15 June 2009

My Notes From A Seminar Address By Dr. Ronen Bergman

I was all prepared to type up this information following the Chatham House Rule, but Dr. Ronen Bergman graciously declined to invoke it at the conclusion of his remarks.

Thus, I will tell you, dear reader, forthrightly, that all of this information comes from Dr. Bergman and the opinions are strictly his, based on his experiences interacting with and reporting on events in Israel and the broader Middle East.

In my opinion, Dr. Bergman is the best investigative journalist on Israel-related affairs in the Middle East. Full stop.

[My handwriting is poor and barely legible even to me. Furthermore, my note-taking ability is not great. As a result, please excuse any deficiencies in these notes]
  • role of intelligence in shaping history
  • winning the intelligence battle is not always winning the war
  • you cannot give a talk w/o a good story
  • in 2003, a group of Israeli signals intelligence officers broke an Iranian code from the Iranian ministry of intelligence--a complicated cypher. Super computers cannot crack a code the way they could. It still takes 2-3 years to crack a code. There are different methods. One whole apparatus becomes transparent as a result of cracking this code--the Iranian ministry. Israel couldn't handle al lthe raw intel so they got MI6 involved. They got a profound understanding and lots of actionable intelligence. They let CIA know. CIA head of station in Baghdad met with Ahmed Chalabi while drinking in a pub--he had a job in an Iraqi ministry as a result of American pressure. (Sidenote: "Curveball"--defectors defect because they are defective) Head of Station and Chalabi are talking and the American tells Chalabi that they are reading Iranian stuff. Iran case office doesn't believe Chalabi. They set up a dummy thing in Baghdad. CIA, etc., are smart enough not to act on the intelligence without secondary corroboration so the Iranians think Chalabi is lying to them. Iranian ministry writes up a whole telegram about the lies Chalabi told about their intel being read by Mossad/MI6/CIA. CIA read it. CIA so zealous & political and desirous to embarrass the Department of Defense over Chalabi that they leaked it to the New York Times. Israel tried to get the NYT not to publish. NYT did anyway. Michael Mukaseywrote a letter of apology to Israeli operatives with Dr. Bergman has seen with his own eyes.
  • Dr. Bergman wants to tell us that we, the West, are winning the intel war, but he can't. The last few years have seen recovery. 2002 was crucial. Maj. Gen. Meir Dagan was appointed head of Mossad. Former head of assisnation in Gaza in the 1970s. Sharon appointed him and told him he wanted Mossad with a knife between the teeth [ed. note: much of this part can be found in his WSJ column--though with more detail here]. Degan changed three things 1. the "blanket is too short" to cover all priorities--must narrow task list. 2. Iran/Hezbollah and its proxies & 3. Maj. Gen. Farkash becomes head of Military intelligence. Shifted resources from Syria to Iran and Hezbollah. Understood allocation of resources. As a result of all of this, the Iranians themselves have acknowledged some "strange things." 3 airplanes fell from the skies. Scientists have disappeared. Centrifuges explode. Computers die.
  • July 2007 a miraculous mishap in one of the Iranian nuclear labs
  • September of that year, Israeli jets destroyed the North Korean reactor in Syria--being built unnoticed from 2002-2007. Syrian President and son still believe that all electronic transmission is being intercepted by Israelis. As a result, they have erected and apparatus to bypass traditional communications--courier. Syrians used to find strange objects that would explode when they examined them. They called GRO and asked the Soviets to send experts. KGB came, examined the device and it exploded, killing 12 KGB agents. Syrian filed a complaint with the UN. Now they send communications by packet on motorcycle.
  • April 2007 a joint investigation concludes that Syrian/North Korea are building a reactor to create a bomb. Given two options--tell UN or act. They decided not to give it to inspectors. Decided to strike. Worried Syria would attack. IDF was ordered to prepare for war with Syria to begin in September 2007. This then leaves them with decision of whether or not to take responsibility. The, 'kick the [scatological reference] out of the bully in the daylight or destroy his car in the middle of the night and only you and he know.' Israel called Turkey and had the Turkish minister call President Assad and tell him about this decision. After the fact, Benjamin Netanyahu said, "I don't know what happened, but I supported it." This is the only semi-official Israeli statement acknowledging their participation. Assad did not react.
  • September 2008, someone replaced the back-seat of Imad Mughniyah, one of the leaders of Hezbollah. This was a guy who had been at the top of everyone's terror lists beforeOsama bin-Laden came along.
  • Muhammad Suleiman, security advisor to Assad, went to take a smoke while on vacation. His wife made him step outside. This ended up being the most fatal cigarette he would ever smoke. A sniper from the sea shot him--this was a major loss for President Assad.
  • January 2009, Hamas was surprised that their booby traps prepared in anticipation of Israeli attack/invasion of Gaza were all taken out from the air. One of Hamas's most powerful weapons is their ability to play Israeli public using IDF casualties.
  • In the same period, Israel took out an arms convoy in Sudan that was destined for Hamas/Hezbollah. This was a result of collaboration between Egypt and Mossad.
  • All of this represents a major recovery in the war between Israel and Iran and its proxies. If they hadn't taken out the Syrian reactor, a nuclear Syria would have changed the course of history.
  • IAEA going to release a report next week saying Syria is in breach of non-proliferation.
  • Arms continue to be smuggled through Sinai.
  • In the last 6 months, Iranian nuke program has accelerated and they will soon have enough for a bomb.
  • There is a major dispute about what Obama is saying--it's not very clear. Israeli decision makers want to think Obama is giving a vague signal (regarding their strike options against Iran). Obama told Newsweek he wasn't going to dictate and tell them how to defend themselves. Netanyahu told Obama Israel reserves the right to defend itself. Obama and Sec. Robert Gates agreed. Obama wants this as a threat (and possible Israeli strike) but they also want to be able to say that Israel is crazy/unpredictable (in their negotiations with Iran).
  • Menachem Begin ordered an attack on the Iraqi nuke plant. Sam Lewis, sitting in his office, was in total shock when informed of this attack. An Israeli attack on Iranian nuke facilities probably won't happen in 2009 or during the US-Iran dialogue. But Israel probably still adheres to the Begin doctrine.
  • Must understand the impact of the Holocaust--even to the point of irrationality. Striking the Syrian reactor reflects how Israel will respond to Iran. If Europe/US/UN/etc. don't stop Iran, Netanyahu will order a strike. This will tremendously affect the history of the Middle East and put Israel in the killing zone between Sunni and Shia.
  • General Dagan has established deep cooperation with Europe and the US. They don't care if they share secrets because they face an existential threat. They'll work with former enemies. Jordan & Egypt intel agencies are talking about the Iranian threat the same way as Israeli intel agencies. They are afraid of Iran and want to stop them from getting nukes. There is a lot of hatred of Iran and collaboration/cooperation between Egyptian & Jordanian intel agencies and Mossad as a result. No overt cooperation between Israel and Egypt and Jordan, but covertly, it is happening now.
  • On Obama's speech re: Iran nuclear power: 2 weeks ago, an Israeli delegation came to London to meet with their British counterparts. British official asked Israelis what they thought of US/Iran dialogue. Israel wasn't sure what to think. They are lagging behind US changes in policy. There will be conflict between Netanyahu and Obama about settlements (in the West Bank). Japan is 6 months away (given nuclear power plants) from creating nuclear weapons (if they wanted). Iran wants to be like Japan (possessing nuclear power). US says they can't because they lied about their ambitions in the past, but Obama said in his speech that Iran has the same right to nuclear power. Israel is afraid of dialogue and that they will continue enriching. Israel is most afraid of perceived "success" of the dialogue (by the Obama administration) than failure of the dialogue because the US will be on the wrong side and Iran will continue to enrich in secret.
  • David Ben-Gurion was always afraid that he would have assembled the remnants of the Holocaust and not done everything he could to defend Israel.
  • Legally, Israel submits to 1945 British wartime law and as a result, journalists must submit everything to military censors. They have to say, for instance, that Israel has nuclear weapons "according to non-Israeli sources."
  • Europe says, "we have lived under the Cold War with the nuclear threat and it came out alright." These (Iranians) aren't the same folks. Iran is building the bomb in part (if not solely) to ensure the preservation of the current regime. Cannot make the same assumptions about rationality and state preservation and MAD, etc.
  • November 2007 NIE report--British intelligence went ballistic--report said that Part IV, the weaponizing group ceased its work in 2004. This was a minor and disputed point. They had all the parts, they just hadn't assembled the car. Brits have since persuaded Americans they were wrong.
  • Watch and listen to Iran--they believe they are close.
  • We only know what we know. Israel has a limited capability. Iran is heavily fortified and defended. Israel believes an attack on 3 sites would only delay Iran by 2-3 years.
  • re: Syrian nuke program: What was on their (Syrian leadership's) mind? Syria made the job for attackers easy. Israel was surprised by Syrian--thought they were focused on missiles and chemical weapons. Syrians got 1.5 billion from Iran and paid North Korea after declining the services of A.Q. Khan. Israel is aware of what's going on in Syria.
  • What can Intel do? Raid on Syrian reactor affected history. When it does not deal with social movement or economics, it can have major impact. Voices in Israel want to topple the Iranian regime. Dr. Bergman does not think we should do anything like that.
  • Are you worried about being used by Israeli intelligence agencies? Intel agencies have an agenda and their information should be treated with suspicion. "I (first person) am not the favorite person of Mossad." Was interrogated just last week for having possession of classified documents. Made fun of them for their astute reading of "Top Secret" across the top of the documents included in his book. He has long-time sources he has come to trust.

If you have tips, questions, comments or suggestions, email me at lybberty@gmail.com.