The Wikileaks dump of Stratfor e-mails (see this comprehensive background article on the project and this glossary of wacky Strator intel-speak terms) has exposed one particularly interesting set of relationships. One of the company’s chief Israeli sources was Haaretz’s former intelligence correspondent, Yossi Melman. Melman recently quit his job (Hebrew) after 21 years in the field, most of it working for the newspaper. His reasons for leaving were vague. He alluded to the either the current political or economic climate harming the media and perhaps influencing his decision. It wasn’t clear to me whether perhaps there had been a salary dispute that couldn’t be resolved or some other reason for his leaving. Also, he had a heart attack recently and he’s 61 years old, so he may be seeking a change, though he did say he looked forward to another media project or job.
Of the Stratfor e mails released so far at least three deal with Israeli sources, one of which is explicitly Melman. In 2010, he apparently told Fred Burton, a former State Department official, this about the Dubai assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabouh:
I have VERY good information this was a contract job. The mission was contracted by the MOSSAD. In essence, subbed out under contract. The last few hits have been subbed out. I also have VERY good information that the Iranian physicist hit was also a subbed out job. More in person at the T meeting Tuesday, can’t put anything in writing.
If Melman’s was claiming the Al-Mabouh killing was contracted that would seem bizarre given that Dubai had released the names and photos of 27 operatives it claims were Mossad agents. It is possible that the Stratfor folks are referring to the Iranian nuclear scientist assassinations as being contracted hits. That might make more sense. Though even in that it would seem misleading since my own Israeli source tells me that they are the result of close collaboration between the Israeli spy agency and the MEK. Melman may be claiming that the Mossad is farming out the entire operation to the MEK and paying them for the jobs. Even a combination of all of these things may be behind this covert terror campaign.
An even more interesting and revealing email exchange revolves around the Israeli attack on the Iranian missile base that occurred last December. Stratfor has another (or perhaps the same) Israeli source who tells them:
Source below was asked to clarify his remarks that the nuclear infrastructure had been destroyed.
Israeli commandos in collaboration with Kurd forces destroyed few underground facilities mainly used for the Iranian defense and nuclear research projects.
Despite the reports in the media and against any public knowledge, the promoter of a massive Israeli attack on Syria is the axis India-Russia-Turkey-Saudi Arabia. The axis US-Germany-France-China is against such an attack from obvious reasons. Not many people know that Russia is one of Israel’s largest military partners and India is Israel’s largest client.
If a direct conflict between Iran and Israel erupts, Russia and Saudi Arabia will gain the advantages on oil increasing prices. On the other hand, China and Europe are expected to loose [sic] from an oil crisis as a result of a conflict. Based on Israeli plans, the attack on Iran will last only 48 hours but will be so destructive that Iran will be unable to retaliate or recover and the government will fall. It is hard to believe that Hamas or Hezbollah will try to get involved in this conflict.
In the open media many are pushing and expecting Israel to launch a massive attack on Iran. Even if the Israelis have the capabilities and are ready to attack by air, sea and land, there is no need to attack the nuclear program at this point after the commandos destroyed a significant part of it.
If a massive attack on Iran happens soon, then the attack will have political and oil reasons and not nuclear. It is also very hard to believe that the Israelis will initiate an attack unless they act as a contractor for other nations or if Iran or its proxies attack first. With the revealed of the new UN report the Israelis have green light to take care of the Iranian proxies in Gaza and Lebanon now with the entire world watching Iran. I think that we should expect escalations on these fronts rather than an Israeli attack on Iran.
It isn’t clear above where the source’s “insight” ends and the Stratfor analyst’s interpretation begins or whether the entire paragraph is the source’s thinking. But clearly a number of these intelligence experts are interpreting their source as telling them that Israel had already essentially destroyed either all or part of Iran’s nuclear capability. This judgment beggars belief since everyone and their brother knows that Iran has deliberately duplicated and compartmentalized its nuclear facilities in order to avoid precisely the problem that this missile base attack caused. So the notion that a single blast, no matter how effective and powerful, could destroy a significant part of Iran’s nuclear program is simply not credible.
Further, the claim (apparently by the Israeli source) that the attack on Iran will last 48 hours and that Iran will not be able to retaliate and the regime will fall, while Hamas and Hezbollah will stand by dumbstruck by the Shock and Awe, is typical Israeli testosterone-infused machismo. It is, once again, a fantasy. But unfortunately a fantasy upon which much of Israel’s actual strategic military thinking regarding Iran seems to be based.
The question is who is the Israeli source. Stratfor may have a number of such sources. Indeed, there is another e-mail exchange in which a company official reports on a meeting he had with a senior Israeli intelligence officer. But the possibility remains that the source could be Yossi Melman. Though Melman’s reporting is usually more credible than the information offered above, he has been known to go off the deep end at times (as he’s accused me and my source of doing as well–to be fair). I wonder whether this is one of those times.
Finally, there are some larger questions to ask about Yossi Melman’s relationship with Stratfor. How extensive was it and when did it begin? What information did he provide to them and what sources did he use? Was he offering Stratfor information he learned as part of reporting he was doing for Haaretz? Wikileaks claims that Stratfor paid their sources and that the company also intended to sell the information it gleaned for commercial purposes and had even set up an investment vehicle to do so with the help of Goldman Sachs. In fact, in one e-mail, CEO George Friedman appeared concerned that some of their activity might merit future scrutiny by the Justice Department:
…In an e-mail dated in August of last year, Friedman…wrote, “We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either.”
So was Melman paid as well? Even if he wasn’t, what are Haaretz’s ethical guidelines concerning reporters’ relationships with commercial companies? Are they allowed to do what Melman did even without payment?
Did Melman’s quitting his job have anything to do with Stratfor? When did Haaretz find out about this relationship? Who told them?
Wikileaks has accused Melman of being “an intelligence mule” for the Mossad and of acting duplicitously in publishing the earlier Wikileaks cables. To be fair, it appears Julian Assange has treated most journalists as traitors in this enterprise, not just Melman. The Israeli journalist reacted with scorn to the accusations and has denied them through Haaretz and this linked piece in Tablet. He professes not to know (Hebrew) what was said about him in the Stratfor e mails nor to have any control over the way in which he is portrayed there. Which seems besides the point, since we really want to know how he became a source for them, what information he offered and received, who he gave information he learned to, and whether he was paid for any of this. None of which he nor Haaretz answered.
I’ve passed all these questions to Haaretz’s publisher and editor and hope they will respond and I will include their response if they permit me to do so.
UPDATE: Haaretz’s editor, Aluf Benn, replied to my questions with “Mr. Melman is no longer with us,” a fact which is self-evident to both of us.