UN arms treaty blocked by Iran, Syria, North Korea

Share

The United States expressed regret Thursday after Iran, Syria and North Korea moved to block the United Nation’s unanimous adoption of the first global arms trade treaty.

Diplomats said they expect the small arms treaty to pass, however, in a vote at the United Nations General Assembly next week.

“We think an overwhelming majority of states will vote in favor,” Tom Countryman, the US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Cooperation, said in a press call Thursday night. Continue reading

The rise and fall of Mossad agent Ben Zygier


A month after Australian media first identified “Prisoner X” as Australian-born Mossad recruit Ben Zygier, the Australian journalist who first reported on the Zygier case and his partner have published a joint investigation into how Zygier’s dream-career with the Israeli intelligence service unravelled, culminating with his suicide in an isolated Israeli prison cell in December 2010.

According to the report Monday by Jason Koutsoukis in Australia’s Fairfax media, Melbourne-born Zygier was a passionate Zionist who was recruited into the Mossad in 2003, a few years after he had moved to Israel and had started working at an Israeli law firm. It ended with his 2010 arrest and suicide after Zygier embarked in 2008 on an unauthorized attempt to recruit a Hezbollah source in Eastern Europe and ended up instead allegedly betraying two claimed Mossad assets in Lebanon, according to Koutsoukis’ report.

Zygier’s career with the Mossad began in late 2003, after he responded to a Mossad advertisement that proclaimed “the Mossad is open – not for everyone, but for a few. Maybe for you,” Koutsoukis reported.

By early 2005, after a year of training, Zygier “was ready for his first mission,” Koutsoukis wrote. “He was sent to Europe, where he was instructed to infiltrate companies that had business relationships with countries including Iran and Syria.

“One chief executive of a mid-sized European company with extensive business interests across the Middle East and Persian Gulf – including Iran – confirmed that he had hired Zygier for an accounting position,” the report continues. Zygier worked for the unidentified firm for 18 months.

But apparently his Mossad supervisors were not overly impressed with his performance, and in 2007, to his great disappointment, they ordered Zygier back to a desk job in Israel.

(While Koutsoukis doesn’t identify the firm in Europe where Zygier took a cover job—apparently unbeknownst to the firm–he later reports that Zygier, upon returning to Australia in 2009 to pursue a masters degree, told fellow students that he had worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers management consulting firm in Geneva.)

Zygier, apparently in an attempt to impress his Mossad superiors and salvage his intelligence career, embarked in 2008 on an unauthorized, freelance mission to try to recruit an East European man known to be sympathetic to Lebanon’s Hezbollah as a double agent, Koutsoukis writes. But it all went terribly wrong, when the unidentified Eastern European/Balkan man asked Zygier to prove his bona fides by providing Mossad intelligence on Lebanon. Continue reading

The spy and the reporter: Ben Zygier had contacts with journalist before arrest


Did Israel suspect Ben Zygier of betraying Israeli intelligence because of conversations with a reporter?

This February 14, 2013 Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview with Beirut-based Australian reporter Jason Koutsoukis suggests his conversations with Zygier in late 2009-early 2010 may have been one reason Israeli intelligence became concerned. While Zygier strenuously denied in the conversations he was a spy, Koutsoukis said, he did speak with the reporter three or four times over the course of two months before his secret arrest; whereas another Australian-Israeli suspected of Mossad links contacted by Koutsoukis cut the reporter off and never spoke with him again.

Zygier’s last conversation with Koutsoukis was in early-mid February 2010, Koutsoukis said. Zygier was arrested around February 23rd, and commit suicide in his prison cell December 15, 2010 during negotiations over a plea bargain.

Transcript excerpts of the ABC Lateline interview below, emphasis added by the Back Channel on details suggesting the conversations with the reporter may have come on radar of Israeli intelligence and possibly contributed to Zygier’s legal predicament: Continue reading

Did British intelligence also know about Mossad suspect Ben Zygier?

Did Ben Zygier, the Australian-Israeli identified by Australian media last week as the mysterious “Prisoner X” who died in Israeli prison in 2010, also have British citizenship?

Australian reporter Jason Koutsoukis broke the story in February 27, 2010 that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) had been investigating three Australian-Israelis suspected of links to Mossad. He confronted two of the (unnamed) men about the allegations, quoting one in his 2010 report:

“I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to,'' he said. ''I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous.”

The same man is also believed to hold British citizenship, and is believed to have come to the attention of British intelligence after he had changed his name.

Now see what Koutsoukis told The Guardian last week, after the Australian Broadcasting Company aired an investigation suggesting that Prisoner X who had died in Israel's Ayalon prison in December 2010 was Ben Zygier :

At the time Zygier said: “I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to, I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous.”

So we now know the man who told Koutsoukis in 2010 “I have never been to those countries” was Zygier. And that Koutsoukis indicated that he had been told at the time— presumably by Australian intelligence–that Zygier had also previously come on the radar of British intelligence for taking out a passport in a new name.

If Koutsoukis' original information was correct, that Zygier also had British citizenship and another British alias, it would be interesting to know what the British government and intelligence services might know about the case and how Israel came to suspect that Zygier was compromised.

Update: Why did Israel move to arrest Zygier in February 2010? One possible theory is also suggested by information in Koutsoukis's February 27, 2010 report. Continue reading

US, Israel isolated as UN votes to upgrade Palestine status (Updated)


The United States and Israel appeared headed for a crushing defeat Thursday, as a vast majority of the world’s countries signaled they would vote in favor of the Palestinian bid to receive upgraded non-member observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. But some American diplomats and Israeli politicians said the diplomatic setback could be an opportunity for the Obama administration to rethink the politically cautious approach to the peace process it has taken over the past year.

The United States-Israeli position opposing the resolution appeared to be overwhelmingly isolated, with only around 10 countries expected to vote against the Palestinian measure, compared with some 150 expected to vote in favor.

(Update: As expected, the UN voted to upgrade Palestine’s status, with 138 nations voting in favor, 41 abstentions, and 9 votes against the measure. The no votes were: the US, Israel, Canada, Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Panama.)

Most strikingly, every country in Europe save for one signaled they were likely to abstain or vote in favor of the Palestinian statehood bid, including two of Israel’s closet allies. Germany, which had been expected to vote against the measure, abstained, and Italy, expected to abstain, said Thursday it would vote for the Palestinian status upgrade, along with France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Ireland, and Austria. Britain abstained. S(o did Australia, following an uproar in the ruling party against Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s original intention to vote against the resolution.)

(Watch the vote at the UN General Assembly live here:)

The US diplomatic defeat could push the Obama administration to reconsider its recent hands-off approach to the peace process, following Israeli resistance to Obama’s first term efforts to bring the parties to the peace table, some American diplomats said. However, they acknowledged, Israel’s leadership showed few signs that it was prepared to reconsider its campaign to portray the moderate Palestinian Authority leadership as recalcitrant, even following the Gaza conflict this month, and Hamas’ growing political clout in the region.

“Look, there is no question this is a diplomatic defeat for the United States cause we tried very hard to postpone [this vote] and push it off the agenda altogether,” former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel Kurtzer told Al-Monitor in an interview Thursday. “And one would assume that in the wake of a diplomatic setback, you do a lessons learned, a scrub, and you go back to some of the basics. Not just were the tactics right in trying to do this, was the strategy right.”

Such a review “may lead the President to conclude that what we thought was right thing to do last year in 2011 may not be right thing in 2012,” Kurtzer continued. “The circumstances are different—especially after what happened last week in Gaza, (when) the entire attention of the world was only focused on Hamas…the PLO was not just feeling marginalized, but the built-up frustration of kind of being the good boys.”

“Abbas gets his victory today at the UN. And that is where I think there is some diplomatic opportunity for the United States to help …persuade Abbas to have a timetable favorable to the President in terms of his next moves or non moves,” former Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Florida), a close ally of the Obama White House, told Al-Monitor in an interview Thursday, adding he saw signs that the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah may next move towards a unity government.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York Wednesday in an apparent last ditch effort to try to dissuade him from the move. (The photo above suggests the tone of their meeting was rather grim.) Burns “made a personal appeal to … Abbas promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if Abbas abandoned the effort to seek statehood,” the Associated Press reported. “The Palestinian leader refused, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.”

Meantime, several key Israeli politicians, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, urged Israel and the US to support the Palestinian measure, noting it was headed for certain victory anyway, and that the resolution’s text essentially supports the vision for a two state solution that was once the consensus position of the Israeli (and American) mainstream. Continue reading