A condensed version of this post was published at Middle East Eye.
Al Jazeera English (AJE) published a treasure trove of secret “spy cables” it appears to have procured from a South African intelligence source. Almost all the documents either originated in that country or refer to it in some explicit manner that indicates the likely origin.
A significant portion of the documents refers to the Mossad’s relationship with South African intelligence and the Israeli agency’s role in other African nations as well. The cables, written by South African intelligence (SSA) officials or written to them by other intelligence agencies, are of varying quality and credibility. Those which detail events concerning the Mossad and countries outside South Africa, at times, have the ring of rumor or exaggeration. For example, one cable speaks of the aftermath of an al-Qaeda terror attack (pgs. 42-43) in Kenya that killed Israeli tourists:
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pledged to avenge the killings of the Israelis in Kenya and has deployed agents from Mossad to Kenya. Mossad agents in Nigeria have provided important details on al-Qaeda in that country. Katsas in South Africa have joined colleagues in Mombasa. Rome, Malta and Cyprus went to Kenya to assist in the investigation. Dagan also sent kidon [Mossad’s assassination unit] to find and kill the man behind the three suicide bombers. He said that no one knows for certain what success the Mossad team had. But sources in a number of intelligence services say it did kill several suspected terrorists and dumped their bodies in crocodile-infested swamps.
Kenyan media deems this story credible enough that several outlets covered it.
In contrast, those cables which relay current information about recent events in which SA intelligence was directly involved, are without doubt highly credible.
South Africa and Israel: a Fraught Relationship
Israel has had a tempestuous relationship with South Africa (SA) fraught with numerous reversals and radical changes of policy. In the 1950s, the Ben Gurion government sought to counter the isolation it faced from the Arab states. It bolstered its credentials within the non-aligned world, establishing strong ties with recently-independent African states. That meant Israeli support for anti-colonialism and the fight against Apartheid-era South Africa.
But after 1967, as both countries faced ever-mounting criticism from the international community over their policies toward ethnic minorities, Israel and SA began to discover mutual interests. In the 1970s, they traded and exchanged the materials each needed to produce nuclear weapons. Seymour Hersh even wrote that SA and Israel jointly tested nuclear weapons.
Israel became one of SA’s few allies. Conversely, the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela adopted the Palestinian struggle as its own. In this case, the enemy of one’s enemy became one’s friend. So this fortified the sense of mutual dependency the two states had for each other.
When the Apartheid government fell in the 1990s, Israel was quick to try to change sides. It wanted to maintain good relations with the new democratic nation. But despite Mandela’s public statements of forgiveness for past transgressions toward South African Blacks, not everyone felt the same way.
Ronnie Kasrils, the former military leader of the ANC in exile and new intelligence minister, wanted as little as possible to do with Israel, and especially the Mossad. He supported the Palestinian struggle, and was even believed by some within SSA to support the armed resistance.
Since this early period in the history of democratic South Africa, relations between the two nations and their respective security apparatuses have been rocky. There has been some sharing of information and a recognition that each nation faces security threats from potential Islamic radicals. But contentious history and new conflicts continue to rankle on both sides. The SSA cables offer a window into the Mossad’s intelligence operations in South Africa.
Mossad in South Africa
The Mossad, wherever it operates, builds a network of local assets which both amass intelligence and assist espionage operations. These local assets aren’t the same as those used by other intelligence agencies. They’re often not paid for their services. They’re called sayanim (volunteer aides) in Hebrew. And often they’re local Jewish communal leaders or businessmen, who perform such roles out of a sense of devotion to Israel. In SA, even members of the Board of Deputies, the highest governing body of the national community, played this role.
By means of detail [cell phone] billing it was determined that [agent’s name redacted] had regular contact with members of the South Africa Board of Deputies. It is a known modus operandi of the Mossad to utilise the Jewish community around the world…in its intelligence activities. The contact between [agent] and these members of the South Africa Jewish community can be an indication that the Mossad utilised them in its covert collection activities.
It was also established that [agent] had constant contact with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies… This body has a direct influence over the Jewish community in South Africa, with strong emotional bonds with the State of Israel.
Sayanim perform duties from the most mundane to the most strategic. They arrange medical care, find housing, arrange logistics and finance operations. They are in regular contact with their Mossad intermediary. They are also asked to keep their ear to the ground and listen for any information that might assist the agent:
Sayanim also collect technical data and all kinds of overt intelligence: a rumour at a cocktail party, an item on the radio, paragraph in newspaper, and provide leads for katsas [collection agents].
The idea is to have a pool of people available when needed who can provide services but will keep quiet about them out of loyalty to the cause.
Though sayanim are upstanding regular members of their community, they carry on a double-life intimately involved in Israeli spycraft. There are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of them around the world. The spy cable estimates in 1998 there were 4,000 in the UK alone.
This co-optation of the local Jewish community sets a terrible precedent. In many Diaspora societies, they are accused (often because of statements by Israeli leaders themselves implicating them in Israeli policy) of double loyalty; of having stronger loyalty to Israel than their native country. In most cases, Jews dismiss such claims as anti-Semitic propaganda. But with the exposure of the Mossad’s sayan culture, and turning local Jews into Israeli intelligence assets, these charges rear their ugly heads once more. And this time with justification.
El Al as Mossad Cover
The SSA reveals in the cables it is fully aware of the role El Al plays as a major Israeli intelligence asset. According to a SA TV documentary and the cables themselves:
“South Africa’s spy agencies concurred…that Israel uses its flag-carrier, El Al Airlines, as cover for its intelligence agencies.”
[The Israeli] spies conducted clandestine searches [at airports] on the belongings of people they deemed suspect, in violation of South African law, which only authorises police, armed forces or personnel hired by the transport ministry to carry out such searches.
Canada’s intelligence agency, clearly concerned to learn this, due to similar activity at its airports, asked the SSA to elaborate on what it had learned. The Canadians had hired a private security firm to document that Israel intelligence was using El Al personnel in the same manner there. The firm verified that the suspicions were true.
After an El Al security agent in 2007 became a whistleblower and informed SA TV that El Al was essentially a front for Israeli intelligence, a major scandal erupted. It caused a major rift between the two nations. SA threatened to cancel El Al’s landing rights in the country. As a result, one Israeli airline security official was deported.
Further, the cable details the methods by which Mossad exploited El Al cover to assist Israeli intelligence gathering:
It was a known modus operandi of the Israeli intelligence services to utilize El Al as cover for intelligence members…45 people are employed by El Al as their security personnel at the JHB [Johannesburg] International Airport and 8 are employed at the Cargo and Passenger side…El Al has the privilege of not being searched at the restricted areas. El Al officials are also allowed to travel freely with their weapons…When a flight from Tel Aviv arrives… El Al personnel, carrying hidden handset two-way radios, disguise themselves as passengers. At check points they simply flash their EL AL cards and are allowed to go through any restricted area in the airport [as] has been agreed to by [South African security].
… El Al is of the opinion that they are responsible for the security…of Israeli planes and passengers at the airport, and therefore all the above mentioned privileges are afforded to them by.
…An lsraeli intelligence officer can enter South Africa and under…disguise as an El Al member go through all the checkpoints at the airport without presenting any documentation…One of the members of El Al has also been identified as a courier for the Mossad…His status…provides him with freedom of movement that will make it easy for him to act as a courier.
The cable notes that the recently appointed chief of El Al security at Oliver Tambo Airport was suspected of being an intelligence agent.
El Al security officers routinely harass South African travelers at airports. A vice president of the national municipal workers union, traveling to Israel to attend an anti-Occupation conference in the West Bank village of Bilin, was strip-searched, interrogated and detained before his flight departed. He was escorted by Israeli security to his plane one-minute before take-off.
Besides El Al, the cable notes it is an “internationally-known practice” that Israeli defense companies like Elbit and Israel Aircraft Industries play key roles in assisting the Mossad in its operations in countries where it operates.
Further, the SSA also suspects the Mossad of using the South African affiliate of the Israeli company, AMDOCS as a front for its activities in the country. Two of AMDOCs largest customers in the country are national cell phone carriers. Presumably, this would allow Israeli intelligence to monitor telecom traffic inside the country. As we’ve seen with the NSA spying on the leaders of Germany and Brazil, it’s possible the Mossad could monitor the communications of the country’s political, military and intelligence leadership as well as those it suspects of terror activity.
The Mossad also facilitates the weapons needs of some of its major allies through covert activities in SA. SSA noted in its cable that an Israeli works as a “procurement agent,” serving as a conduit for armaments Israel wants to ship throughout the African continent and to India as well. Through him, India sought “nuclear, chemical, laser and conventional technologies & hardware” that may be procured in covertly there. Because India understood S.A. would not sell such material directly, India set up a “parallel” procurement system. Among items Israel has offered, are early warning and trigger systems for Indian rockets. Some of these local Israeli companies are staffed in S.A. by ex-Mossad agents believed to be working as fronts for the agency.
Lieberman: Humanitarian Aid as a Front for African Arms Dealing
Avigdor Lieberman shakes hand of Kenyan president and accused war criminal, Uhuru Kenyatta, during Africa tour.
In 2009, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman visited five African countries, ostensibly on a good will mission to offer aid in relieving hunger, water shortages, malnutrition and improving public health.
But a SA intelligence assessment offered a darker portrait of the visits. As you read this, keep in mind that Israel is ranked the sixth largest arms exporter in the world:
Tel Aviv’s promises to African states could be seen as the gloss on an exercise in cynicism, eg that Israel’s military, security, economic and political tentacles have reached every part of Africa behind a philanthropic facade. Africa’s 54 nations have rebuffed Israel’s diplomatic overtures for decades. Today the Netanyahu administration believes it stands a chance to breach that wall.
Tel Aviv fully appreciates the vast potential that Africa offers, in addition to copious natural resources, Africa represents strategic depth for [a buffer to] the Arab world, for which reason Israel has been allegedly instrumental in arming some African regimes and allegedly aggravating crises among others, including Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and South Africa.
Sudan offers a possible proof of this. Accused by Israeli officials of arming and supporting the Palestinian resistance [Hamas], Tet Aviv is working assiduously to encircle and isolate Sudan from the outside, and to fuel insurrection inside Sudan.
Israel has long been keen to capitalize on Africa’s mineral wealth. It plans to appropriate African diamonds and process them in Israel which is already the world’s second largest processor of diamonds. And if the composition of Lieberman’s entourage was anything to go by, lsrael is also interested in African uranium, thorium and other radioactive elements used to manufacture nuclear fuel. In addition it is looking for new markets for its range of lightweight weapons. It also appears that a few Israeli military pensioners are on the lookout for job opportunities as trainers of African militias, while other members of Lieberman’s delegation were facilitating contracts for Israelis to train various militias. The huge oil reserves in a number of African countries are also high on Israel’s agenda, with Tel Aviv seeking a share in exploration extraction and export operations.
Since the 1950s, lsrael has sought to compromise Egypt’s water security by consolidating its influence over countries straddling the sources of the Nile in the central African great lakes and the Ethiopian highlands. By keeping Egypt preoccupied with its water security Israel imagines that it can diminish Cairo’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Towards this end Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology conducted extensive experiments and eventually created a type of plant that flourishes on the surface or the banks of the Nile and that absorbs such large quantities of water as to significantly reduce the volume of water that reaches Egypt.
The cable also notes that Israel is eager to block Iranian inroads into Africa via the latter’s efforts to sponsor major development projects on the continent (much as China has been doing) to build good-will. A major purpose of the Israeli humanitarian effort to counter Iran is Israel’s belief that the continent’s raw materials could be used to fuel Iran’s nuclear program.
Blocking Alleged Hezbollah and Iranian Terror Activities in South Africa
A major focus of Mossad activities in South Africa is to identify potential Islamist threats and planning for terror attacks that may take place outside SA. The Mossad even embarrassed the SSA by publicly claiming that Hezbollah operatives had planned much of the Burgas attack in SA.
In 2007, the Israeli intelligence agency identified a specific Iranian in Capetown as a terror threat, because he had close contact with a suspected Hezbollah operative in Lebanon. At a meeting between a senior Mossad official and the SSA, the Israeli asked for a quid pro quo. In return for alerting the South Africans, Mossad expected they would monitor him and inform the Israelis on a regular basis about his activities. The SSA officer told his counterpart that this was against protocol and could not be done. In reply, the Mossad official stormed out of the meeting.
Further, Mossad suspects senior S.A. political figures of having sympathy for Iran and a willingness to aid its nuclear program. Nevertheless, it would like SSA to collaborate with it in countering efforts to support Iran’s nuclear program that originate inside S.A.
The agency also believes S.A. charities like the Al Aqsa Foundation and African Muslim Agency are conduits for supporting Palestinian terrorism. Therefore, the Israelis monitors these groups and anyone who might be considered an Islamist radical. Agents are known to recruit assets in the local Muslim community and have been observed communicating with them covertly in rest rooms and other locations.
In order to ensure the loyalty of Palestinian and other Arab assets it recruits in South Africa, the Mossad has engaged prostitutes to “entertain” them. The trysts are photographed and recorded in case the intelligence asset has a change of heart about collaborating.
By 2009, relations between the two national intelligence services had deteriorated to such an extent that the Mossad told the South Africans it had withdrawn its field officer from the country. The report notes the name (redacted) and personal information about the individual it claims is the current agent overseeing S.A. affairs (though he isn’t based there and serves in Israel).
Mossad and Conflation of Security, Terror and Anti-Semitism
Israel has found a convenient method of maintaining pressure on the South African government to advance Israel’s interests: it conflates the issues of terror, security and anti-Semitism. The Board of Deputies and Israeli embassy have reported alleged incidents of domestic terror targeting their institutions. The AJE spy cable notes skepticism on the part of SSA, which believes these may be false flag operations:
“The South Africans even accuse Mossad of staging a bombing “to attract more attention to safety at the Israeli Embassy and other Israeli Companies”.
“A briefing on relations between South African and Israeli intelligence discussed a petrol-bomb attack at an Israeli company in South Africa in June 2001, saying another “pipe bomb” had also been found and disabled.
It also highlights a number of bomb threats made to the Israeli embassy which culminated in a man walking in to the embassy to make the same threat in person.
The South African agent authoring the report questions whether the event was all that is seemed, asking “did he actually walk-in at the Israeli Embassy or was this staged to ensure more protection,” and, “was the bombing incident also staged to attract more attention to safety at the Israeli Embassy and other Israeli Companies?”
The Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement in South Africa particularly rankles Israel and its intelligence service. Historically, Israel understands the international role a similar movement played in the eventual toppling of the Apartheid regime. For that reason, it’s especially vigilant about countering what it perceives as the growing momentum inside SA against Occupation and Israeli apartheid.
In July 2012, SA’s finance minister received a mysterious, hand-delivered letter. It alleged to be from an anonymous group of ex-Mossad agents, who claimed credit for creating the Stuxnet and FLAME viruses. They threatened cyber-attacks against major S.A. financial and banking targets unless the country’s justice and police system cracked down on the BDS movement and arrested its leaders within 30 days. The cable notes the capability to implement such an attack might lie with Israelis in the SA telecom and IT sectors who might participate in such a project.
Israel fears if left unchecked, pro-Palestine activism will develop unstoppable momentum, leading S.A. to sever diplomatic relations with Israel. This could be the beginning of the precisely the sort of domino effect that eventually brought down the Apartheid era regime.
Other protests which have alarmed Israel are:
- A. universities which have cancelled talks by Israeli diplomats and announced their support for the academic boycott. Palestinian solidarity groups have also hosted campus events with Arab speakers Israel alleges helped organize acts of terror in Israel.
- SA ministers have advocated that nation policy endorse BDS. Some have urged that South Africans not visit Israel.
The local Jewish community, according to the cables, has been co-opted into Israel’s security agenda. SA Jews founded a security consultancy, the Community Security Organization (CSO) which functions somewhat like paramilitary organization. It provides security for communal leaders, events and institutions. Should the Jewish community come under attack from radical Islamist or pro-Palestinian elements, the SSA report raises the fear that the CSO may take the law into its own hands and strike back against targets viewed as the cause of violence against Jews. It also raises the suspicion that CSO has close contacts with Mossad and plays a role in protecting Israeli interests in SA as well.
As I noted earlier, the merger of the interests of Israel with those of the local Jewish community poses a serious and unappreciated problem. When Israel bombs Gaza or Lebanon; or murders Iranian nuclear scientists or Iranian generals, or steals Palestinian land, the Arab world may not understand the nuance that distinguishes Israeli actions from Diaspora Jewry. If these Jews (and Israel’s leaders as well) do not create a separation between themselves and Israel—if, in fact they deliberately conflate the two—then how can they expect non-Jews to make that distinction?
In other words, much of the world understands that a Jew in Copenhagen should not be blamed or attacked because Israel killed 2,100 Gazans last summer. But there are hundreds of millions of people who don’t read the New York Times or listen to the BBC. They may not even listen to their own local TV news. They may learn about the world from terribly unreliable sources. Don’t South African Jews provide more fodder for such erroneous attitudes to survive and thrive?
South African anti-tank missile, whose plans Mossad stole
The report also raises the fear that Israeli-affiliated businesses in the country might step up their own “offensive espionage activities.”
Mossad Stole South African Anti-Tank Missile Plans
In 2010, the Mossad, through an Israel businessman and possible Mossad asset, Yitzhak Thalia, bought the blueprints for the new Mokopa air-to-ground anti-tank missile manufactured by the SA arms maker, Denel. A senior Denel employee and the managing director of a subcontractor were offering it to intelligence agents of various countries willing to buy it.
After SA discovered the theft and sale, it demanded from the Mossad an explanation of the procurement of the secret documents and their return. The agency responded by refusing to investigate the crime or reveal anything about it. But it did “magnanimously” offer to return them (no doubt keeping a copy for itself) as a gesture of good faith in light of the excellent relations between the two countries. SA intelligence kept Israel’s involvement in the crime a secret, until the AJE leak which exposed it.
Even when the two contractors were tried for selling the plans, the role played by the suspected Mossad agent (acting under an assumed name) who bought them was suppressed. In fact, the State prosecutor lied saying the plans had never been compromised.
Mossad Lobbies SSA against Goldstone Report
In 2009, Mossad chief, Meir Dagan broke protocol and called his counterpart in the SSA. At the time, the UN General Assembly was considering a resolution to endorse the Goldstone Report and refer it for possible investigation of Israeli war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. Dagan sought South African support against the resolution.
Such a direct call, made to the unlisted cell phone of the SA security chief was a breach of protocol. No one had given the Mossad his cell phone number and no one knew how Dagan had procured it.
During his conversation, Dagan told his counterpart that Mahmoud Abbas, head of the PA, opposed the referral, fearing it would strengthen Hamas, his political rival. This, according to Abbas as relayed by Dagan, would weaken the chances for the Palestinian people to achieve their aims. A claim that strains credulity, no doubt.
Dagan also argued that if Israel’s attack on Gaza should be found to constitute a war crime, then other terror groups around the world would be emboldened to bring similar charges against other countries fighting against them. The Goldstone Report would, in that case, represent a “victory for terrorism.” The Mossad chief also claimed that if Israel was found guilty of war crimes it would reduce Israel’s interest in pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
SA voted in favor of referring the Report to the UNGA, despite Dagan’s blandishments.
Mossad Contradicts Netanyahu Claims Regarding Iranian Nuclear Program
The Mossad appears to have sent its assessment of the Iranian nuclear program to the SSA. This cable exposes the profound rift between Israeli intelligence and its leader, Bibi Netanyahu. Instead of the latter’s repeated predictions of an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon, the Mossad’s evaluation was much more sober.
It conceded the Iranians had enriched uranium to both the 5% and 20% level. But weaponization requires 90-95% enrichment, about which the Mossad wrote “it does not appear to be ready to enrich it to higher levels.” If further added that “the amount of 20% enriched uranium is…not increasing.
Instead of mad mullahs bent on dragging the region into a nuclear conflagration, the Mossad suggested Iran was carefully calculating the moves it made in its nuclear program. Progress (from the Iranian perspective) was being made. But in calibrated ways that suggested not a nation moving full-speed toward WMD, but rather one considering its options.
Most decisively, Mossad concludes that:
Bottom line: … Iran at this stage is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons…”
Mossad’s Quest for the “Moderate,” Pliant Muslim
Al Jazeera published a 2014 Mossad survey of the “successes” of repressive Arab states in combating Islamic radicalism. According to AJE, the document “assesses attempts across the Arab world to promote what it calls a ‘moderate’ interpretation of Islam.” It describes the creation of government-funded theological associations of Muslim clerics, imams for hire, whose mission is to undercut the religious message of al Qaeda and other militant groups. The network offers “paid mechanisms of political control rather than exploration of religious scholarship, to reinforce their own rule.”
The report cites a new Saudi strategy:
…Developed in 2010 under the name “Ideological Security”, whose purpose is to “restrain the spread of Salafi ideology and to formulate a…moderate perception of Islam which will be inculcated with the population”.
The Mossad recognises the power of religion as a tool to shape politics, noting that Saudi Arabia “pursues the ‘brainwashing’ of thousands of al-Qaeda detainees in order to persuade them to give up their radical thinking”. The report also notes that the Saudi authorities are “increasing supervision of the internet and social media” to stop the spread of “radical Islamic ideology.”
Israeli intelligence portrays the very Saudi government which originally boosted al Qaeda with financial and logistical support, as now having turned its back on Muslim militancy. The Saudis are described as ardent fighters against “global jihad.” But it’s unclear how the report squares the same regime’s generous funding of Sunni militants affiliated with ISIS and al Qaeda who are now battling against Assad’s Shiite regime.
In a phrase which speak volumes about the attitudes of Mossad officers toward their own Jewish fundamentalists (Haredim), the report describes Saudi Wahabism as the “ultra-Orthodox school” of Islam.
Egypt’s Al Azhar Islamist university sends its clerics at the behest of the military junta into the Sinai to preach sermons aimed at combating the influence of radical Islamists who have allied themselves with indigenous Bedouin in mounting terror attacks against regime security forces.
The Mossad falsely depicts the Arab Spring as being allied with, or advancing the cause of Islamic fundamentalism. Since Islamist forces in a few countries helped topple repressive Arab strongmen, al Qaeda and its various “affiliates” like the Muslim Brotherhood, are purportedly behind the Arab Spring.
The report finds that repressive Arab regimes (Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia) first began to appreciate the danger of “radical Islam” during the Arab Spring. This is false, as many Arab dictators were fighting al Qaeda long before this popular uprising. In truth, the Arab Spring was the enemy of Arab autocrats, who themselves are Israel’s best allies in the region. That is why Israel portrays movements for democracy in Arab lands as enemies to it, not because they are Islamist in nature.
Israel sees its interests served by pliant autocrats: either generals like Egypt’s al-Sisi or monarchs like Jordan’s King Abdullah. Democracy, or the notion that the “Arab street” will have a meaningful say in their own affairs scares the hell out of Israeli intelligence and military analysts.
The report does not note Israel’s own support for the al Nusra front, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, in Syria. Nor does it note that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab states have contributed to radical Islamists fighting the Assad regime, to ISIS and other al Qaeda groups in Iraq and elsewhere
AJE’s Clayton Swisher notes the problematic nature of this Israeli approach to the Arab world:
“Co-opting the Western “war on terror” narrative and directing it broadly against those who oppose Arab autocracy and Western policies in the region, actually suppresses the people of the Middle East from developing indigenous, sustainable answers to the region’s many dilemmas.”
Mossad Sought Intelligence from SSA on Muslim Brotherhood
Along with a general obsession with the role Islamism played in the region, the Mossad narrowed its focus specifically to Egypt. As the tradition leader of Arab world, it has always played a major role in Israeli policy. From the days of Nasser up to al-Sisi, Israeli leaders have either feared, connived, contained, fought, or co-opted various Egyptian leaders.
The rule of Hosni Mubarak was quite congenial. Mubarak “handled” Hamas on Israel’s behalf. He contained the Muslim Brotherhood and held radical Islam in check. He was, as Margaret Thatcher famously said of Gorbachev, someone with whom we can do business.”
The irony, of course, is that Israel prides itself as a democracy. It tells the world proudly about religious and press freedom. Its “Arab” citizens enjoy more freedom, to hear Israeli leaders tell it, than any others in the region. If that is indeed so, why does Israel make common cause with al-Sisi (Egypt), Abdullah (Jordan), and Salman (Saudi Arabia)? Why does it tout democracy at home and authoritarianism abroad?
As Mubarak’s regime disintegrated during the thaw of the Arab Spring, Israeli military and intelligence analysts were in a panic. Israel always prefers a single strongman it can buy, rather than an entire nation it can’t. The prospect of facing the combined will of tens of millions of Egyptian citizens democratically empowered left Israel deeply fearful of the result.
That is why Mossad wrote this cable to the SSA only a month after Mohammed Morsi, the new Muslim Brotherhood president, took power. The Israeli agency not only wanted to know what to expect from Morsi and his Brotherhood allies, it wanted to know, in its own inimitable way, what the weak points were. Where were the levers of power? Who controlled what? If we need to reach or buy someone, who could it be?
The Mossad requested the following information from their South African colleagues:
“Further steps you expect the Muslim Brotherhood to take to weaken the influence of the military, the courts and Egypt’s Deep State.”
“Details on relations between President Mursi [sic] and the Muslim Brotherhood…What is the decision making process in he presidency.”
“Details on Mursi’s circle of advisors; names, functions in the presidency, ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, ties with Mursi himself.”
“Details on the steps the Muslim Brotherhood is taking to penetrate the security system (military, defense mechanisms, and police), legal system, and civilian bureaucratic system. People in these systems who are known to have/are suspected of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Al Jazeera further notes:
…The Israelis sought detailed information on decision-making in the Egyptian leadership, and…domestic policy plans. Mossad even asked for the identities of people within the security services, judiciary and bureaucracy perceived as loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Such information would give Israeli decision-makers an extremely detailed picture of political dynamics in Cairo. It would also be very useful to anyone hatching plans to topple a government. It’s not the clear equivalent of a burglar seeking the pass code to his neighbor’s home alarm – but a suspicious mind might interpret it in that way.
After the Egyptian military overthrew Morsi, Israel was delighted. Al Jazeera’s Swisher quotes Ehud Yaari, a fellow at the Aipac-friend Washington Institute for Near East Peace and analyst close to Israeli intelligence circles raved about the new regime:
Yaari hailed Sisi’s “intimate” friendship with Israel. “We have co-operation, unprecedented in scope and intensity and if I may say so, intimacy between Israel, the Egyptian military and the intelligence service”, Yaari told an audience in Australia . It was an unparalleled partnership, “the best ever. It never reached this point under President Mubarak, not under President Sadat”.
But it has never been clear whether the Israelis played any role in the events that brought him to power.