The U.S. spies on Israel – so what else is new? If U.S. President Obama spied on German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande, Prime Minister Netanyahu should be proud to be included in such an august group. Besides, didn’t Israel and the U.S. team up to spy on Iran’s nuclear program and unleash the Stuxnet virus that derailed it in 2011? With advanced cybernetics and hi-tech, it’s only natural that nations, having the capability, will employ it to protect and advance their national interests.
But there are limits – it depends where you are on the totem pole. U.S. officials can almost brag about it to the Wall Street Journal and make no bones about continuing to spy on the Jewish state. But Israel had better not get caught spying on America after the disastrous Pollard affair. In any case, apparently Israel was an invisible participant at the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Remember Secretary of State Kerry wagging his finger at Netanyahu and warning him not to disclose any secrets he might have garnered from those talks, which barred Israel. And that is why the disclosure that the U.S. spies on Israel was no big deal in Jerusalem. Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz, who formerly held the Intelligence portfolio, brushed it aside:
“We take it for granted that foreign powers, some even friendly, are spying on us. However, Israel takes preventative steps to protect its crucial strategic secrets.”
While politicians in Jerusalem took the revelation in stride, not so members of Congress in Washington who took umbrage with their conversations with Israelis also being bugged. And of course, America is at the top of the international totem pole while the Jewish State is somewhere else. Moreover, Netanyahu is now awaiting vital decisions by Obama on a new ten-year military aid program and a U.S. veto against Palestinian political attacks in the UN Security Council. As for the Iranian nuclear deal, Netanyahu has already thrown in the towel.
On the other hand, Bibi himself is super-sensitive about being eavesdropped. He does not use a smart-phone and his office is free of electronic equipment that can be bugged. Moreover top-secret discussions are reportedly conducted at ‘sterile’ sites.
Why was Israel’s missile mastermind suddenly sacked?
Israelis awakened one morning and could not believe their eyes and ears. Yair Ramati, the missile engineer who had developed Israel’s world class Arrow defense system to intercept Iranian nuclear missiles, had just been fired. The day before Ramati had overseen and starred in the latest successful test of the ARROW III interceptor. And the week before, he scored another bull’s eye – the intermediate range ‘David’s Sling’. These were massive technological feats providing Israel with a unique three-tier missile defense. Literally, his dismissal was a bolt out of the blue.
Ramati headed the super-secret Homa (Wall) missile defense project. What happened? Defense officials were quick to stress that Ramati was not a spy or anything like that. On the contrary, he was a patriotic Israeli who had broken the sacrosanct rule against taking home top secrets on a personal laptop. He had done so several times after being warned, and now he had done so one time too many.
Prof./Gen. Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, a former director of Homa, described Ramati as a very, very smart engineer dedicated to his work. As for Ramati’s penchant for taking his work home on his computer, Ben Yisrael added:
“You don’t need to have a Ph.D. in computers to penetrate a laptop, and apparently security officials had no alternative after Ramati repeated it after being warned several times. It’s a great loss, but there are other talented people in Homa who are capable of carrying on the project.”
But the whole story has yet to be told. Let’s assume Ramati was a workaholic who was in the habit of taking home missile secrets. (Maybe he wakes up at 3AM with some great idea and needs to start working on it immediately). Whatever. Could the security experts not have found a solution? The Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee wants answers. It is calling for an urgent closed-door session to hear an explanation for the drastic decision. Knesset Member Nachman Shai of the Zionist Camp (Labor) has initiated the step:
“The Knesset is obligated to conduct parliamentary oversight and is entitled to receive a full report about the dismissal. This involves a key member of the defense establishment who has racked up outstanding achievements in our missile defenses in recent years.”
One possible explanation comes to mind. Maybe the Americans are also spying on Israel’s missile defense project. They supply most of the funding and receive the research in return. Let’s suppose the NSA detected that Ramati was taking home missile secrets on his private computer, thus jeopardizing the project – China is a well-known hacker. What if Washington gave Jerusalem an ultimatum – get rid of Ramati! He’s a security risk even if he is a missile mastermind. We haven’t heard the end of the story, maybe we never will.
Daesh, Hamas and all the rest!
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Izenkut has toured the borders of Lebanon and Syria to check out his defenses after rising threats from Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nassralah in southern Lebanon. This week it was disclosed that some six hundred Daesh fighters have deployed on the Golan Heights not far from the Israeli frontier. Adding to the tension, a Daesh spokesman has issued a threat to the Israeli people:
‘Don’t think that because we are fighting in Syria that he have forgotten about you. We are determined that (Israel) will be your graveyard!’
Gen. Izenkut replied by saying the IDF is closely monitoring developments in both sectors and will hit back hard if provoked. Nassralah is on record with his personal warning to Israel – he does have a record of keeping his warnings in one way or another.
Consider the fact that Hezbollah is taking more and more casualties fighting for Assad in Syria, and some Hezbollah fighters are reportedly against being dispatched to Syria. Could a sudden flare-up with Israel serve as a pretext for bringing the boys back home? Some Intelligence experts also think that Daesh is being pounded by the Russian air attacks in Syria and may try to boost its prestige by opening a front with Israel. If Hezbollah just fires off some rockets that blow up in empty fields, the Israeli response will probably not be that great. But if there are Israeli casualties, all hell may break loose.
Down south in Gaza, Hamas has joined the chorus. A Hamas spokesman has declared the organization in Gaza has ordered its operatives to launch a new wave of suicide bombers – in support of the sporadic attacks by Palestinians wielding knives and meat cleavers or trying to run over Israelis with their cars. If Hamas goes on the warpath, this will trigger a major IDF response in the current flare-up that started in September.
The Israeli cabinet has just announced a special budget of some fifteen billion shekels, that’s just over $3.8 billion dollars, specifically for the special needs of Israeli Arabs. This is also directed at mollifying the Israeli-Arab community that has not joined the Palestinian violence. The Israeli Security Service, Shabak, has uncovered a Palestinian terror cell on the West Bank that was plotting to escalate the terrorism. Apparently it was tipped off by the Palestinian Police of President Mahmoud Abbas. It reportedly informed Israel that a Palestinian suspect had applied for false identity documents, presumably for getting him into Israel.
This would indicate that Abbas himself is opposed to a further escalation of the violence, although the Palestinian leader helped spark it by alleging that Israel was planning to take over the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He then added fuel to the flames by charging:
“The filthy feet of the Jews are defiling our sacred Haram al Sharif (site of Al Aqsa mosque that was built on the site of the first and second Jewish temples).”
Moreover, some 52,000 Palestinian workers cross the old green line every morning to go to their jobs in Israel. Each of these Palestinians supports a family on the West Bank, and they can be counted on to oppose an escalation that would prevent them from earning a living.
Israel steers clear of Middle East meltdown…
‘Batten down the hatches’ – that is Israel’s policy while it tries not to be dragged into the current Middle East whirlpool. There is no way of predicting what will happen next – consider the landscape:
- Syria: the Sunni-Shiite Muslim clash rages on. The former state has disintegrated with no end in sight to the bloodshed. Shiite Iran and Hezbollah from Lebanon are backing the Alawite-Shiite regime of Bashar Assad. The Sunni rebels, including Daesh, are squabbling among themselves while trying to topple Assad. Russia has rushed in to prevent the toppling of Assad, while cashing in on its strategic presence by preserving its outlet to the Mediterranean as well as stationing air power in the region.
- Egypt: threatened by Daesh in Sinai and radical Islam in Cairo. The al Sisi regime and Israel are cooperating on containing the Daesh threat after the Obama administration actually supported the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Muslim organization!
- Jordan: King Abdullah is keeping a wary eye on a Daesh threat from Iraq and possible dissension by the Palestinian majority within its borders. Abdullah will never admit it, but his most important ally is actually the Jewish state.
- Turkey: President Erdogan has reached out to Israel but insists on an Israeli lifting of the sea blockade on Gaza. There is no way Jerusalem will consent to more rockets being smuggled into Gaza for a Hamas attack in the future. Meanwhile, after aggravating relations with Russia’s Putin, Erdogan is facing a bold move by the Kurds who are seeking a chunk of Turkey, Syria and Iraq, to form their own independent state. (Diplomats, Sykes and Picot forgot about this population, now some thirty million, when they carved up the Ottoman Empire during World War I).
- Saudi Arabia: threatened by Iran and Daesh is quietly forging relations with Israel.
- The Palestinian issue: President Abbas is seeking an imposed settlement that will give him more than negotiations with Netanyahu. This is the rather perilous panorama facing the Jewish state as it enters the new year of 2016.
Then there’s the special relationship with the United States, Israel’s greatest ally. Netanyahu and Obama are picking up the pieces after the Israeli leader failed in his belief that he could sway Congress into rejecting the nuclear deal with Iran. Both leaders will try hard to improve relations, although the military aide was never really affected by the bitter feud. Obviously, Netanyahu is hoping he will be able to see eye-to-eye with whoever enters the White House in just over a year.
Ehud Olmert & Richard Nixon…
Even after Israel’s Supreme Court rejected his appeal, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert still insisted: “I am not corrupt and I have never accepted a shekel for myself!”I could not help recalling President Richard Nixon’s declaration in the midst of the Watergate scandal: “I am not a crook – I have earned every cent I have!” There is a difference. Israel sends a crooked prime minister to the slammer, while the U.S. let its corrupt president ride into the sunset.