Israeli warplanes hold joint exercise with UAE (& “Mossad turned French spies into double agents”)

March 28, 2017

The Israel Air Force began a joint exercise in Greece today that includes aircraft from the United Arab Emirates (as well as Greece, the U.S. and Italy). The training patch for the exercise (above) includes the flags of these countries. Israel and the UAE do not have official diplomatic relations although (as I’ve written before on this dispatch list) there have been various unreported contacts.


There has been outburst of congratulations from Israelis after Knesset member Merav Ben Ari posted a photo on Facebook (above) yesterday of her new baby girl, conceived through IVF, whom she has said she will raise with the baby’s gay father, a friend of hers. Ben Ari, 41, is an unmarried MK for the Kulanu party, part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.


I attach six news stories from today’s newspapers.

-- Tom Gross



1. “Le Monde: Mossad turned French spies into double agents after joint Syria op” (March 27, 2017)
2. “Israeli Air Force holds joint exercise with United Arab Emirates, U.S. and Italy” (By Gili Cohen, Haaretz, March 27, 2017)
3. “Hizbullah commanders, fighters, killed in Syria” (Naharnet (Lebanon), March 27, 2017)
4. “Trump was ‘right’ on anti-Semitic incidents, White House says: Spicer says media should not ‘rush to judgement’” (By Amir Tibon, Haaretz, March 27, 2017)
5. “Pakistan starts building fence along border with Afghanistan” (By Saeed Shah, Wall St Journal, March 27, 2017)
6. “Israelis gush over lawmaker’s announcement of baby girl to be raised with gay father” (JTA, March 26, 2017)




Mossad Reportedly Turned French Spies Into Double Agents After Joint Syria Op

Le Monde reveals how Israeli espionage agency allegedly exploited a successful chemical weapons operation to get French counterparts to become sources; former head of French counterintelligence agency being questioned as suspect in case.

By Dov Alfon
March 27, 2017

PARIS – An internal report written by French intelligence, parts of which were published in the daily newspaper Le Monde on Sunday, reveal efforts by the Mossad to develop relationships with French spies, “to the point of crossing the line of turning them into double agents.”

The audit report recommends investigating Bernard Squarcini, the head of the General Directorate for Internal Security until 2012, on suspicion of maintaining unauthorized and unreported ties with the Mossad’s Paris bureau chief at the time (identified in the report only by his initials, D.K.).

The background to all this was a joint operation launched by the Mossad and French counterintelligence agency in 2010 to collect intelligence about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical warfare plans. The operation, code-named Ratafia, aimed to recruit a senior Syrian engineer, who was meant to come to France to do additional training in chemistry and also to help recruit other engineers.

The Mossad and French agents would hold work meetings using assumed names, as is customary. The French agents, who belonged to three different counterintelligence units, were responsible for the operation in Paris, while the Mossad agents were responsible for the plot that would enable the Syrian target to leave the country for studies and to recruit others in the French capital.

But according to the report, the Israelis exploited the operation to persuade an unknown number of French agents to also serve as intelligence sources for Israel.

One of the French agents under surveillance was seen going up to the apartment of the Mossad’s Paris chief for dinner one Friday night. Later, he reported to his superiors that he was going to Dubai on vacation, when in fact he flew with his family to Israel, where he spent time with Mossad agents without permission and without reporting the meetings afterward.

In addition, according to the report, suspicious sums of money were deposited in the bank accounts of those French agents who were involved in the Ratafia operation.

The internal report calls for further investigation to understand what damage was done to the French intelligence service.

Le Monde also published details about the Ratafia operation. The paper claimed that the Mossad succeeded in recruiting the Syrian engineer and extracted information from him about Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal.

The French daily said the operation enabled Israel to prove that the scientific cooperation between the European Union and Syria was being used to boost Assad’s chemical weapons program, which led to the cancellation of the agreement with the Syrians in 2011.

According to Le Monde, the Mossad’s interest in building relations with French spies was exposed because a different French espionage agency, responsible for information security, was keeping the agents under surveillance and photographed them with Mossad agents.

The paper said that all the Mossad agents involved were identified by their real names. The French filed a formal complaint, and two Israeli diplomats in the Israeli Embassy in Paris left their posts and returned to Israel. The Mossad chief, D.K., also returned to Israel following the French complaint.

According to the report, the two Mossad agents suspected of contacts with the French have left the service and are now private businessmen in Tel Aviv. But during 2016, the report noted, they made contact with Squarcini (the counterintelligence head they’d worked with) in Paris.

Squarcini, who is now being questioned as a suspect in the case, told investigators he met the two “totally by chance.”

A short time before the suspicions came to light, Squarcini himself launched an internal inquiry into whether the Mossad was trying to recruit French agents as sources. However, the agents he put under surveillance did not include those involved in the Ratafia operation, even though Squarcini was fully aware of the close ties that had developed between his people and the Mossad operatives, the report said.

An investigating judge appointed by the French filed an official request with Israel to question the two ex-Mossad agents who made contact with Squarcini in 2016. It isn’t clear if he received a response.

The judge is seeking to build on the internal investigative report and broaden the investigation into whether the Mossad infiltrated French intelligence under Squarcini.



Israeli Air Force Holds Joint Exercise With United Arab Emirates, U.S. and Italy
By Gili Cohen
March 27, 2017

The Israel Air Force began a joint exercise on Monday in Greece that included dozens of aircraft from foreign armies. Dubbed Iniohos 2017, an official report for the Greek air force noted that the air forces of Israel, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Italy participated in the exercise. The training patch for the exercise includes the flags of the countries along with the slogan “Act with Awareness.”

The Iniohos 2017 exercise is due to be wrapped up next Thursday. Photos from the past several days show F-16 aircraft from the United Arab Emirates alongside an American Air Force transport plane at the Greek air force base. The American army reported that it had dispatched 12 F-16C airplanes and close to 220 crew members to participate in the exercise. The joint exercise, according to a U.S. army report, is strengthening ties among the participating countries, maintain[ing] joint readiness and interoperability,” the news release stated.

This is not the first time that the Israel Air Force has cooperated with its UAE counterpart. Last year, Israeli pilots participated in the Red Flag training exercise in the United States in which pilots from Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Spain also participated.

Israel and the UAE do not have official diplomatic relations although there are reports in foreign media from time to time of unofficial contacts or of contacts that remain secret. In addition, the Israel Defense Forces is expanding its joint training with other foreign armies. Last week, F-16s participated in joint training in Cyprus and were seen in the skies over Paphos.

Next November, a wide-scale exercise will take place in Israel with the participation of representatives of foreign countries including India, the United States, Poland and Italy. As reported in Haaretz, the air force is outsourcing management of this international flagship exercise and is therefore seeking to hire the services of a civilian company.

Several months ago, Israel Air Force Commander Amir Eshel said: “[Israel] is in a peak year of cooperation with foreign armies in Israel and abroad. In November, the largest aerial exercise will be held here, with nine countries.”

Israel maintains broad cooperation with the Greek air force and also participated in the current exercise in the two prior years in connection with which it sent fighter aircraft for joint training in Greece. Just last week, it was reported that in connection with a visit to Greece, Brig. Gen. Erez Meisel, the head of the foreign relations department in the planning division, had signed a cooperation agreement with his Greek counterpart.

In the past, a senior officer described the cooperation between the countries as strategic and noted that the countries have common interests, both military and economic. About six months ago, a squadron of Yanshuf and Yasur helicopters participated in a joint exercise in Greece that rehearsed landing on Mt. Olympus, among other operations.

The commander of the squadron that participated in the training, identified only as Lt. Col. Gilad, told Haaretz at the time that it involved a flight under conditions with which the Israeli pilots are not familiar. “We only have Mt. Hermon and there the mountains simulate countries where we might land one day.”



Hizbullah commanders, fighters, killed in Syria
By Naharnet Newsdesk
Naharnet (Lebanon)
March 27, 2017

Syrian opposition factions destroyed a Hizbullah military position and killed a number of its commanders and fighters in the town of Qamhana in central Syria’s Hama district on Sunday [26 Mar], Sky News Arabia reported Monday [27 Mar].

According to field sources, the opposition fighters targeted the position with guided missiles, which led to the destruction and the killing of all Hizbullah fighters inside, asserting that among them were field commanders, according to Sky News.

On Saturday [25 Mar], opposition factions managed to counter a large-scale military offensive by Iranian government and armed forces in the northern Hama countryside.

The opposition said in a statement that the government forces tried to regain control of al-Sakher checkpoint but turned back after suffering heavy losses.

The opposition pointed out that the clashes resulted in the death of a number of government forces, and the destruction of a tank.

The developments coincide with the battle in Raqqa, led by Syria’s Democratic Forces, to restore the city from the grip of the Islamic State group.

On Sunday [26 Mar], the US-backed Democratic Forces of Syria controlled a military airport, which was subordinate to the IS, and is located near the largest dam in Syria on the Euphrates River.



Trump Was ‘Right’ on anti-Semitic Incidents, White House Says
Noting arrest of Israeli-American teen for bomb threats against Jewish communities, Spicer says media should not ‘rush to judgement’
By Amir Tibon
March 27, 2017

WASHINGTON - White House Press Secretary said on Monday during his daily press briefing that President Trump “was right” when he said that some of the anti-Semitic incidents in the United States may be “the reverse” of what they look like.

Spicer said that the media should not “rush to judgement” when it comes to hate crimes, and brought up the Israeli-American teen who is being investigated by the Israeli police in connection to the wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers.

The teen arrested this week on suspicion of making a host of bomb threats on Jewish institutions worldwide has been making such cyberattacks for two years, but only recently was his capture given high priority, according to police sources who spoke with Haaretz.

The sources attributed the turnabout to pressure from United States President Donald Trump. A few weeks ago, after Trump announced that the FBI would do everything in its power to catch the perpetrator, the agency sent 12 investigators from its cybercrime unit to Israel to assist the Israeli investigation.

The 19-year-old was arrested in the Israeli city of Ashkelon on Thursday by cybercrimes unit of the Israel Police, seizing computers and other items investigators say helped the suspect.



Pakistan Starts Building Fence Along Border With Afghanistan
Move could further rile tensions between the nations
By Saeed Shah
Wall Street Journal
March 27, 2017

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan said it has begun building a fence along its border with Afghanistan, a move that could further rile relations between the two countries, each of which blames the other for harboring terrorists.

Kabul doesn’t recognize hundreds of miles of Pakistan’s mountainous northwest border, which was drawn up under British colonial rule. Pakistan in February closed the border for “security reasons” for more than a month, to protests from landlocked Afghanistan, reopening it on March 20.

Militants from Pakistan have relocated in Afghanistan and use its territory to stage attacks into Pakistan, Islamabad says.

Conversely, Kabul says Pakistan has been for years sheltering the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network, a concerned echoed by Washington.

Pakistan has decided it needs to do more to try to close off it porous border with Afghanistan.

Much of that border on the Pakistani side is made of up of the tribal areas, a wild buffer zone where the regular laws of Pakistan don’t apply. Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Bajwa, visiting the border Saturday, said construction of a fence has begun in the Bajaur and Mohmand parts of the tribal areas – both frequent crossings points for Pakistani militants.

“A better managed, secure and peaceful border is in mutual interest of both brotherly countries who have given phenomenal sacrifices in war against terrorism,” Gen. Bajwa said in a statement.

Pakistan is reeling from a recent wave of terrorist attacks that have left more than 100 dead across the country – including a suicide bombing in February at a shrine in the south of the country that killed dozens. It blamed the attacks on militants based in Afghanistan.
Kabul said the problem isn’t the border.

“Building a fence will not help solve the problem, but will only create more tension,” said Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman of the Afghan ministry of defense. “To counter terrorism, Pakistan needs to deny sanctuaries to terrorist groups, stop financing, training and helping them…that’s something that would help stop terrorist attacks.”

Washington long has alleged that Pakistan’s military backs the Taliban as a proxy in Afghanistan, where Islamabad fears the influence of its rival India. Pakistan denies the charge of official support but does sometimes acknowledge the presence of the Afghan Taliban on its soil.

Kabul and U.S.-led coalition troops also acknowledge the presence of Pakistani militants in Afghanistan. The Pentagon said Saturday that a U.S. airstrike earlier this month had killed Pakistani militant Qari Yasin in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika.

“The fence will have an impact, definitely, but to extract the maximum benefit from this exercise, both Afghanistan and Pakistan have to sit down and work out a joint counterterrorism strategy for either side of the border,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, head of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, a think tank in Islamabad.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who described the security situation there as a “stalemate,” has asked the administration of President Donald Trump for thousands more troops.

In addition to the fencing, Pakistan had been trying to tamp down trouble on the lawless border region through renewed military operations in the tribal areas, which were a sanctuary for Afghan, Pakistani and al Qaeda jihadists. Islamabad is working on legislation that will integrate the tribal areas more fully into the rest of Pakistan.

On the other part of the Afghan border, which runs along the southern Afghanistan province of Kandahar, Pakistan has in recent years dug a trench hundreds of miles long to try to prevent criminals and militants circumventing the official border crossing.



Israelis gush over lawmaker’s announcement of baby girl to be raised with gay father
By Andrew Tobin
March 26, 2017

TEL AVIV (JTA) – Israelis welcomed Knesset lawmaker Merav Ben Ari’s announcement that she gave birth to a baby girl, whom she has said she will raise with the baby’s gay father.

Ben Ari, 41, shared the happy news on social media early Sunday, hours after delivering on the first day of the Knesset’s spring break. Alongside a photo of her holding Ariel, her first child, Ben Ari posted a message on Facebook thanking those who have expressed support for her.

“I don’t have much to write except thank you to everyone for all blessing and congratulations on the birth of Ariel our sweetie,” Ben Ari wrote. “Wishing the return to everyone of all the good you wished and even more. A good and successful week to everyone.”

Within a few hours, the post had been liked more than 1,500 times and received several hundred supportive comments, like “What to wish the Knesset’s best voice for mothers?” and “I’m sure the father will also be amazing because otherwise you wouldn’t have chosen him.”

Ben Ari’s post Sunday on Twitter, featuring a photo of Ariel, earned similar well wishes, including from her colleagues.

“Thank you very much to all those who wished me well,” she wrote. “As much as I prepared I did not understand at all until it happened to me. She was well synced with the [Knesset] plenum and on Saturday morning she entered my world, I was moved.”

Yehuda Glick, an Orthodox Jewish Knesset member for the ruling Likud party, responded by writing: “Mazel tov to wonderful Merav on the birth of her charming daughter.”

Ben Ari, an unmarried Knesset member for the centrist Kulanu party, told JTA in October that she had been nervous to go public with her unconventional pregnancy in an interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Aharanoth. But she said the response by Israelis and Knesset members from across the political spectrum had been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s not easy here because most people know how a family is supposed to look: a mother, a father and children who live together,” Ben Ari said. But “I got really, really good comments about the article, from politicians, from people I know, from people I don’t know.”

“I really want to inspire women not to be afraid of taking this step,” she added

Ben Ari first came to the country’s attention in 2005 when she won the reality show “Needed: A Leader.” With the $1.3 million in prize money, she set up a chain of centers for at-risk youth in the central cities of Netanya and Herzliya, which she ran until being elected to the Tel Aviv City Council in 2013. In 2015, she joined the new Kulanu party and was elected to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Ben Ari and her close friend Ofir, whose last name she did not provide, agreed in writing to try in vitro fertilization together and to raise the child as a team. A 41-year-old finance manager, Ofir, lives down the block from Ben Ari in Tel Aviv and is in a relationship with another man. Ben Ari said she planned to continue looking for love and to return to the Knesset for the start of the summer session in May.


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