Israel is bad for the US, part 2342345

Mark Perry in Foreign Policy:

Buried deep in the archives of America's intelligence services are a series of memos, written during the last years of President George W. Bush's administration, that describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives -- what is commonly referred to as a "false flag" operation.

The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah -- a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.

. . .

"The report sparked White House concerns that Israel's program was putting Americans at risk," the intelligence officer told me. "There's no question that the U.S. has cooperated with Israel in intelligence-gathering operations against the Iranians, but this was different. No matter what anyone thinks, we're not in the business of assassinating Iranian officials or killing Iranian civilians."

Wonder if that's still true. Juan Cole has more commentary reminding us that is part of a bigger pattern:

Israeli right wing governments have often been perfidious “allies.” Their political agent in the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has assiduously spied on America, garnering military, technological and trade secrets. The spying is so normal that when AIPAC fired the longtime head of its Mideast bureau, Steven Rosen, was caught passing classified Pentagon documents to the Israeli embassy, he sued AIPAC on the grounds that he was only acting as AIPAC operatives routinely did, given the long history of domestic espionage conducted by that organization.

Likewise, the assassination by Mossad operatives in Dubai of alleged Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh involved massive identity theft by Israeli agents of names, passports and other information of nationals from countries considered friendly to Israel such as Australia and the UK. 1) Identity theft is wrong. 2) Stealing another person’s identity to commit murder is wrong, both because murder is a crime and because the consequences of the murder would then fall on an innocent. 3) Israel was clearly attempting to deflect a) international blame and b) any Hamas retaliation onto the innocent citizens of countries that supported Israel. That’s about as sleazy as you can get.

Mossad in Algeria

Here's an odd story:

Algerian authorities have arrested an Israeli Mossad agent carrying a fake Spanish passport in the city of Hassi Messaoud near an Egyptian office providing service for oil companies, Algerian Ennahar El Djadid newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to the Algerian sources, the Mossad agent entered Algeria under the fake identity of a 35-year old Spanish man named Alberto Vagilo, and spent over ten days in the country prior to his arrest.

The report came a week after an Israeli citizen who went missing for several days in Algeria, who was also carrying a Spanish passport, raised suspicions that he might have been kidnapped by al-Qaida.

The man notified the Foreign Ministry that he contacted his family and that he was safe.

The Algerian paper also reported that the Mossad man received entry visas through a European embassy before traveling to the country via Barcelona.

According to the Algerian sources, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), John Pistole visited Algeria last Thursday to negotiate on behalf of the Israeli citizen, as there are no diplomatic relations between Israel and Algeria.

Ennahar El Djadid went on to report that the man has a good command of Arabic, is well acquainted with the city, and even participated in the Muslim prayers in the Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque.

There are reports elsewhere that up to six Israelis have been arrested in Algeria, and that the affair is causing an inter-regime raucus. It's all extremely strange — what would an Israeli operative be doing in Algeria, why would he be in oil-producing areas, what's the role of the Egyptian firm involved, and how come this is all happening as Algeria's state-owned oil company, Sonatrach, gets a new CEO after months of corruption investigations and apparent attempts at political destabilization? And how does it fit in the looming succession crisis over Bouteflika's success, for now, in creating a relatively strong presidency? And what does it have to do with the War on Terror in the Sahel?

Things fall apart

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats, The Second Coming

I don't have much to add to all the noise around the Mabhuh assassination, except to say that this is the opportunity to pressure European governments to distance themselves from Israel, notably by freezing any further advanced status talks between the EU and Israel. Ideally, a review of visa regulations for Israeli citizens should also be considered. Politicians need to latch on to this seriously, especially in Britain. Considering what've seen so far is mostly indignation without consequences (and that we can't really rule out the possibility of European cooperation — see Fisk's rant on this, although I am pretty agnostic about it).
I am still forming my own take on the impact of the assassination for the region (as opposed to Europe.) One of the most important things I think it reveals is the level of instability of the regional order — it suggests to me that since at least 2006 if not earlier the dynamic is one of chronic instability where open war is generally avoided (except by the Israelis) but all kinds of dirty games and pressures are being played. Think of the Bush administration's role in training Palestinian Authority forces, the Gaza clashes that led to the Hamas takeover, Hamas being pushed into an incredibly difficult position, the Syrians and Saudis playing all sides, Lebanon entering a post-post-Hariri phase, Iraq still to find a role for itself post-Saddam, Egypt's loss of control internally and externally, and so on and so forth. It's hard to describe today's Middle East, except that it is no longer the Middle East of the Oslo / dual containment era, nor is it something altogether new yet. Birth pangs indeed. 
The other thing that comes to mind is that Mossad was taken off-guard at crime-fighting capabilities of Dubai (despite its slightly buffoonish police chief). The fact is Dubai has been under considerable pressure to bring its role as a Mecca of arms dealers, money launderers, sanction busters and other shady characters under control for the past decade. Tremendous efforts were made by the US to control terrorism financing, and more still to monitor if not stop Dubai's connection with Iran. The fascinating thing about the Mabhuh tapes is that they were probably made using a British CCTV system that was built to keep track of these things, not Mossad operations. Likewise, as mentioned in the Economist story below on Lebanon, the monitoring equipment Lebanon used to uncover Israel's spy network was the result of French and/or Russian equipment brought in in part to improve the monitoring of Hizbullah.  O happy unintended consequences!
(Update: I just saw this WSJ piece that is exactly along these lines. It's by Robert Baer, the former CIA field operative.)
Here's a few links to some of the more interesting coverage I've seen, do send more!
And not really Mabhuh assassination related, but telling of Dubai's role as an international zone of shady deals:
Finally, via The National, this map of the comings and goings of the hit team:
*

The Mabhouh tapes, remixed


"Smile you're on candid camera."

Having started watching the remarkable film released by the Dubai police showing the comings and goings of Mohamed Mabhouh and his assassins on CCTVs, I quickly became bored. The problem: no sound from all these cameras. If I'm going to sit down and watch 27 minutes of surveillance footage, I need a soundtrack. But what to choose?

"Soldier of love"Let's face it, the Mabhouh assassination was almost certainly carried out by our cousins the Israelis. And what are they known for, apart from assassinations, the Dahiyeh Doctrine and its mass targeting of civilians, and of course their traditional foods like hummus and falafel?

The answer: execrable, schmaltzy pop music (remember Dana International?)

So I grabbed the Mabhouh footage and added as a soundtrack the well-known (well, in Israel) singer Eyal Golan's 1999 album, Soldier of Love. Watch the results below — it grows on you.

Click here to view or right-click to download

I think beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and spy scandals, this video really shows to what extent to which all of our comings and goings are increasingly monitored. It's a little bit creepy — not just because this may be the world's first extensively taped assassination operation, but also because it leaves you with the sense that you are always being watched.

It's interesting that this assassination has gotten so much attention. Some of it, notably over the forgery of passports and identity theft, is entirely warranted. I hope the countries concerned will act strongly. But over the larger question of its impact on the conflict, we're still not sure what Mahbouh's death means. Was he an indispensable contact with the Iranians? What secrets died with him? What does it mean for Hamas, especially if reports that it was infiltrated are true? And what does it mean for its relations with Fatah if reports that former Fatah security men were involved are true? Beyond the pseudo-glamour of all this cloak-and-dagger stuff (and if you watch the tape, in fact it's hardly glamorous and the hit team looks like they're on a corporate team-building exercise), there are a lot of unanswered questions here. Not to mention, of course, what mega hit job is being planned to avenge both Mabhouh's and (for Hizbullah) Imad Mughnieyh's death... 

Now for some Mabhouh-related links: