Is the US deliberately harming Israeli covert ops in Iran?
Caroline Glick June 6, 2011, 7:20 AM
One of the dirty secrets about Western trade with enemy states like Iran is
that the Western companies trading wtih them may also wittingly or
unwittingly serve as espionage assets for their home country or for other
Consider the Stuxnet computer virus which reportedly caused great harm to at
least one and perhaps multiple nuclear installations in Iran. The virus
penetrated the Iranian systems through Siemens industrial control systems.
In recent years, Siemens was subject to widespread criticism from US policy
makers for its massive trade with Iran. And this criticism was justified.
But it is important to admit that if Siemens hadn't been trading with Iran,
whomever developed the Stuxnet virus would have had to find another,
probably less accessible platform to penetrate Iran's computer systems.
The Stuxnet story shows the problematic flipside of trade embargos against
rogue states like Iran. The less access you have to enemy markets, the less
ability you have to gather information about enemy targets and the less
capacity you have to sabotage enemy targets. The more access you have, the
more capacity you can build to infiltrate, gather information and sabotage
The boycott drive against states like Iran uses a legalistic framework to
deal with complex military challenges. And since the nail doesn't exactly
fit the hole, it stands to reason that the damage sanctions can do to
military or intelligence operations may in certain circumstances outweigh
the benefit they bring to diplomatic operations.
Since last week's announcement by the State Department that it was
sanctioning the Israeli firm Ofer Brothers' Shipping for reportedly
violating US law by trading with Iran, there has been a deluge of news
reports alleging that the Ofer Brother's ships were used by the Mossad and
perhaps the IDF to infiltrate and exfiltrate agents into and out of Iran.
There are number of troubling aspects to the story. First, it strikes me as
odd that the announcement about the sanctions was made by the State
Department. If I am not mistaken, these decisions and announcements are
usually made by the Treasury Department. Why would the State Department have
taken the unusual step of announcing the sanctions and take the step against
an Israeli shipping company?
Second, it strikes me as odd that former Mossad chief Meir Dagan felt
compelled to issue an impassioned defense of the Ofer Brothers Shipping
company. Dagan is in the midst of an unprecedented, arguably illegal and
certainly unseemly campaign to delegitimize Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu. It seems strange that in the midst of this offensive Dagan would
divert his attention to the Ofer Brothers Shipping woes. He must have been
deeply shocked by the US move to do so.
(And yes, eventually I will probably address Dagan's unacceptable abuse of
his position to weaken Israel's political leadership and limit its policy
options against Iran.)
The third reason this is so shocking is that the timing of the announcement
cannot be viewed as coincidental. The rare State Department announcement
came just after Netanyahu wiped the floor with Obama in the Congress and as
the Republicans are wisely using Obama's hatred of Israel and his love for
anti-American political forces in the region as a campaign issue for 2012.
It is hard not to reach the conclusion that the announcement was
deliberately released at this juncture to weaken US public support for
If my hunch is right, and the Obama administration decided to use the
sanctions as a means to humilitate Israel, then this represents a stunning
blow to the US's credibility as an ally. It is impossible to believe that if
the Ofer Brothers subsidiary ships were used for intelligence operations in
Iran that the US did not know about it. So if the ships were used by Israeli
security agencies then the US knew that exposing the Israeli identity of the
ships would make it impossible for Israel to continue using them. And if
this is the case, then the US also knew that by exposing the information, it
was liable to leave Israeli agents currently in Iran stranded there.
Since Obama came into office, both he and his advisors and Israeli
politicians and security service commanders have repeatedly mentioned that
intelligence and military cooperation between the two countries has grown
steadily. If my sense of what happened with the Ofer Brothers Shipping firm
is even partially correct, then Israel should immediately reconsider its
willingness to maintain that cooperation. If Obama may use information
shared in joint intelligence meetings to harm Israel for political purposes
or, for that matter for any purpose, then Israel can no longer share
information with the US.