Category Archives: Iran


There goes the neighborhood

The internationalization of the Syrian civil war

World powers and regional actors are increasingly converging on Syria, a development which threatens to mesh the civil war between pro- and anti-Syrian regime forces into the wider regional conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, as well as the global tussle between the U.S. and Russia over spheres of influence. Continue reading There goes the neighborhood

russian warship

Putin’s Pivot to the Middle East

This is not the first time that the Russians have put their military assets into the service of their client states in the Middle East. In 1973, when Ariel Sharon’s division was encircling the Egyptian Third Army and Israeli units were 40km from Damascus, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene militarily if the Americans didn’t put the brakes on the Israeli advance. Continue reading Putin’s Pivot to the Middle East


What if Australian agents needed Israeli passports?

Surprise surprise. The New York Times reports that the Hezbollah men who traveled to Burgas, Bulgaria to kill Israelis, did so by using Australian and Canadian passports, and they also carried fake Michigan IDs which were fabricated in Lebanon.

Now I know Australia is furious with Israel over the latter’s use of its passports. And apparently Israel promised Canberra that it wouldn’t do so again. Australia even expelled two Israeli diplomats after the Mabhouh affair, in which Mossad apparently used Australian passports. Will Australia now read the riot act to Hezbollah? Will Canada call in the Lebanese ambassador, who represents a government of which Hezbollah is a senior member? Will Australia and Canada expel Lebanese embassy staff in protest?

I may be extremely naïve, but I can’t see why this would be necessary in this day and age, and why Australian intelligence and Mossad can’t work out their issues quietly and efficiently. The Zygier case may point to deeper problems between Canberra and Jerusalem. I understand the necessity of sovereignty and not putting Australian citizens traveling abroad in precarious situations, but as I see the global terror map, Israel and Australia are on the same side, with Hezbollah and its ilk on the other. So if everyone is using everyone else’s passports, why would the Australians give Israel so much stick over the use of its passports? The same goes for Canada. I understand that Australia and Canada don’t want their traveling citizens to be suspected of working for Mossad, and I feel their apprehension. I also see the inherent problem here for Australian Jews of being accused of dual loyalty. But what if this wasn’t even an issue? What if Australia and Israel’s security concerns and priorities dovetailed when it came to the war on terrorists? What if every Australian, Jewish and non-Jewish, understood that he or she stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel in this fight?

Surely Canberra and Jerusalem could come up with a modus vivendi that works for both countries, who are in the same boat against global Islamic terrorism.

What possible gain could Australia get by exposing Mossad operations against Iran and terror groups? Wouldn’t Australia benefit from the intelligence that Mossad gathers and the operations that it carries out? Doesn’t Australia have its own war to fight against Islamic terrorists?

What possible benefit could Canberra get by leaking this Zygier story to the media? Why is someone in Australian intelligence purposefully turning up the heat on the Mossad? Being upset over the use of passports is one thing, exposing entire Mossad operations in Europe [against Iran] is on another level entirely.

But seriously, why not coordinate the use of passports? Why not extend the level of intelligence cooperation, which is already at a very high level, to this area too? Sharing intelligence is one thing, but intelligence agencies are loathe to share agents and methods. Fine, but you can’t win the war against Islamic terrorists this way. Soon the issue of passports will be a thing of the past, with biometric measures rapidly making their way into the system. There, in the bio-digital realm, intelligence agencies might actually be forced to create and share a list of “travelers” –a “simple” fake identity just won’t cut it anymore.

If the reports from the Australian Broadcast Corporation are true and Zygier passed on details of Mossad operations in Europe, I have to ask, why on earth are the Australians even digging for this information? What would they do with this information, sell it to the Iranians? We’re on the same side no? If there’s something Australian intelligence want to know, because they feel they need to know, why don’t they just ask?

And while we’re on the subject, I’m sure that Israel would have no problem letting Australian agents use Israeli passports on their overseas missions. Just ask, for you, no problem.

No hard feelings mate.


Our Man in X

So who was Ben Zygier? A double agent for Australia? A sellout to the Dubai authorities? A rogue agent ala Jason Bourne?

A “young agent caught between the intelligence agencies of two nations, both of which he had claimed as his own,” as TIME Magazine suggests?

Or maybe just a young man who cracked under the pressure of life in the shadow war, who was in over his head, and who made a terrible mistake, a mistake whose shame overcame him?


On Thursday, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida claimed that Zygier was one of the members of the Mossad team which assassinated Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. “But after the assassination, for some reason, Zygier contacted the Dubai authorities and gave them detailed information on the assassination,” the paper reported. According to the paper, Zygier was then captured by Israel after he went into hiding. The Dubai police however have rejected this report out of hand. So what is smoke, and what is mirroI don’t want to believe that Zygier would have betrayed the Mossad. There is no way of knowing, of course, but a young Jew brought up in a Zionist home, the son of a senior official in Bnei Brit, who perhaps, like many young Diaspora Jewish boys, dreamed of serving in the IDF and the Mossad – to eventually want to betray Israel seems [like many reports about this story] very uncomfortable.

Israeli boys grow up wanting to be in the Golani Brigade, or to become pilots. Australian, South African, and Canadian Jewish boys grow up wanting to be in the Mossad.

To have finally achieved his dream [if that’s what Zygier wanted] – becoming a warrior in the Mossad – only to turn around and betray the Mossad, seems like an improbable, grim ending to a fairytale. But let’s assume that this is in fact what happened. Let’s assume that Zygier turned on Israel, or was about to. Could that then explain why he chose to take his own life instead of living with the shame of having betrayed the Jewish state that let him into its most trusted circle?

Like many journalists, I’m intrigued by the story of Ben Zygier, AKA Ben Alon, AKA Ben Allen, AKA Prisoner X – a dual Australian-Israeli national who apparently worked for the Mossad and committed suicide in an Israeli jail after “something went terribly wrong” during his clandestine service. Unlike Australian journalists, who first broke the story, I am likely not going to be able to conduct any meaningful reporting on this story. There are just too many layers of security-mandated silence around it, most of them probably totally justifiedAnd unlike the Israel Security Agency, which has a spokesperson, all queries addressed to the Mossad must go through the Prime Minister’s Office, which as a matter of course, does not answer queries addressed to the Mossad.

So in lieu of coming up with answers, at this time, I’d like to point out some of the questions I would ask the Mossad if I were able to:

The most intriguing of all: What did he do? Did he betray, or was he about to betray, the Mossad? And how? With what information?
If he did betray the Mossad, what made him do it?
How was he picked up and from where? [Some reports say he went into hiding? Was he abducted abroad, like Mordechai Vanunu was?]
Why was he held for so long in solitary confinement in the most secure prison in Israel?
What were the charges laid against him?
Was the evidence against him shown to his legal team?
How did he manage to commit suicide in a suicide-proof cell? [And who in the Prisons Service will answer for this?]
Was the fact that he changed his name four times in Australia after he had already moved to Israel not a dead giveaway that he was up to something? And if so, can the Mossad be so amateurish in its tradecraft?
If Israel told Australia about Zygier’s arrest, but not the charges against him, why not?
To what extent has the relationship, both on the intelligence and diplomatic levels, between Israel and Australia [and New Zealand, England and Canada for that matter] been harmed by Israel’s use of the passports of friendly nations over the past few years?
How much damage to Israeli security [and the citizens of foreign friendly nations traveling in the Middle East] has been caused by Israel’s use of the foreign passports of friendly nations without authorization?
How much damage has been done to Israeli security by the revelation of this story in the Australian media?
Why did the Mossad need to ask the Israeli courts to gag all Israeli media reportage of the already-broadcast report by the Australian Broadcast Corporation?
If all the Mossad got was 24 hours in which to assess the damage the broadcast caused before the gag order was lifted, did the Mossad not know about the Foreign Correspondent report beforehand?
How much damage control can the Mossad have carried out in the 24 hours the gag order was in place, that it could not have carried out in the months leading up to the ABC report?
And if the Mossad [the Prime Minister’s Office] did know about the report, and about its date of broadcast, why did it act with such panic, and call in the chief editors of all the major media outlets to ask for their cooperation in not reporting on the Australian report? [in short, why was the Mossad surprised by this report, if it in fact was?]
And if the Mossad was aware of the Foreign Correspondent report, which took months to prepare, and knew that the publication of Zygier’s photo could potentially place assets in the field [people he met with] in danger, did Mossad try and get ABC not to run the piece? If not, why not? And if yes, what reasons did ABC give for ignoring the request?
Will the State of Israel look after Zygier’s Israeli wife and children, or do they not get any state assistance due to his alleged betrayal and suicide?

Questions I would ask Ben Zygier if I could. 

What made you do it? Do you regret it? What happened?
You cooperated with the state when you were in detention, you spoke to your lawyers, you even considered a plea bargain. So why did you give up hope?

What was it like for you toward the end? Did the Mossad not train you to withstand months of solitary confinement and isolation, and perhaps even to withstand torture? Or can nobody ever prepare you to be tortured by your own?

You killed yourself in the bathroom of a supposedly suicide-proof prison cell. You must have been thinking about how to do this for quite some time; you couldn’t have just woken up on the last morning of your life and suddenly come up with a way of killing yourself. This takes thought, premeditation, planning. Did you lose hope in ever redeeming yourself, or were you a double agent on orders to kill yourself if you felt you were being broken? Did the Mossad teach you how to take your own life in case you were trapped and had no way out?

Did they give you someone to talk to during your eight months of incarceration? Did you ask to speak to someone?

Did you know that your daughter was born four days before you took your own life? Did someone tell you that your wife was about to give birth? Had you known, would you have still gone through with it? Did you even know that your wife was pregnant?


Israel and America: Going from ‘shared-values’ to ‘added-value’?

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minis...
President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliver a press conference following their meeting in the Oval Office. Screen-shot from official White House video. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s almost complete agreement among serious political analysts that Israel’s next government will not last out its term.

There will simply be too much external pressure on Israel to advance a meaningful peace process with the Palestinians, and too much internal coalition pressure to advance meaningful socio-economic structural reforms [equal sharing of the burden].

The one caveat to this is a drawn-out security situation, like war with Iran and/ or intense skirmishes along the Sinai, Golan, and Jordan borders with Islamists. Assuming the latter doesn’t happen, the next government will most likely be made up of Likud-Beytenu, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties, Habayit Hayehudi led by Naftali Bennett, and perhaps a ‘fig leaf’ party from the center left [Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Livni’s Hatnuah, and Kadima if it passes the electoral threshold].

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main messages, as outlined in weekend interviews, are that the settlement issue is not the central factor blocking Israeli-Palestinian peace [contrary to world opinion], and furthermore, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not central to the upheavals and processes playing out in the Arab world and Iran – processes which are much more important and fateful than the Palestinian issue.

While some in the Likud apparatus say that US President Barack Obama’s comments to Jeffrey Goldberg [Israel doesn’t know what its best interests are…Netanyahu is a political coward] are the result of encouragement by Livni and Ehud Olmert, and constitute meddling in Israeli elections, another school of thought posits that Obama’s comments, when taken at face value, constitute an attitude of benign neglect emanating from past disappointments and future priorities.

Obama has bigger fish to fry: his economy, his economy, his economy, Afghanistan, China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran. Obama’s attention is elsewhere, and so if Israel wants to make its mistakes, it should be allowed to do so. This is a sentiment shared by Olmert too, who believes the next government will fall quickly, and fall hard, and that Israelis should be allowed to make this mistake for themselves and, hopefully, learn from it.

Make no mistake, security and intelligence cooperation will continue, and will continue to expand. These relations have never been better. And that’s what worries me: that we are increasingly basing our relationship with America on “added-values” interests instead of “shared-value” interests.

 Take this comment from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in today’s Israel Hayom:

 “The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is very strong. We are in full cooperation on defense and intelligence. David Ben-Gurion had disagreements with U.S. Secretary of State [George] Marshall when he announced the establishment of the State of Israel. [Prime Minister Levi] Eshkol had disagreements with [U.S. President Lyndon] Johnson over lifting the blockade on the eve of the Six-Day War. [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin had disagreements with [U.S. President Gerald] Ford over American demands for unilateral withdrawal from Sinai. [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin had disagreements with [U.S. President Ronald] Reagan over Iraq as well as the Reagan administration’s diplomacy plan. [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon had disagreements with [U.S. President George W.] Bush over immediately ending Operation Defensive Shield. Despite all these disagreements, the relations between the two countries only grew closer, because the shared interests and shared values are stronger.”

Yes, Prime Minister. There have been disagreements in the past. But the examples mentioned above had more to do with security and diplomatic issues, not with the core “shared-values” matrix.

With Obama saying that every time the Israeli government announces settlement expansion it moves itself further into “near-total isolation” and goes against “its own interests” – we are no longer talking about just security and diplomacy. We are talking about an American administration which sees its “shared-values” relationship with Israel declining. We are talking about a president who is losing interest in that relationship. We are talking about vetoes at the Security Council. We are talking about the declining perception of Israel as a democratic bastion in a wild neighborhood. We are talking about a polarization of Israel in American political discourse, with the president and his senior circle on the side that thinks “Israel doesn’t know what its own interests are.”

What worries me now is that the Israeli political establishment is paying lip service to the strength of the shared values relationship. And every time our shared-values relationship takes a hit, politicians here, and in America, talk up our “added-values” relationship, i.e. security, intelligence and economic cooperation. They talk about “Israel’s unique contributions to U.S. national security and the economy as a matchless source of cutting-edge technologies, a sterling beachhead in a vital region, a battle-tested laboratory, and the largest U.S. aircraft carrier which does not require U.S. boots on board,” as one conservative columnist puts it.

Even our former military attaché to Washington, Gadi Shamni, believes that the US will always ensure Israel’s military advantage. Political differences pose no threat to “very deep” defense ties, says Shamni. This seems to be a given, and thank God for that. But even Shamni concedes that the impasse with the Palestinians is causing problems for Israel in Washington. “I think we have no choice but reach a deal [with the Palestinians] because both of us are going to be here forever,” he says.

So increasingly, the chatter is not about shared liberal democratic values anymore [the values that Obama believes got him reelected], it’s about our distinctive ‘added value’ as an aircraft carrier here: intelligence-sharing, counter-terrorism, homeland security, missile defense, training, battle tactics, joint exercises, pre-positioning of military hardware, medical treatment of soldiers and civilians, research and development, space, commercial and defense industries and high tech in general.

I’m not knocking these things. They’re vital in and of themselves and we’ve earned this added value with blood, sweat and tears. I’m just pointing out that increasingly, our relationship with America is becoming more about this, and less about that.

And that worries me.

What if America successfully pivots to Asia and cuts its defense budget; will its ‘reliance’ on Israeli battle tech and intelligence increase or decrease? It could increase, and wouldn’t that be a good thing? Yes it would, to the extent that it increases in tandem with the shared-values relationship. Is it a positive or negative thing that the American administration increasingly defines its relationship with Israel along “added-value” lines, like battle tech? If Obama is not going to invest political capital in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather leave us all to our own devices, will Israelis and Palestinians be able to come to a two-state solution by themselves – the only solution, in my opinion, that allows Israel to be a Jewish and Democratic state [i.e. to hold onto the “shared-values” part of the relationship with America].

And if, God forbid, one day our relationship with America is no longer based on shared values, but rather on ‘added-value’, will it last? What if America no longer needs our added-value because it has largely disengaged from our region, focusing instead entirely on the Gulf and Asia? Or what if our ‘added-value’ takes a big hit, like it did after the Second Lebanon War? What happens to our relationship then? So while our strategic dialogue with the Americans is strong and getting stronger, our shared-values dialogue is decreasing.

While I personally believe that the Palestinians are far, far more to blame for the death of the peace process [no to Barak, no to Olmert, ignoring Netanyahu’s settlement freeze], and I believe it is important to deepen our cultural and historic ties to our ancestral homeland, I don’t think the American administration shares this view. For an America, whose gaze is becoming fixed over to the Far East, the Near East is going out of focus – and those Israelis and Palestinians are still going at it.

How do you say Two-State-Solution in Chinese?


Lessons from the Second Six Day War

I might be entirely wrong, but my analysis of the situation is that this war is over. Unless either side carries out a major operation, a ceasefire is likely to be announced within the next 24 to 48 hours. Operation Pillar of Defense AKA Pillar of Cloud AKA Cast Lead Lite AKA Operation Umpteenth Time has run its course, for both Israel and Hamas. Neither side can achieve anything more without breaking the china: from Israel’s perspective that would mean a ground invasion, and from Hamas’ perspective, a successful rocket attack with multiple Israeli casualties, something that they haven’t succeeded in doing so far, but if they try long enough, could very well achieve. Continue reading Lessons from the Second Six Day War


If Israel strikes Iran alone, she will stay alone

I think that if we do this alone we’ll dig ourselves into a hole we won’t know how to get out of
I think that if we do this alone we risk the alliance with our only true friend in the world – a superpower at that.
If we do this alone at a time when the entire Arab world is in flux we’ll be playing into the hands of the Arab street
Forget what the rulers say in private [that they would love us to hit Iran]
The street will be turned against us by those very same Arab rulers who privately hope we go it alone. That way they get to see their two main enemies bloody each other: Israel and the Shiite Iran. Continue reading If Israel strikes Iran alone, she will stay alone

Let's roll

12 Questions and Answers about Israel and Iran in 2012

Over the past few weeks I’ve been asked the same questions over and over about Israel and Iran: will we do it? Will we do it alone? Will the Americans do it for us? Can we stop the Iranian nuclear project etc etc.

So I’ve decided to put them down and try answer them as best I can [the answers are taken from interviews and background briefings with top former and current security, military and diplomatic officials in Israel].

Q: What’s the best way to stop the Iranians from producing nuclear weapons? Continue reading 12 Questions and Answers about Israel and Iran in 2012

In south Israel, school’s out as adults bicker

Increasingly, it looks as if Palestinian terrorists in Gaza are aiming their rockets at Israeli schools.

For a week now, some 250,000 Israeli kids have stayed away from schools, a situation which has greatly disrupted normal life in the country’s south. The government and the IDF have given the all-clear for children to return to school, but rockets keep on being fired. The mayors of the major cities in the South, together with many parents and teachers, have ignored the state’s orders and have kept the schools closed. A stalemate, with Israeli children caught in the middle between quarreling adults. Continue reading In south Israel, school’s out as adults bicker

Talking points for the Israeli nuclear family

Since some of you have been speaking out of turn, shooting your mouths off, and making up your own minds about what you can and cannot say around here, the following Talking Points have been issued by the Ministry of Hysteria to all Israeli nuclear families. The talking points are for your use in travel or business abroad, around the water-coolers, dinner conversations, random talks with strangers at airports, train and bus stations, ferries, kiosks, hotel lobbies, or overseas tourist information desks. Please represent your country in the best possible manner, and stick to the message. Remember, if you’re not with us, you’re not with us. Continue reading Talking points for the Israeli nuclear family