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US Spies Rent Jerusalem Hotel Suite to Watch a Secret Israeli Site

By DEBKAfile

Many Israelis were scandalized when documents released by Edward Snowden revealed that their best friend, America, had in 2009 targeted a former prime minister and defense minister for secret surveillance.

But their political leaders were not surprised. For years, the United States has been running a complex eavesdropping and surveillance web to spy on friends and foes alike, including Israel. Satellites gather and transmit data to command centers, "informers" operate in the field and the most fertile sources of all are not human but the instruments which bug cell phones, tablets and social networks.

The US National Security Agency, NSA, exposed by Snowden, can monitor these devices whenever it wants, just by beaming its instruments at a defined country, location, group of people or topics. If, for instance, NSA electronically obtains a list of Israeli servicemen, their cell phone numbers and credit cards, its monitors can keep each one under constant surveillance. The same applies to the personnel of Israel's Air Force, Aerospace industry and other high-tech military manufacturers, such as Elbit and Rafael. Those lists may safely be assumed to be already in the agency's hands.

To collect videos and images, American spy agencies only have to pan through such data gold mines as YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, the last of which was recently crowned Content Curation. This is because Pinterest does much of the intelligence watchers' work for them by assorting the material according to subject and field of interest and so unknowingly providing them with neat data packages.

The network catching on like wildfire of late is WhatsApp. It is also a favorite of Israel's elementary schoolchildren for swapping their thoughts and news. A child may explain he or she can't join the gang that afternoon because his or her father, an Air Force colonel or captain of a naval vessel, is just home from Crete or Sardinia. This will tell the eavesdropper that Israeli crews have been changed at those bases. An Israeli officer driving his car only has to consult Waze for a short cut to his secret destination to reveal it to a clandestine watcher. So who controls these armies of spies and directs their focus?

Those are murky waters which are virtually uncharted, as President Barack Obama implied obliquely in the comments he made at his end-of-year news conference last Friday. To still the uproar against indiscriminate spying on Americans, he promised a review and possibly reforms of the NSA, adding tellingly: "Just because we can do something doesn't mean we necessarily should."

Snowden's revelations about the spies sitting on the phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Roussef have got Washington into hot water. They also revealed the negligence of their own security services. However, Israel, to our certain knowledge, has lived with this unwanted American attention from its earliest days. In the 1980s, when the late Menahem Begin was prime minister, an odd-looking vehicle sprouting a forest of antennae stood permanently and quite visibly beneath his office window in Jerusalem. His staff identified it quite frankly as a mobile American listening station. The measures used later were a lot more sophisticated. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other Israeli officials, in their turn, had their e-mails intercepted regularly.

But after 2009, Washington introduced a high-powered, multilayered system of intelligence-gathering – especially against Israel, about which neither Snowden nor the Israelis have been forthcoming. This system had a single narrow focus: to pick up the slightest murmur or clue suggesting that Israel was about to launch an attack on Iran's nuclear sites, which it had threatened to do without prior notice to Washington.

Listening in on the laconic conversations Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held with Ehud Barak was not enough. What the spies were told to look for was out-of-the-way conduct, such as an order placed suddenly for a large quantity of aircraft fuel, or the import of an unusual amount of emergency medical equipment.

At the high noon of this period of mistrust, US officers of the highest ranks began dropping in on Israel with increasingly frequency. Every week to 10 days, some many-starred general or fast-talking Pentagon official arrived for a visit. They were told to ferret out any signs of Israel getting ready for an attack on Iran in time for Washington to step in and stop it.

These emissaries had two directives: 1. To maintain a tight grip on the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and other IDF generals and keep them in sight at all times; 2. To pick up on their every nuance of speech or behavior for signals of hidden activity too subtle for monitoring devices to register. The tempo of these visits tapered off when Washington concluded that Israel had given up on a military strike on Iran at that stage. However, the spying did not.

DEBKAfile's intelligence sources report that in recent months Israeli complained to the Obama administration about hotel suites which undercover agents had rented in Jerusalem at sites overlooking a secret military installation frequented by high Israeli officials for their most private consultations. The Netanyahu government asked Washington to stop this underhand surveillance. But meanwhile certain other - less friendly - Western spy agencies had caught on and took suites at the same location.

The conclusion from these incidents is that US clandestine surveillance of Israel is unlikely to stop in the foreseeable future – and not just against key figures and military personnel, but also involving economic and industrial espionage. To combat the expanding exposure of its secrets, Israel has been introducing "sterile spaces" impenetrable to illicit penetration as well as using tricks to misdirect attention. However, the Americans and other interested parties keep on looking for holes in these barriers - and so the contest goes on.

Israel Redoubling Bid for Pollard's Release, But US Firm on Refusal

By The Times of Israel
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is reportedly embarking on a new push to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from US prison, spurred on by reports Washington spied on Israeli leaders. On Monday, Netanyahu met with Esther Pollard, wife of the Israeli-American spy, and "updated her on the non-stop efforts to release Jonathan," according to a statement by his office.

The meeting came on the heels of calls by several Israeli politicians for Washington to consider freeing Pollard, after revelations over the weekend that the National Security Agency had spied on a number of Israeli leaders. The White House on Monday said it had no intention to let the convicted spy go free.

An unidentified source in Obama's office told Channel 10 that the president "stands behind the things he said before he visited Israel [in March]. Pollard committed a very serious crime, and [Obama] has no intention of releasing him."

However, Netanyahu was said to be pushing again for Pollard's release as part of the wider terms for Israel signing a framework agreement with the Palestinians that Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly about to present to the two sides. Channel 2 cited unnamed sources who suggested that Netanyahu will ask the US to exonerate Pollard after 28 years in prison in the context of Israeli concessions.

The report suggested Netanyahu could invoke the request to have Pollard freed as one of his terms for signing the framework agreement, as Washington has requested before the end of January; or in the context of Israel's ongoing four-phased release of 104 Palestinian terrorists, the third phase of which is due to take place shortly; or in the context of a possible release of six Israeli-Arabs imprisoned by Israel who Jerusalem has until now refused to free as part of a deal with the Palestinians.

The Channel 2 report said Netanyahu would not raise Pollard's case in the direct context of the new reports of US spying on Israel, but that the spying allegations may have impacted the timing of the prime minister's new push on behalf of Pollard.

Pollard was convicted in 1987 on charges of passing classified information to Israel while he worked as an intelligence analyst for the US Navy. He was given a life sentence for the crime, launching decades of activism for his release by Jewish groups, and, more recently, some high-profile US and Israeli officials.

Netanyahu opened the Sunday cabinet meeting with a promise that Israel would continue working for Pollard's release. "We don't need a special incident to work for the release of Jonathan Pollard," he said. "I have dealt with this [issue] with every US president [I have met], including President Obama, at all periods, including at this time. I hope the circumstances allow us to bring Jonathan home."

PLO Video Claims Jesus was 'Palestinian'


The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has claimed that Jesus was "Palestinian" in a seasonal video message attacking Israel.

The video juxtaposes images of "Christmas magic" with numerous scenes alleging "oppression" by Israelis. A figure revealed to be the Pope rides past scenes including a Jewish man holding a gun next to an Arab settler and Arabs cordoned off by an IDF soldier. As he walks off into a church courtyard, a message across the screen blares: "Stand up for Hope, Peace and Justice in Palestine."

In addition, the description below the video reads: "Every Christmas Palestine celebrates the birth of one of its own, Jesus Christ." Jesus was in fact a Jew living in Talmudic-era Israel. This is not the first time that the Palestinian Authority - the national front for the PLO - has tried to incite worldwide anti-Semitic activity during Christmas by claiming Jesus had a Palestinian identity. In 2010, Samih Ghanadreh, an author from Nazareth, called Jesus "the first Palestinian martyr" on a PA national television network. Ghanadreh claimed that the historical reference had first been noted by PLO leader Yasir Arafat.

The move also comes just days after prominent Roman-Catholic cleric Fuad Twal used his own Christmas address to slam Israel. "The Israeli-Palestinian talks resumed in late July, after three years of interruption, but the efforts are hampered by the continuous building of Israeli settlements," Twal stated. In 2012, the cleric also claimed that the religious holiday marked "the birth of the State of Palestine."

The PA and Hamas have a history of persecuting Christian Arabs; as a trend, Christians have been migrating from the Middle East elsewhere in response to growing persecution - with Israel currently the only country in the region whose Christian population continues to grow.

Israel to Abbas: No, Jesus was Not a Palestinian


Israeli officials reacted with bitter scorn to a Christmas message from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which he called Jesus a Palestinian and suggested Israel was to blame for the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land. "He should have read the Gospel before uttering such offensive nonsense, but we will forgive him because he doesn't know what he's doing," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel on Monday. Abbas' statement is an "outrageous rewriting of Christian history," according to Palmor.

Earlier on Monday, Abbas published a lengthy Christmas greeting, calling Jesus "a Palestinian messenger who would become a guiding light for millions around the world." Although he expressed his commitment to the peace negotiations with Israel, he expressed harsh criticism of Israeli policies, including an accusation that Jerusalem is responsible for the plight of Christians in the Holy Land.

"We celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem under occupation," Abbas wrote. "This Christmas Eve, our hearts and prayers will be with the millions who are being denied their right to worship in their homeland." He called the security barrier an "annexation Wall, which is stealing [Palestinians'] land and dooming their future."

These rather unfriendly statements are "not exactly in the spirit of Christmas," Palmor, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said cynically. "Maybe he needs a hug from Santa?"

Abbas also mentioned Palestinians "trapped under siege" in Gaza, and "those who are prevented from worshiping in Bethlehem. Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Al Dbayeh Refugee Camp in Beirut, along with all of our Palestinian refugees — Christians and Muslims uprooted from their hometowns in 1948 and who, since that time, have suffered the vicissitudes of a forced exile."

Abbas said more Palestinians will celebrate Christmas in Western cities than will do so in the city of Jesus' birth. "To them we say that Bethlehem is their town and Palestine is their country. We will continue working tirelessly to give them the freedom to decide where to spend Christmas."

An Israeli government official took offense particularly with the suggestion that Israel has caused Christians to leave the Holy Land. "The exodus of Christians from Bethlehem turned into a flood the moment the PA took control," the official said.

But at least one Israeli official had some warm words for Abbas' holiday message: MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash), an Arab Christian from the Galilee town of Eilaboun, backed up the message, if not the facts, of Abbas' missive. "What President Mahmoud Abbas said describes the real situation — Palestinians, including Christians, are celebrating Christmas and New Year's Eve under Israeli occupation. That's a fact," he said.

Abbas' Christmas message seemed to paper over the fact that Christians in the PA are only a fraction of the Muslims living in the West Bank and Gaza. "Christians are not a minority here: they are an integral part of the Palestinian people," Abbas wrote in his Christmas message. "Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians, Assyrians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Copts, Melkites, Protestants and others are all part of the rich mosaic of this free, sovereign, democratic and pluralistic Palestine we aspire to have."

According to the CIA World Factbook, Christians make up 8% of the population in the West Bank, and 0.7% of Gaza. Swaid, 58, acknowledged that in reality Christians are a minority among Palestinians, but noted that he appreciated Abbas' comments nonetheless. "If the president of a country says so, he thinks and believes that to be the case," Swaid said, adding that Abbas meant to emphasize that Christians are an "integral part" of Palestinian society. `

US Consultant Shezanne Cassim Sentenced to Year in UAE Jail for Posting Satirical Video

By NBC News

An American living in the United Arab Emirates was sentenced to a year in jail on Monday after a court ruled that a satirical video he posted on YouTube threatened national security, his family said. (See The family of 29-year-old Shezanne Cassim said they were "utterly horrified" and "inconsolable" after he was given a one-year prison sentence and fined 10,000 U.A.E. dirhams (about $2,700). Cassim was detained in April under strict new cybercrime laws after posting the video entitled "Satwa Combat School," a parody about affluent Dubai teenagers trying to adopt tough-guy personas.

Following the sentencing, his brother Shervon Cassim told NBC News: "We are utterly horrified, and hurt, and outraged by this. "We do not see how he could have been found guilty of any kind of crime by posting this video. Our mother is inconsolable. She is very upset."

Cassim was convicted under federal cybercrimes law of endangering the U.A.E.'s national security, family spokeswoman Jennifer Gore said. Both Gore and Cassim said they have had "no explanation" from the Emirati government of why the video was a threat to national security. They said there is no avenue for appeal but have vowed not to give up hope. U.A.E. officials did not respond to NBC News' requests for comment on the case.

Gore said that on being arrested Cassim offered to immediately delete the video, only to be laughed at by police who asked, mockingly: "How can you take down the video? YouTube is a company in America." He was then asked to sign a statement in Arabic, which he does not understand, Gore said. He was held for almost five months without being charged and then transferred to a maximum-security prison in the middle of the desert, according to Gore. She added that his sentencing has been postponed five times and he has never been allowed to meet a lawyer.

The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi said Monday that consular personnel were at the court hearing. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf discussed Cassim during a press briefing last week. "We, both here at the Department of State and at the U.S. mission in the U.A.E., are troubled by the prolonged incarceration of him," she told reporters.

No Bacon for You if Your Clerk is Jewish


Veteran British retailer Marks & Spencer confirmed that Jewish staff can refuse to sell pork products to customers on religious grounds after earlier giving permission to Muslim staff to decline selling pork or alcohol to shoppers. "We recognize that some of our employees practice religions that restrict food or drink they can handle, or mean they cannot work at certain times," a spokesman for the store was quoted as saying in a report from the Jewish Chronicle on Sunday. In addition, Jewish staff could also opt out of working on Saturdays, the spokesperson noted.

The ruling came the day after the Daily Telegraph reported that company policy allowed Muslim staff to refuse to serve customers pork sausages, bacon rashers, seafood or alcohol items and instead ask shoppers to join another checkout line.

However, the seasonal goodwill policy was unlikely to help calm the bitter response from outraged customers who peppered the company's Facebook page with criticism over its accommodation for Muslim employees at the expense of its customers. Many called for a boycott of the chain in favor of competing retailers.

Marks & Spencer was founded in the late 19th century by Jewish immigrant Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer. The company has over 700 stores across Britain, where it is a household name, and hundreds more around the word.

Ayatollah Tops Jewish Slur List


The Simon Wiesenthal Center put Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the head of its "Top Ten Anti-Semitic and Anti-Israel List" for comments he made about the Jewish state. The top 10 list cites Khamenei's reference to Israel as the "rabid dog of the region," whose leaders "look like beasts and cannot be called human," as well as his continued genocidal threats against the Jewish state, the center said in a statement on Monday. The full list is to be published on December 30.

The center's listing referred to comments attributed to Khamenei as he spoke to a November gathering of the Basij force, which is controlled by Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard. The Iranian leader referred to Israel — "the Zionist regime" — as "the rabid dog of the region." Speaking to some 50,000 members of the paramilitary volunteer militia, he also said Israel was ripe for collapse. "The (Israeli) Zionist regime is a regime whose pillars are extremely shaky and is doomed to collapse," he said, according to French news agency AFP. "Any phenomenon that is created by force cannot endure."

Khamenei also said Europe felt pressed to make concessions to the Zionists "because of their economic network." He said Israelis "should not be called humans," according to a Channel 2 translation of his comments. The speech came as Western powers negotiated with Iran in Geneva to try and hammer out an agreement on rolling back Iran's nuclear research program to prevent it from producing nuclear weapons.

In November, the meetings resulted in an interim deal that included an agreement in which Iran would pause progress on its nuclear program, including work on a plutonium reactor at the Arak facility. The deal also called on Iran to neutralize its 20%-enriched uranium stockpiles. Tehran has also agreed to intrusive inspections under the terms of the deals.

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