Liberman had initially said that the Qatari fuel would be restored only if the violence was halted. Tovah Lazaroff, October 23, 2018 23:20 A fuel tanker bound for the Gaza power plant is seen in the central Gaza Strip October 9, 2018. (photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS) Israel has rescinded its ban the […]
Over the past few weeks, the protests along the border fence have increased in intensity and Gazans have been hurling improvised explosive devices such as firecrackers and grenades at IDF forces. Anna Ahronheim October 4, 2018 19:01 As the summer comes to a close, the chances of war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and […]
“The lack of effective security and safety risks impacting vital humanitarian services to more than 1.3 million refugees in Gaza.” Tovah Lazaroff October 1, 2018 Citing safety reasons, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency withdrew some of its foreign staff from Gaza on Monday. UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness called on the Hamas-led government in Gaza […]
Just as relations with Egypt are referred to as a “cold peace,” the impression is rising that what’s happening with Turkey is a “cold reconciliation.” Almost every clause in the agreement has proven problematic. Israel transferred some $21 million to the Turkish government and Ankara is supposed to establish a special fund to distribute the money as it sees fit to the families of the ten Turks killed aboard the Mavi Marmara and to the rest of those wounded in the incident.
In exchange, Turkey agreed to pass a law in parliament that would disallow filing lawsuits against senior IDF officials and officers who were involved in the planning and carrying out of the raid on the flotilla ship. In recent years, such lawsuits have been filed in Turkish courts by the families of those killed and the charity organization the IHH, which initiated and organized the flotilla, and which, according to American and Israeli intelligence reports, has previously been involved in funding and providing other support to terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaida and Hamas. The lawsuits included requests to arrest former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin and former Navy commander Eliezer Marom.
The law was passed by the Turkish parliament, however, in recent weeks it seems that things have become complicated. The IHH and some of the victims’ families announced that they are not interested in Israel’s “dirty” money, but in attaining justice. They petitioned the court against the law, and their arguments will be heard next month.
However, what really disturbs Israel is the clause in which Turkey agreed to exile from its territory activists from Hamas’s military wing (the Kassam Brigades) and to shut down their offices. To differentiate, the reconciliation agreement allows Hamas government officials (the political branch) to continue to operate from Turkey.
Erdogan, whose ambitions to serve as a sort of 21st century sultan and to rule the moderate Sunni Muslim world have not subsided, not even after the failed coup attempt against him in July, sees himself as the patron of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian affiliate. This is also the reason for his strained relations with Egypt and the government of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
In the negotiations that led to the reconciliation agreement, Israel’s representatives insisted on the exile of Hamas’s military branch from Turkey. This was a condition that Israel’s intelligence community – the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), IDF and Mossad – were adamant about. Turkey refused the request outright, initially. Ankara claimed that it did not agree with the distinction made by Israel between Hamas’s military and political branches. In Turkey’s opinion, Hamas is one organization, whose struggle against the Israeli occupation is justified and who they certainly do not see as a terrorist organization. The Turks later softened their stance, and agreed to exile Salah al-Arouri, the commander of the Kassam Brigades delegation in Turkey.
Arouri, who is from the Hebron area, was one of the senior Hamas military wing officials in the West Bank. He was arrested by the Shin Bet and served two sentences in Israeli prisons for involvement in terror. He was expelled to Jordan, which refused to accept him, and from there moved on to Syria. With the start of the civil war in Syria and the closing of Hamas headquarters in Damascus, he moved to Turkey. He established a headquarters there that recruited terror operatives in Jordan and the West Bank, as well as providing them with funds for weapons. Arouri also issued the order to his operatives in the West Bank to kidnap Israelis. In one such attempt, three yeshiva students were kidnapped and murdered in Gush Etzion in June 2014. The murder was the catalyst that led to the third Gaza war in the summer of 2014 (Operation Protective Edge).
Arouri continued to weave terror plots against settlers and IDF soldiers in the West Bank and within the Green Line, and, according to the Shin Bet, also against the Palestinian Authority, in order to bring about its downfall. The Shin Bet uncovered Arouri’s network more than a year ago, arrested most of its members and confiscated their weapons and explosive materials. Then-Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen met with PA president Mahmoud Abbas and gave him intel on what the Shin Bet referred to as Hamas’s “coup plot.”
From Turkey, Arouri went to Qatar, which is also a Hamas base, albeit a distant one. Since he left Damascus in the wake of the Syrian civil war, Qatar has hosted Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal.
The shelter that Qatar grants Hamas and its ties to the organization do not keep Israel from having varying levels of ties to the Gulf state. Qatar is the main donor for the rehabilitation of Gaza, an apparently clear Israeli interest, as was stated again last week by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. In Israel, it is also hoped that Qatar, through its connections and influence, will help in the formulation of a swap deal, through which the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin will be returned to Israel, as well as three Israeli citizens who went missing in Gaza. However, at this stage, because of the huge gap in the positions of the two sides, such an agreement is not on the horizon.
Israel hoped that Turkey would help mediate the agreement as well, however, it is currently barely involved in the issue, despite requests from Israeli figures, including the prime minister’s representative to negotiations on POWs and missing persons, Lior Lotan, that it use its influence on Hamas.
Turkey has also given only limited humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, despite fiery rhetoric on the issue form Erdogan, who was wont to accuse Israel of “war crimes” prior to the reconciliation deal. The direct aid that Turkey granted totaled a few thousand tons of medicine, food, toys and more, that was loaded on two ships that were unloaded at Ashdod Port and from there transported by truck to Gaza. The total of Turkey’s humanitarian aid is worth about half of the value of the goods (some 400 trucks) that Israel transports to Gaza each day.
Even before the reconciliation deal was signed, my colleague Alex Fishman of Yediot Aharonotestimated that Turkey had no intention of expelling Hamas military wing operatives from its territory. Indeed, according to defense establishment information, the headquarters established by Arouri in Turkey is operating as usual, and at its helm is a single commander, who continues to receive orders from Arouri in Qatar. Military wing operatives continue to travel in and out of Turkey as they always did and are planning terror attacks against Israel.
Israel has already complained on multiple occasions that this clause of the agreement is not being implemented, but Erdogan’s government, which is still busy with the shockwaves of the coup attempt, persecuting real and imagined enemies, harassing the media and with a long line of steps to oppress and harm Turkey’s democracy, have ignored Israel’s entreaties.
Despite the anger in Israel, especially in the defense establishment and intelligence community, the government does not intend to throw away the deal. Therefore, Israel is actually accepting Turkish violations of the deal. Even Liberman, who opposed the deal since the beginning of negotiations, long before he became defense minister, and was among the few who did not delude himself into thinking that Turkey would fulfill its obligations, knows that not much can be done at this point. Israel’s room to maneuver is extremely limited. It can inform Turkey that it is also breaking the reconciliation agreement or it can simply accept the situation, and wait for a future opportunity when it will perhaps be possible to convince Erdogan’s government to shut down the Hamas headquarters.
Israel has a particular interest in normalizing relations with Turkey and especially hopes to sign with Ankara a deal to sell the Turks natural gas from the Leviathan reservoir. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) recently visited Turkey, meeting with his counterpart, who is also Erdogan’s son-in-law.
Israel also hopes that despite the “cold reconciliation,” it can still be possible to rehabilitate security and intel ties between the countries. The chances for such an occurrence are slim, but amid the volatility in the Middle East, you can never know. Then, perhaps an opportunity will pop up that will enable Turkey to “reform.”
This could happen if Turkey finds itself in a new and more powerful conflict with Iran because of its army’s involvement in Iraq, particularly in the battle for Mosul. There is already great tension between Ankara and Tehran. The Iraqi government is asking the Turkish army to get out of its territory, a move that Erdogan seems loathe to make at this point.
Under the pretext of fighting ISIS, the Turkish army invaded Iraqi territory in order to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in the northern part of the country and to break up the land corridor that Iran seeks to establish from its own territory, through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. If such a corridor was established it could be referred to as the Pan-Shi’te Highway.
If indeed Jerusalem and Ankara become closer in the future amid these developments, it can be assumed that, like in the past, the one leading the talks on the issue will be Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who was also a partner to the talks on reconciliation in his capacity as the head of the National Security Council. It was previously reported that former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Tamir Pardo, like their predecessors since the days of Isser Harel in the 1950s, met with the heads of Turkish intelligence. In such an instance, a meeting between Cohen and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan would also be likely. Perhaps then Cohen will be able to convince Fidan to close the Hamas headquarters in Turkey and to use his influence to implement a swap deal for the soldiers’ bodies and missing civilians with Hamas.
Head of terror group, which hasn’t renounced violence, renews plea to be folded into Abbas-led Palestinian umbrella organization
November 2, 2016, 3:17 pm
Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal made a rare plea on Wednesday for uniting his popular Palestinian Islamist movement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), bringing it, for the first time, into the umbrella group recognized internationally and by Israel as the representative of the Palestinians.
A senior PLO member told The Times of Israel that the group wants to bring Hamas under its framework, while an expert on Palestinian politics said the move was likely to take place.
The call by Hamas — considered a terror group by Israel, the US and most of the international community — for inclusion in the PLO comes amid concerted efforts by the Palestinians to challenge the 1917 British Balfour Declaration, which promised the Jewish people a “homeland” in Palestine, and to establish an independent Palestinian state as soon as possible.
Wednesday is the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
Mashaal called for a “united authority for inside and outside of Palestine under the umbrella of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.”
“It is time we reconsider the organization [the PLO],” he said during a speech in Qatar broadcast live by Al Jazeera at the Fourth Palestinian National Security Conference, which took place in Gaza City.
In Fatah-Hamas unity deals in 2011 and 2014, the Islamist group agreed to join the PLO, but the agreements fell through. There was also a failed bid for Hamas to join the PLO in 2005.
“In order to build our lives and political system on democratic foundations, we must be partners in shouldering responsibility and partners in the decision of war and peace,” Mashaal said.
The PLO, which has been the largest Palestinian umbrella organization since 1964, is headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and dominated by Abbas’s Fatah party.
It also includes the left-wing factions the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), as well as other smaller factions.
While Abbas has said he is committed to a nonviolent and diplomatic strategy to establish a Palestinian state, Mashaal has made it clear that Hamas will not give up employing violence to force Israel’s hand.
“The wager on the diplomatic movement on its own has been proven a failure. Let us agree on a national strategy and that everyone is with the [armed] resistance, which is a legitimate right that raises the cost of the occupation,” Mashaal said.
His call for national unity followed a rare meeting he held with Abbas in Qatar on Thursday.
Hamas has been in conflict with Abbas’s Fatah movement, which runs the West Bank, since 2007, despite multiple attempts to broker reconciliation.
“We want all of the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to be within the framework of the PLO,” Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told The Times of Israel in a phone interview,
Asked about Mashaal’s statement assuring that Hamas would continue its armed struggle, Abu Yousef said: “The type of struggle the Palestinians wage will be decided by the PLO. We agree on the basis that the Palestinian struggle will be a popular struggle.”
Shaul Mishal, head of the Middle East program at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said it was likely that Hamas would merge into the PLO.
“Both sides are looking to find a common denominator. They realize that to unite is the only effective way to be on the regional map, considering the harsh current events in the region,” he said. “They [the Palestinians] cannot continue working on the bilateral approach with Israel,” which has languished in the past several years.
Things are starting to fall apart in both the PA and Hamas-controlled territories.
In Gaza, Hamas quietly arrested and reportedly tortured one of its own senior leaders, Mushr al-Masri, on alleged charges of embezzlement and treason.
Reports say that al-Masri was briefly transferred to a hospital because of the beatings he endured, only to return to prison.
News reports also say that Hamas has arrested a number of its own members in recent months on charges of collaborating with Israel, and some of these people have been executed. The official cover story is that they were killed “while performing tasks of jihad.”
In the West Bank, however, things look even worse for the PA.
The pro-Fatah Palestine Press Agency reports that the increasing number of clashes between various armed groups, and between these groups and PA security forces, are all part of attempts to position each group ahead of any power struggle if Abbas dies or otherwise leaves without a strong successor.
There have also been armed clashes between Fatah armed groups and other armed gangs, who are making money on illegal drugs and arms, in the Balata camp and elsewhere. The PA security forces are reportedly providing weapons to some armed groups to buy their loyalty in case things go south quickly. Unemployed youths in the camps are also susceptible to being recruited to these armed groups. The residents are very worried that a civil war will break out as soon as Abbas is gone if he doesn’t designate a clear successor who is accepted by the people — a prospect that seems dim.
The planned Fatah conference in November may make things worse if it doesn’t address these issues. And the increased pressure from Egypt and Gulf states on Abbas to get his act together is putting everyone on edge.
There are big problems in the territories, and things could explode sooner rather than later.
The PA president been meeting with the leaders of Turkey, Qatar and Hamas — perhaps because his friends are abandoning him
In a turn of events no one could have foreseen mere weeks ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — until recently the ally of Egypt and Saudi in the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist groups — met on Wednesday with Khaled Mashaal, outgoing head of Hamas’s politburo, and with Ismail Haniyeh, Mashaal’s successor. These meetings took place after Abbas met the previous week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.
Erdogan and Sheikh Tamim are considered strong patrons of the Muslim Brotherhood, the great rival of Egypt and its president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Abbas’s meetings with them, as well as his talks with Mashaal and Haniyeh, the two highest-ranking members of Hamas (the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot), may even lead to a historic reconciliation with Hamas, though that outcome is still a long way off. Whether such a reconciliation would be a good or a bad thing depends on whom you ask.
So what — or, rather, who — has led Abbas straight into the arms of the Muslim Brotherhood, and maybe even into those of Hamas, just days after a high-ranking Hamas official in Gaza called him a traitor?
The answer is simple: Mohammad Dahlan. This former high-ranking Fatah official, who has been challenging Abbas for several years, succeeded this week in areas where even Hamas has failed. He managed to get Cairo on his side in the fight against Abbas and proved how weak and shaky Abbas’s status is in the Arab world.
In addition, Dahlan organized a series of demonstrations in the West Bank against the Palestinian Authority and Abbas — to which hundreds of Fatah activists showed up. So Abbas, who has taken some hard hits in recent weeks (including for attending the funeral of Shimon Peres, in case anyone forgot), caught on to the conspiracy being wrought against him in Cairo, Abu Dhabi (where Dahlan lives), and even Saudi Arabia (which recently cut back its aid to the PA). So Abbas decided to approach the patrons of the Muslim Brotherhood and perhaps bring about a reconciliation with Hamas — mainly with the leadership of the group’s political wing abroad.
Why approach Hamas leaders in Qatar and not in Gaza?
One reason is that the high-ranking members of Hamas in Gaza seem to be collaborating with Dahlan, of all people. This means that the conventional division into various camps (pragmatic Sunnis, the Muslim Brotherhood, Shiites, jihadist Sunnis) created in recent years is once again melting before our eyes. The new Middle East transformed long ago into a juicy and tragic political-diplomatic soap opera, and we cannot predict where the plot of its next episode is headed.
The rivalry between Dahlan and Abbas surfaced in late 2010, when reports of dubious accuracy spread that Dahlan was preparing a putsch against the PA president. The reports, together with critical statements made by Dahlan against Abbas’s sons, led the PA president to make a rapid move that ended with Dahlan’s expulsion from the Palestinian territories in January 2011.
Dahlan has been living in the United Arab Emirates since then and trying to set up bastions of support in the Palestinian territories, particularly among the inhabitants of the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. These attempts have been unsuccessful for years. But though people identified as Dahlan loyalists failed to gain status or support, they were still a chronic headache for Abbas and his security agencies. Abbas’s close associates claimed that Dahlan was running armed men in places such as Qalandiya, north of Jerusalem, and Balata, near Nablus, in an attempt to perpetrate terror attacks against Israel so as to damage relations between Ramallah and Jerusalem.
But something changed over the past few months: a combination of Abbas’s diminishing status and, just as important, the mobilization of the Arab quartet — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan — in an effort to assist Dahlan. Cairo was instrumental in pressuring Abbas to reconcile with Dahlan and restore him to Fatah’s ranks. But Abbas and Fatah’s leadership insisted on not taking Dahlan back into the movement, agreeing only to “reconsider the return of his associates to Fatah.”
This answer was not acceptable to Sissi, and neither was Abbas’s refusal to hold a summit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Cairo. It was then that Egypt, without a word to the media, began to act against Abbas using classic Egyptian methods. In a move interpreted as an explicit challenge to Abbas, the Egyptians allowed Dahlan — or Abu Fadi, as he is also known — to hold a gathering of dozens of supporters in Cairo.
Then they reached understandings with Hamas that Mohammad Dahlan’s wife, Jalila (Umm Fadi), would enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing, after the PA stopped her from entering via the Erez crossing. Jalila has been working in the Gaza Strip for many years, mainly in various charitable endeavors, with the permission of Hamas (which uses her as a stick to poke at Abbas). Just this week, she held a mass wedding ceremony, fully funded by the UAE, for dozens of people who were wounded in the 2014 war in Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defense. On top of all that, the Egyptians agreed to open the Rafah crossing for ten days every month, at least according to the latest update from Egypt. These incidents, of course, resulted in upgrading Dahlan’s standing in Gaza, where he is perceived as the desired candidate for the PA’s next president.
But Gaza is not Dahlan’s last stop. Jihad Tamliya, one of his known supporters, held a conference entitled Unity Among Fatah Ranks last week in the Amari refugee camp in the heart of Ramallah. Approximately 200 Fatah members called there for the adoption of the reconciliation initiative by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — or, in other words, expressed their support for Dahlan and their opposition to Abbas.
Tamliya has a history of conflict and friction with Abbas — or, more precisely, with Abbas’s son Tarek, who took over the management of Amari’s well-known soccer club in 2014. Tamliya defeated the younger Abbas in the elections for soccer club chairmanship that took place about a year later, and was appointed in his place. His close connections with Dahlan got him marked as an “enemy of the system.”
And this is where Abbas’s error stands out in sharp relief. Instead of trying to bring his rivals close to him, to win back the members of Fatah who had grown close to Dahlan — most of whom are major activists in the refugee camps — he came out against them with all his might through his associates, causing even greater ferment against the PA in the refugee camps, the places with the highest explosive potential.
The inhabitants of the Qalandiya, Askar and Jenin refugee camps have for decades seen themselves as a group that the PA has neglected and discriminated against. Dahlan, who realized the potential of these places right away, recruited supporters and agents there over the past five years, while Abbas continued using force against the activists.
That is also what happened this week. Abbas, feeling that the whole world was against him, swiftly punished Tamliya by throwing him out of Fatah. This led to a demonstration against the PA by hundreds of Amari’s inhabitants. Palestinian police officers arrived at the demonstration and severe clashes broke out.
“Young Palestinian men threw stones at the police officers as if they were Israeli troops,” one resident told this reporter. The commotion persisted, and news of the clashes spread like wildfire over social media networks, bringing hundreds of people into the alleyways of Balata and Jenin refugee camps to demonstrate against the PA. Live ammunition was used, and at least three people were wounded. The incidents subsided, but this is most likely not the last word in the battle between Dahlan and Abbas.
Just before the end
This series of events demonstrates even more powerfully that the West Bank has entered a kind of twilight zone, a dangerous and problematic interim stage, in which the status of the Palestinian Authority and its leader are weaker than they have ever been.
On the one hand, government agencies are still operating and demonstrating their ability to govern. But on the other, Abbas is more weak and vulnerable than ever, and everybody is busy with the question of “the day after.” Many members of Fatah fear that the day is fast approaching when Fatah will split over the uncompromising battle between Dahlan and Abbas, and Hamas will become more powerful still.
It should be emphasized that Dahlan is not the only one in Fatah to be marking out territory in anticipation of the fight over the succession.
The highest levels of Fatah, as a whole, are busy with Fatah’s general assembly, which is set to take place in late November and can point the way to who Abbas’s successor might be. Fatah’s Central Council will be elected during the assembly — and according to Fatah’s bylaws, it is only from the Central Council that Abbas’s successor, Fatah’s next chairman, may be chosen. It is also likely that the assembly will elect Fatah’s deputy chairman, who could, in time, succeed to the chairmanship.
Quite a few names have been mentioned time and again in the context of the deputy position: Marwan Barghouti, who is serving his sentence in an Israeli prison for five murder convictions; Saeb Erekat, who is also the secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee; and Nasser al-Kidwa, nephew of Yasser Arafat, whose unique feature is that he has no powerful enemies in Fatah and is considered acceptable to everyone.
There is one other big name — that of a man who has managed to strengthen his status in Fatah, mainly among the rank and file: our old acquaintance Jibril Rajoub. He was re-elected recently as chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, and has managed, through his work in athletics, to recruit quite a few young supporters. He has excellent connections among Palestinian security agencies, and almost all of the governors are his former soldiers.
Another prominent fact about Rajoub is that he is considered Mohammed Dahlan’s main rival. The open hostility between them began in 2002, when Dahlan turned his back on Rajoub after the takeover of the Preventive Security Service headquarters in Beitunia and tried to incriminate him — falsely, it should be said — for the extradition to Israel of Hamas members who were in his custody.
As we mentioned before, Palestinian politics is quite the soap opera.
Times Of Israel
Brig. Gen. (res.) Eli Ben-Meir, who retired from the IDF earlier this year after a three-decade army career that included stints as chief intelligence officer and head of the Military Intelligence Directorate’s Research and Analysis Division, said that the cyber attack that disrupted internet service on the US East Coast last week “was a reminder for those who needed one” about the dangers posed by hackers.
Ben-Meir, who currently works as a partner in a start-up company he co-founded that deals with cyber security at the state level, spoke by phone with The Algemeiner on Wednesday ahead of two US speaking tours he will be conducting in the coming months.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often says he wants Israel to become a global cyber power. In your view, has it reached that point yet?
“I don’t know if the word power is the best, but I think Israel is one of the leading countries in, first of all, understanding that this is an existing threat — it’s not something to worry about in the future, it’s already here. It’s a wave of warfare that we are now in the middle of. And Israel is in the top-tier of countries, in terms of — under the prime minister’s directive — establishing organizations, structures, procedures and processes to defend ourselves in this new era. Also, of course, there is a lot of technology that is coming from Israel — I think 20% of cyber technology in the world today is from Israel. The bottom line is a lot of people in Israel are getting up every morning and dealing only with cyber.”
How have new cyber capabilities affected the way the IDF operates?
“I won’t speak about specific capabilities, but the IDF is leading a lot of technology development efforts. Also, a lot of people who serve in the IDF leave it with much experience and knowledge of cutting-edge technology and go to private-sector companies where this knowledge is used to advance a lot of what’s going on. So this is an engine for the cyber industry in Israel.”
How do you foresee technology affecting the future of warfare? Do you think there will always be a need for soldiers on the ground?
“It’s a big debate. I don’t know if anybody knows. But I think it is interesting to look at the emergence of virtual cyber warfare. This is a relatively new phenomenon. The first known cyber attack carried out by a country was Russia against Georgia in 2008. We are now seeing countries more and more using cyber as a means of warfare. And even if a country is attacked by military means, the retaliation is sometimes a cyber one. When Turkey shot down a Russian Air Force plane last year, what did the Russians do? There were political sanctions and pressure, and also — almost immediately after the incident — the Russians hacked Turkish government sites.”
“I don’t think you can say that we don’t need armies anymore, because you need them to conquer territory, but for sure, warfare by cyber means can cause a lot of damage. Hackers can shut down facilities and national infrastructure. And countries are now losing between 0.5%-2% of their GDPs every year due to cyber attacks.”
How did technology change the way intelligence was gathered over the course of your military career?
“I think we can say the means of gathering intelligence have changed dramatically, not only in the IDF but also the world in general. Still, some of the good old ways — like HUMINT (human intelligence) — are still very relevant, but technology now enables you and provides advantages to the collection of information by other means, and cyber is one of the biggest ways to do so.”
What is the greatest strategic threat facing Israel right now?
“Today, I think one of the biggest problems facing, for sure Israel, but also many other countries, including the US, is not military-against-military battles, but rather small-scale clashes with terrorist groups. And the new phenomenon is terrorist groups that control territory — such as ISIS and Boko Haram, among others. Some already operate like countries — with ministers, offices and the like. But still the means they use are terror against civilians.”
“And this leads to something that is not as discussed as it should be, which is that boundaries don’t matter anymore. Borders between countries, certainly in the Middle East, don’t exist. Just look at Syria, Libya and Yemen. Old borders established a century or more ago — such as the ones set by the Sykes-Picot Agreement – are losing their importance.”
“In today’s virtual world with social media, ISIS can reach someone on Philadelphia. They don’t have to be there, they have a means of influencing them — the internet. And this means that a lot of what we used to do from an intelligence perspective, and also from an operational perspective, is not relevant anymore. There is a lot the Western world must do to deal with this new situation.”
Does ISIS pose a major threat to Israel?
“I don’t want to say it’s a major threat. A terrorist organization, however strong it is and ISIS has been suffering losses recently, cannot defeat Israel. Israel is a very strong nation with a powerful military force. But there are ISIS-affiliated groups on our borders in the southern part of the Golan Heights and in the Sinai Peninsula. So there is a threat these groups will conduct terrorist attacks and cause casualties among Israelis. And the other threat is posed by ISIS’ attempts to influence Muslims in Israel and get them to commit terrorist attacks. But this is not happening in big numbers. It is something that is dangerous and bothers us, but it is not a strategic threat to Israel.”
Does Israel face any existential threats at the moment?
“The Iranian nuclear threat is real, although I don’t want to go into whether the international agreement was good or bad. What is relevant now is Iran’s military buildup because of the money it has been getting. And Iran’s support of terrorism has only increased, it didn’t stop that. Also, Iran’s surface-to-surface missile capabilities have gotten stronger. Perhaps more importantly, Iran’s growing involvement in Syria and Lebanon is very problematic. Finally, while Iran may not be doing all it can now to achieve nuclear weapons capabilities, in ten years it will be allowed to. And this is something that Israel should already be concerned about now. We shouldn’t wait ten years.”
“Terrorism is another threat. While Hezbollah and Hamas — like ISIS — cannot beat Israel, they can cause a lot of casualties and economic damage.”
“Also, cyber warfare is a growing threat, although Israel is already doing a lot of things I would suggest other countries should also do. But we are particularly threatened because we are surrounded by different countries, entities and groups that have an interest in attacking us.”
How has the Syrian civil war impacted Israel’s security? And how do you see the situation in Syria playing out?
“An egg from which you make an omelet cannot be remade into an egg, it’s an omelet already. So I think Syria cannot re-become the Syria we knew five or six years ago, which had its problems but was a relatively stable state with a dominant leader and you knew what was going on. Even if Bashar Assad stays in power, it’s not going to be the same Syria it was, which will of course have implications. If ISIS or other terrorists ended up controlling all of Syria, this would be a big problem for Israel. But right now, it doesn’t look like things are going that way. With the involvement of Russia and Iran, it seems like we will continue seeing Syria broken down into cantons and small sectarian and tribal areas.”
“For Israel, the activities of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria are the most worrying thing. Iran is sending more and more personnel, fighting means and money. And Hezbollah is almost up to its head in Syria. And some Hezbollah members are on our border in the Golan Heights and that is a troubling threat to Israel that needs to be continuously monitored.”
“Also, the use of chemical warfare in Syria is becoming almost a day-to-day thing. And my personal fear is that the more chemical agents are used and the more nobody does anything about it, the more it’s going to become acceptable, which is very disturbing. Five years ago, nobody would have believed this could happen, but it’s happening.”
Do you think the time is ripe for Israel to bolster its relations with Sunni Arab states in the region?
“There are opportunities in the moderate Sunni world, because having common enemies makes us friends. So I think there is potential for cooperation. Also, although they can’t say it openly, everybody understands the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the biggest problem in the region. Maybe not everybody, because apparently UNESCO still thinks that, but everyone who understands something knows the truth. All moderate Arab leaders see that the biggest problems today are Salafi terrorism and Iranian influence.”
From a military standpoint, is the status quo in the West Bank sustainable?
“There is ongoing cooperation and a joint security interest with the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians don’t want terrorist attacks because of their potential impact and we, of course, don’t want attacks to occur. So the interest is still the same, but the most significant problem is that the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is not getting any younger, as all of us aren’t, and what will happen the day after he leaves the scene is a very, very big mystery. Will his successor be able to stabilize the area? Will he be able to deliver something? Will he carry on the joint security cooperation? These are big questions. And there are even scenarios in which Hamas could take over the West Bank.”
In Gaza, do you think the situation will ever change or is Israel fated to deal with Hamas for the foreseeable future with military flare-ups every few years?
“First of all, Hamas is continuing to build itself up militarily. So there is an intent on its part to develop its capabilities, because if not, it would put its money into something else. Hamas is continuing to try to procure arms, dig tunnels and manufacture rockets for offensive purposes. I do think Hamas is still deterred from the last operation two years ago [Israel’s Operation Protective Edge]. It’s a big stick above their head. So Hamas’ interest today is to not see another escalation in the near future. And the border with Egypt is also closed, which is hurting their force build-up effort. They are having a hard time smuggling in arms and people.”
“But I can’t say how long this Israeli deterrence will last. It has to do with a lot of factors, some related to Israel and Egypt and some not. When Hamas looks around, it sees that the Muslim Brotherhood has been put back in the box in the region in the last year and a half or so. So while a few years ago, Hamas may have seen a window of opportunity with the Muslim Brotherhood leading countries and growing stronger, today it understands this is no longer the case. So Hamas is not in the best position now.”
“While Hamas might not want a new war with Israel, the problem is when you play with matches, something can catch fire. And there are a lot of things happening on the Gaza border. Think of a scenario in which one of these small Salafi groups fires a rocket at Sderot and it doesn’t hit an open area, but instead causes casualties and we retaliate. The situation could escalate very fast, even if it is not in Hamas’ interest.”
President Sisi announced he would be inviting Netanyahu and Abbas to meet with him together in Cairo.
On Monday, during an open Q&A in the Knesset Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated: “Egypt is the most important and serious ally we have in the Middle East and among Arab states. I invested a lot of effort in building trust and cooperative relations.” This is a very interesting statement from the man who in 1998 suggested bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat.
Arafat is no longer around and neither is Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and Liberman too might not be the same old Liberman we know from yesteryear. A senior Egyptian intelligence officer very recently told me that in the eyes of the Egyptian government, Liberman is the most pragmatic man in the Israeli government and “we can work with him.”
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Israel and Egypt are at peace since 1979. When Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made his historic visit to Jerusalem in November 1977, Arafat led the Arab world to break ties with Israel. The Arab League headquarters moved out of Cairo and Egypt became a pariah state among the Arabs and Muslims. In 1982 when Arafat was forced to leave Beirut, on his way to Tunis he made a point of stopping in Cairo, publicly embracing president Mubarak, who had been Sadat’s deputy, and renewing his ties with Egypt – the same Egypt that made peace with Israel.
That peace treaty has survived the assassination of the Egyptian president, repeated wars between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and Lebanon, the rise to power of Hamas in Gaza and the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. With Egyptian sovereignty challenged by terrorists in Sinai, Israel has agreed to every Egyptian request to deploy more forces and weapons in Sinai, including assault helicopters, way above and beyond the limitations of the Israeli- Egyptian security annex of the peace treaty. Egyptian- Israeli security and intelligence cooperation is a key pillar of the relationship and crucial to the security of both sides. Hamas is a common enemy, as are other expressions of Islamic radicalism in the region. Those common threats have expanded beyond Israel’s other borders to include Jordan and even Saudi Arabia.
Egypt is in a key place in the Middle East today. Even with its faltering economy and its very difficult war against ISIS and other terrorists in Sinai, Egypt understands that it can play an irreplaceable role in advancing broader regional stability, security and economic opportunity. Egypt is the lifeline for Gaza and Hamas knows it. The closure of almost all of the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza by Egypt has crippled the Gazan economy and Hamas has lost its main source of income. Egypt keeps the Rafah crossing into Sinai closed almost all year. The people of Gaza are paying the price for the failings and lies of their own government.
Egypt has accused Hamas of collaborating with anti-Egyptian terrorists in Sinai. Hamas leaders went to Cairo and swore to the Egyptian officials that they were not assisting any war against Egypt, but they were lying and Egyptian intelligence produced the evidence.
Egypt has made it clear that the Rafah crossing will remained closed most of the time until Hamas agrees to the redeployment of Palestinian Authority forces along the border. This is not acceptable to Hamas and yet it remains the demand of both Egypt and the PA for the reuniting of Gaza and the West Bank under one authority. Egypt, like Israel, wants to see the end of Hamas rule in Gaza.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in constant contact with President Sisi and sees Egypt as a steadfast ally of the Palestinian people, and yet Abbas also knows that he gets no discounts from Sisi on compromises that the Palestinians will have to make in any deal with Israel.
This includes the continued security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank.
The Egyptians seem to have a plan and they are working on its implementation. First, President Sisi announced that Egypt was willing to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians. Then Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry visited Abbas in Ramallah. He listened very carefully to Abbas, asked some tough questions and went back to Cairo. Then he came to Jerusalem.
He listened carefully to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asked some tough questions and then went back to Cairo.
President Sisi then announced he would be inviting Netanyahu and Abbas to meet with him together in Cairo. From my understanding, Egypt, after listening to both sides and taking note of what they want and what they can do, is now preparing to tell both sides what they have to do – which includes renewing direct Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, with the assistance of Egypt, and as I understand, with the additional presence of Jordan at the table. This is essentially the creation of the regional quartet that I have been speaking about for more than two years now.
Interestingly, in talking about this to several Israeli and Palestinian officials, I heard the very same words.
They said: “we can say no to US Secretary of State John Kerry and to President Barack Obama, but we cannot say no to President Sisi.” We will see if that turns out to be true.
Israeli and Turkish negotiators are due to meet in Rome to seal the reconciliation agreement; Netanyahu will travel to the Italian capital to meet with Kerry and announce the deal.
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Israel and Turkey are expected to announce on Sunday that they have reached an agreement to end their six-year old diplomatic crisis. Relations have been strained since May 2010 when nine Turkish citizens were killed during an Israel Defense Forces raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was bound for the Gaza Strip.
Israeli and Turkish negotiators are due to meet in Rome on Sunday to seal the reconciliation agreement.
Haaretz has learned that the declaration expected Sunday was enabled following understandings the sides reached some 10 days ago about Hamas activities in Turkey. Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who went on a secret visit to Turkey, agreed with its National Intelligence Organization head Hakan Fidan on the main understandings.
Under the agreement ,Turkey will not enable Hamas to carry out, plan or direct any military activity against Israel. However, Hamas offices may continue to operate in Turkey for the purpose of diplomatic activity.
In the days since the understandings about Hamas were reached, senior Turkish officials reiterated that their relations with the Palestinian terror organization would not impede a reconciliation agreement with Israel.
Over the weekend Hamas leader Khaled Meshal visited Ankara and met President Recep Tayyip Eredogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Jerusalem officials believe Meshal was invited to Turkey to convey that the agreement with Israel is not at the expense of Ankara’s relations with Hamas.
During Sunday’s meeting, the Turkish team will include Minister of Foreign Affairs Feridun Sinirlioglu, who conducted the negotiations with Israel in recent years. The Israeli team will be headed by Joseph Ciechanover, who serves as the prime minister’s envoy, and acting national security adviser Yaakov Nagel.
The meeting is intended to go over the draft agreement one final time. Although the deal is expected to be announced at the end of the meeting, Jerusalem officials lowered expectations on Saturday.
“Until we see the final draft we won’t know if there’s an agreement,” a senior official said.
Even if the sides make an announcement on the agreement on Sunday, the official signing will only take place in a week or two. On Wednesday this week, the agreement will be brought to the security cabinet, where it is expected to be approved, perhaps even unanimously.
Under the agreement, Israel will deposit some $20 million in a humanitarian fund as compensation for the families of the Turks who were killed and wounded during the raid on the Mavi Marmara.
Turkey has waived its demand to remove the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip. As part of the agreement, Israel will enable Turkey to set up infrastructure projects in Gaza, including the construction of a hospital, a power station and a desalination facility. All the materials for these projects will be passed via Israel’s Ashdod Port.
Turkey will pass a law revoking all the law suits submitted against Israeli soldiers and officers and preventing future suits from being filed. The agreement also includes normalizing the diplomatic relations between the states and returning the ambassadors to Ankara and Tel Aviv.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will leave for Rome on Sunday afternoon to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. If the agreement with Turkey is finalized, Netanyahu plans to hold a news conference in the evening to announce the agreement.
After that Netanyahu is due to meet Kerry for dinner to discuss mainly the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The two are to meet again on Monday morning.