Bombshell: Israeli intelligence posed as CIA to recruit terror group for covert war on Iran

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
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Screenshot via ForeignPolicy.com

Acclaimed author and journalist Mark Perry has published an explosive, must-read investigation in Foreign Policy that exposes how the Israeli Mossad recruited known Pakistani terrorists to wage covert war on Iran by disguising themselves as CIA agents. Perry opens:

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

The whole piece is worth reading. So let me try to unpack some of what Perry reports:

This is a huge story that gives crucial context to the current U.S.-Iran-Israel crisis going on right now. Perry’s article indicates that the speculation that Israel has been behind a covert campaign of bombings, assassinations and more in Iran to stop its nuclear energy program is right on the money; the scope of that campaign is much larger than previously reported, and may encompass incidents like the May 2009 Jundallah attack in Iran that killed 25 people, which Perry writes about.

Perry’s investigation gives the premise of my previous post on Iran (Iran wants talks, Israel pushing for war) a boost. Israel is running fast to kill any chance of of a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran–and the U.S. intelligence establishment doesn’t like it. From the article:

“It’s easy to understand why Bush was so angry,” a former intelligence officer said. “After all, it’s hard to engage with a foreign government if they’re convinced you’re killing their people. Once you start doing that, they feel they can do the same.”

Related to that point is this: certain sectors of the U.S. military and intelligence establishment are fed up with Israel’s tactics, and clearly see them as having a harmful effect on the United States. More from the article:

While the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidental contact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same was not true for Israel’s Mossad. The memos also detail CIA field reports saying that Israel’s recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel’s ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials.

The officials did not know whether the Israeli program to recruit and use Jundallah is ongoing. Nevertheless, they were stunned by the brazenness of the Mossad’s efforts.

“It’s amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with,” the intelligence officer said. “Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn’t give a damn what we thought…”

The report then made its way to the White House, according to the currently serving U.S. intelligence officer. The officer said that Bush “went absolutely ballistic” when briefed on its contents.

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

Israel’s relationship with Jundallah continued to roil the Bush administration until the day it left office, this same intelligence officer noted. Israel’s activities jeopardized the administration’s fragile relationship with Pakistan, which was coming under intense pressure from Iran to crack down on Jundallah. It also undermined U.S. claims that it would never fight terror with terror, and invited attacks in kind on U.S. personnel…

What has become crystal clear, however, is the level of anger among senior intelligence officials about Israel’s actions. “This was stupid and dangerous,” the intelligence official who first told me about the operation said. “Israel is supposed to be working with us, not against us. If they want to shed blood, it would help a lot if it was their blood and not ours. You know, they’re supposed to be a strategic asset. Well, guess what? There are a lot of people now, important people, who just don’t think that’s true.”

Also related: the next time you hear complaints about the “Israeli brand” tanking in the U.S. and Europe, think about this story. Israel used fake European passports to assassinate a Hamas operative in Dubai, which upset a lot of European states. And now Perry reports that Israeli Mossad agents used American passports and cash to pass themselves off as CIA operatives. It’s as if Israel wants to be shunned as a pariah state.

And then there’s the Israel lobby angle, which is huge. President Bush was furious at Israel for doing this–but nothing was done about it. Here’s why:

A senior administration official vowed to “take the gloves off” with Israel, according to a U.S. intelligence officer. But the United States did nothing — a result that the officer attributed to “political and bureaucratic inertia.”

“In the end,” the officer noted, “it was just easier to do nothing than to, you know, rock the boat.” Even so, at least for a short time, this same officer noted, the Mossad operation sparked a divisive debate among Bush’s national security team, pitting those who wondered “just whose side these guys [in Israel] are on” against those who argued that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

That reference to “political inertia” and not wanting to “rock the boat” is clearly about the power of the Israel lobby in the U.S. Bush would have been hammered by the neoconservative wing of the GOP had anything happened that resembled a “take the gloves” approach to Israel. And while Obama has, according to Perry, “drastically scaled back joint U.S.-Israel intelligence programs targeting Iran,” there’s just no way Israel has stopped using these tactics. But the U.S., the only nation who can stop Israel from escalating the Iran crisis, is tied up by electoral politics. 

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