were puzzled that the Deputy Foreign Minister has apparently attempted to block our meetings with senior officials in the Prime Minister’s office and Foreign Ministry – questioning either our own support of Israel or that we would even consider traveling to the region with groups that the Deputy Foreign Minister has so inaccurately described as “anti-Israel.”
    In our opinion this is an inappropriate way to treat elected representatives of Israel’s closest ally who are visiting the country – and who through the years have been staunch supporters of the US-Israeli special relationship.
    We would respectfully ask the government for a clarification of its stance toward this and future delegations. There are undoubtedly a range of opinions in this country as there are in the United States on how best to secure our common goal of peace and security for Israel and all the peoples of the region.
    It is unwise for anyone to take disagreements as to how to accomplish our common goals and purpose – which is to achieve peace and security – and to misrepresent those differences as questioning support and concern for the state of Israel itself.

Delahunt, I should note, has been one of the wisest members of congress on issues relating to Iraq in recent years. Back in 2007, he sponsored some key hearings in which he made an honest attempt to listen to, understand, and engage with the range of views of the elected parliamentarians in Iraq– including parliamentarians who were strong opponents of the US’s continued military presence there.
At a broader level, it’s important to note, too, that support for Israel has nearly always, historically, been a lot stronger in the Democratic Party here in the US, than in the Republican Party. If Lieberman and Ayalon now feel ready to treat four Democratic members of congress in such a humiliating way, that marks a sea-change in US-Israeli relations.
Of course, these four courageous members of Congress will need all the help they can get from fair-minded citizens in their own constituencies and around the country, because almost certainly the chorus of anti-J Street organizations in this country, from AIPAC on down, will most likely seek to punish them during the coming months as they seek the funds they’ll need to get re-elected next November.