Book Review: The Angel – The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel

What would motivate someone who lives a life steeped in success, status and power to deliver their nation’s most guarded secrets to its most dreaded enemy?

In Uri Bar-Joseph’s most recent book, The Angel, the answer is revealed as the reader follows a treacherous and circuitous route from Cairo to London to Tel Aviv. What turned out to be an extraordinary journey began in an iconic London red phone booth. It was from that booth that a call was clandestinely placed to the Mossad with an offer to spy for them. That call came from a most unlikely source, President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s son-in-law, Ashraf Marwan.
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“Who Threw Israel Under The Bus” by Mossad Director Halevy

— Aaron Keyak

A new video on Israel in President Obama’s own words and a must read piece by Efraim Halevy, the director of the Mossad from 1998 to 2002 and the national security adviser to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon from October 2002 to June 2003. He writes about the pro-Israel record of recent Republican presidents and concludes, “In all of these instances, a Republican White House acted in a cold and determined manner, with no regard for Israel’s national pride, strategic interests or sensitivities. That’s food for thought in October 2012.”

Who Threw Israel Under the Bus?

(Jerusalem) On Monday, in their final debate, Mitt Romney denounced President Obama for creating “tension” and “turmoil” with Israel and chided him for having “skipped Israel” during his travels in the Middle East. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney has repeatedly accused Mr. Obama of having “thrown allies like Israel under the bus.”

But history tells a different story. Indeed, whenever the United States has put serious, sustained pressure on Israel’s leaders – from the 1950s on – it has come from Republican presidents, not Democratic ones. This was particularly true under Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.

Just one week before the Iraq war began in March 2003, Mr. Bush was still struggling to form a broad international coalition to oust Saddam Hussein. Unlike in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, decided to opt out, meaning that the United Nations could not provide formal legitimacy for a war against Mr. Hussein. Britain was almost alone in aligning itself with America, and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support was deemed crucial in Washington.

Just as the British Parliament was about to approve the joint venture, a group of Mr. Blair’s Labour Party colleagues threatened to revolt, demanding Israeli concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for their support for the Iraq invasion. This demand could have scuttled the war effort, and there was only one way that British support could be maintained: Mr. Bush would have to declare that the “road map” for Middle East peace, a proposal drafted early in his administration, was the formal policy of the United States.

Israel’s prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had been vehemently opposed to the road map, which contained several “red lines” that he refused to accept, including a stipulation that the future status of Jerusalem would be determined by “a negotiated resolution” taking into account “the political and religious concerns of both sides.” This wording implied a possible end to Israel’s sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, which has been under Israeli control since 1967.

On March 13, 2003, senior Israeli officials were summarily informed that the United States would publicly adopt the draft road map as its policy. Washington made it clear to us that on the eve of a war, Israel was expected to refrain from criticizing the American policy and also to ensure that its sympathizers got the message.

The United States insisted that the road map be approved without any changes, saying Israel’s concerns would be addressed later. At a long and tense cabinet debate I attended in May 2003, Mr. Sharon reluctantly asked his ministers to accept Washington’s demand. Benjamin Netanyahu, then the finance minister, disagreed, and he abstained during the vote on the cabinet resolution, which eventually passed.

From that point on, the road map, including the language on Jerusalem, became the policy bible for America, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Not only was Israel strong-armed by a Republican president, but it was also compelled to simply acquiesce and swallow the bitterest of pills.

Three years later, the Bush administration again pressured Israel into supporting a policy that ran counter to its interests. In early 2006, the terrorist group Hamas ran candidates in the Palestinian legislative elections. Israel had been adamant that no leader could campaign with a gun in his belt; the Palestinian party Fatah opposed Hamas’s participation, too. But the White House would have none of this; it pushed Fatah to allow Hamas candidates to run, and pressured Israel into allowing voting for Hamas – even in parts of East Jerusalem.

After Hamas won a clear majority, Washington sought to train Fatah forces to crush it militarily in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas pre-empted this scheme by taking control of Gaza in 2007, and the Palestinians have been ideologically and territorially divided ever since.

Despite the Republican Party’s shrill campaign rhetoric on Israel, no Democratic president has ever strong-armed Israel on any key national security issue. In the 1956 Suez Crisis, it was a Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who joined the Soviet Union in forcing Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula after a joint Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt.

In 1991, when Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Tel Aviv, the administration of the first President Bush urged Israel not to strike back so as to preserve the coalition of Arab states fighting Iraq. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir resisted his security chiefs’ recommendation to retaliate and bowed to American demands as his citizens reached for their gas masks.

After the war, Mr. Shamir agreed to go to Madrid for a Middle East peace conference set up by Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Fearful that Mr. Shamir would be intransigent at the negotiating table, the White House pressured him by withholding $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel, causing us serious economic problems. The eventual result was Mr. Shamir’s political downfall. The man who had saved Mr. Bush’s grand coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1991 was “thrown under the bus.”

In all of these instances, a Republican White House acted in a cold and determined manner, with no regard for Israel’s national pride, strategic interests or sensitivities. That’s food for thought in October 2012.

Efraim Halevy was the director of the Mossad from 1998 to 2002 and the national security adviser to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, from October 2002 to June 2003.

Film Chat: Follow Me

— by Hannah Lee

Anyone who’s been disappointed by the 1977 movie, Raid on Entebbe, will be captivated by the new documentary, Follow Me, which gives an account of the life and tragic early death of Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, the commander of the rescue mission and the elder brother of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.

It’s a profile in courage and leadership, with the filmmakers having gotten unprecedented access to Yoni’s letters, both published and unpublished, family photos, and home movies. There are also interviews with former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, the soldiers under Yoni’s command in the elite Sayeret Maktal (commonly known as “The Unit”), and even his ex-wife Tirza “Tutti,” who had never before agreed to speak about her relationship with Yoni.

More after the jump.
Fierce patriots, the Netanyahus spent some years in the United States — in our fair city — while their father, Ben-Zion, pursued scholarship at Dropsie College.* The father was professor of Hebrew language and literature, and later, chairman of the department, (1957-1966), and professor of medieval Jewish history and Hebrew literature. As a 16-year-old, Yoni arrived to attend Cheltenham High School in Wyncote, PA (where he was a classmate of Baseball Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson). This is the reason Bibi Netanyahu speaks colloquial English with a Philly accent. In his letters, Yoni wrote about his discomfort with the expansiveness of homes in the United States and the carefree lives of his classmates, who cared only for cars and girls.

The Israel depicted in the documentary is the one we grew up with and our children are taught about in school — an ideal world with pioneers who fought for a dusty land and who wished only to be allowed to live in peace. The Netanyahu brothers came of age in a young nation that was subject to struggles for survival — in the epic wars of 1967 and 1973.

After his military service, Yoni returned to the U.S. to study at Harvard on scholarship, but he was troubled by the existential crises of his country and he returned to Eretz Yisrael as an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Yoni was a leader who inspired his men by working alongside them. He never sent them to do anything he would not do himself.

Yoni Netanyahu is immortalized for leading the counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission carried out by commandos of the IDF at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976. On June 27th, an Air France plane with 248 passengers was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells, and flown to Entebbe, near Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The passengers were sorted by ethnicity and country of origin– Jews and Israelis from the other passengers. That afternoon, 47 non-Israeli hostages were released. The next day, 101 more non-Israeli hostages were allowed to leave. More than 100 Israeli and Jewish passengers (along with the non-Jewish pilot, Captain Michel Bacos, who refused to leave his passengers) remained as hostages and were threatened with death.

The IDF acted on intelligence provided by the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. Israeli leaders decided on a covert rescue mission, while publicly agreeing to a release of military prisoners. The operation took place at night. Israeli transport planes carried 100 commandos over 2,500 miles to Uganda for the rescue operation. The operation lasted 90 minutes. They rescued 102 hostages. Five Israeli commandos were wounded and only one, their commander, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, was killed. (According to Wikipedia, all the hijackers, three hostages, and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed; 30 Soviet-built MiG-17s and MiG-21s of Uganda’s air force were destroyed. Twenty-four hours later, a fourth Israeli hostage was killed by Ugandan army officers at a nearby hospital.)  The rescue mission, named Operation Thunderbolt, is now sometimes referred to as Operation Jonathan.

Like King David, Yoni Netanyahu was a courageous military leader and a sensitive poet. Yoni’s letters as voiced in the film make me mourn for the man he was. Yoni, we hardly knew you!

Jonathan Gruber is the writer, director, and producer and Ari Daniel Pinchot is also director and producer. Follow Me is being distributed independently and it’s making its rounds of film festivals. It’s being shown in the greater Philly area exclusively at the Bala Cinema in Bala Cynwyd. At press time, it’s not known if the engagement will be extended beyond Thursday, August 2nd.

*Rabbi Dr. Joel Hecker notes that the library collection of Dropsie College is now housed at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Dropsie College is now only known by its honorific, alav ha-shalom

Former Mossad Director: Romney “Playing with Our Lives”

— by David Streeter

Former Mossad Director Efraim Halevy slammed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s recent criticism of President Barack Obama’s work to stop Iran. According to The Times of Israel:

Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, has launched a blistering attack on Mitt Romney, accusing the would-be Republican presidential candidate of playing with Israel’s destiny, ‘playing with our lives,’ through ‘highly irresponsible’ comments on tackling Iran’s nuclear drive.

He said Romney’s comments in a recent Washington Post oped – in which the former governor of Massachusetts criticized President Barack Obama’s handling of the Iran crisis and vowed that he would take a much tougher stance if elected – amounted to ‘a provocative invitation to the Iranians to do their very best (to attain nuclear weapons) until Mitt Romney gets into power.’

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Halevy, who also served as Israel’s national security adviser and held several ambassadorial positions, made plain his shared determination to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, but said Romney’s approach as set out in the oped was ‘disastrous.’…

‘If I were an Iranian,’ Halevy went on, ‘I would first of all say to myself, “If I’m to take (Romney) seriously, the first thing I must do is go full speed ahead to get a nuclear device before the fourth of November. Number one priority. By hook or by crook.”‘

Said Halevy: ‘President Obama called this loose talk. It’s much worse than loose talk. This is highly irresponsible talk. He’s playing with our destiny. He’s playing with our lives.’

Traditionally, Halevy noted, ‘foreign policy in these matters has been the prerogative of a president. And to introduce this into the equation in order to get a vote or two in Florida, or a vote or two in New York City. In order to get to the White House…!’

‘To tell the Iranians, “Look, friends, when I get in it’s going to be a new ball game,” this is a provocative invitation to the Iranians to do their very best (to attain nuclear weapons) until Mitt Romney gets into power.’