March 15, 2002
The story of Israel’s vast underground apparatus in the US – and its key role in the events leading up to 9/11 – was too big to be ignored, and too obviously true to be denied for much longer. Now we have it from an unimpeachable source: no, not some obscure French newsletter, nor from the nether regions of the Internet, but straight from the oldest Jewish publication in the US, The Forward:
"Despite angry denials by Israel and its American supporters, reports that Israel was conducting spying activities in the United States may have a grain of truth, The Forward has learned. However, far from pointing to Israeli spying against U.S. government and military facilities, as reported in Europe last week, the incidents in question appear to represent a case of Israelis in the United States spying on a common enemy, radical Islamic networks suspected of links to Middle East terrorism."
There’s more to this grain than meets the eye, however. As we cut through the "spin" – oh no, they just couldn’t have been spying against the US government, could they? this much is clear: Carl Cameron of Fox News was right when he reported that Israeli intelligence operatives were watching Al Qaeda’s American cells in the weeks and days prior to 9/11. As to what they knew, and when they knew it: Cameron’s sources in law enforcement are saying that the Mossad had "foreknowledge" of the 9/11 terror attacks, and my regular readers are no doubt familiar with my own views on this subject but why don’t we leave it to a congressional investigation to discover the specifics?
It’s interesting to note the phraseology here: "The Forward has learned" … from whom? They don’t say, but it’s fair to guess that this information is coming directly from the primary source by way of an admission. Of course, only nutballs of a certain sort believe The Forward and other Jewish publications have a direct line to the Mossad, but it’s logical that the Israelis would pick such a venue to "spin" the truth and minimize the damage. They weren’t spying on the US, you see, but on "a common enemy," blah blah blah. Yeah, but they were doing it in America, presumably without our knowledge, and this admission gives us a new perspective not only on the events of 9/11 but also on the aftermath of war and furious diplomatic maneuvering in the Middle East.
Fox News reported on "a vast Israeli spy operation" in the US, and the vastness of it no doubt exceeds the dimensions measured so far by Carl Cameron, LeMonde, OnlineIntelligence.com, and the present writer. But even what we know, or think we know, now gives us an outline of a truly massive Israeli underground operation in the US, a two-pronged assault on
It’s important to realize, however, that there is no evidence – so far that the Israelis took any action other than strictly observing. They watched, and only in the immediate aftermath of the terror that struck Manhattan did they act ….
In my last column I told the story of how, hours after the hijackers struck the World Trade Center, the police picked up a van full of Israelis who been reported as jumping for joy at the sight of the twin towers burning. They were spotted in Liberty State Park, overlooking Manhattan, where they had a good view of the catastrophe. As smoke billowed up into the pellucid sky, obscuring the sun, they laughed and joked and took pictures of each other against a backdrop of unspeakable horror. Outraged witnesses called the cops, who swooped down and picked them up. These "Middle Eastern-looking men," as witnesses described them, turned out to be Israelis: they were found with box cutters in their van, $4,000 in cash, and multiple passports. The van was registered as the property of "Urban Moving Systems." Police interrogated them for hours, and transferred them to a maximum security facility. A raid on the Urban Moving Systems warehouse (whose owner, Dominik Suter, has since fled to Israel) yielded computers, documents, and other evidence of what?
Now The Forward reports these guys were "subjected to an unusual number of polygraph tests and interrogated by a series of government agencies including the FBI's counterintelligence division, which by some reports remains convinced that Israel was conducting an intelligence operation." Furthermore:
"According to one former high-ranking American intelligence official, who asked not to be named, the FBI came to the conclusion at the end of its investigation that the five Israelis arrested in New Jersey last September were conducting a Mossad surveillance mission and that their employer, Urban Moving Systems of Weehawken, N.J., served as a front."
I wonder what Daniel Pipes has to say now: is The Forward spreading an "urban myth" with "anti-Semitic" overtones? Will the insufferably smug James Taranto, who thinks "the best evidence" that "there’s nothing to this story" is that I have "seized on it" now admit that he was wrong, wrong, wrong and perform an appropriate act of contrition like kissing my (OO)?
Now that their spy nest has been exposed, and denials no longer work, the Israelis have been driven back to their second line of defense: Yes, we were watching Al Qaeda, "our common enemy," but, as The Forward is quick to add:
"Sources emphasized that the release of all the Israelis under investigation indicates that they were cleared of any suspicion that they had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks, as some anti-Israel media outlets have suggested."
These "anti-Israel media outlets" are never named, but whom could they possible mean? The predictably right-wing Fox News? I don’t think so. LeMonde? The day after the prominent French newspaper printed a story about the "Israeli art students" who tried to penetrate the DEA and other agencies, and were arrested en masse, the same paper ran an editorial which one correspondent of mine, conversant in French, describes in a missive:
"On the train back from Paris last night, I found a splendid commentary piece in Le Monde by the same Sylvain Cypel, back-pedaling furiously and raucously denouncing the ‘anti-Semitic fantasies’ of those who think that the Israelis could have been involved in the events of 9/11. As you know, Le Monde is so politically correct that it makes the New York Times look like Der Stuermer."
So, LeMonde is out: perhaps they mean OnlineIntelligence.com. But its editor, Guillaume Dasquie, has previously pushed a theory that would seem to benefit the Israelis, and which echoes the neoconservative line that the whole conspiracy against America can be traced back to Wahabism and the government of Saudi Arabia. So Dasquie, not known for his anti-Israel views, is also out. That leaves the numerous newspapers and magazines, such as Insight, that reported on this story after it broke (for the second time): the Associated Press, the British papers, and most of the American media. But Insight, published by the staunchly pro-Israel Washington Times, can hardly be described as an "anti-Israel media outlet," and, as for the others – is The Forward saying that most of the American media is "anti-Israel"? I suppose it’s possible they believe that, but then again it seems more likely they are referring to the well-known "media outlet" where this story originated right here in this space, on Antiwar.com.
I would differ, of course: we are not "anti-Israel," but merely pro-American – and pro-truth. We think our government should pursue a foreign policy that puts America first, not Israel, and believe the interests of the two longtime allies have radically diverged – as the story of the Israeli spy operation in the US makes all too clear.
One interesting aspect of The Forward piece is that it raises the really fascinating question of how the Israeli spy scandal is having an effect on US-Israeli relations – and to what extent it is a factor in setting the pace and direction of the diplomatic dance now taking place over the Palestinian question:
"The resulting tensions between Washington and Jerusalem, sources told The Forward, arose not because of the operations' targets but because Israel reportedly violated a secret gentlemen's agreement between the two countries under which espionage on each other's soil is to be coordinated in advance."
Why do you think the Bush administration is denying Israel that "extra" $800 mil, suddenly proposing a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian state, and barring "foreign nationals" (i.e. Israelis) from "sensitive" jobs? Colin Powell’s chastisement of Israel is not too surprising, but, as the New York Times reports, the President now seems to agree:
"’Frankly, it's not helpful, what Israel has recently done,’ Mr. Bush said at an afternoon news conference. At another point, the president said he hoped that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel was concerned about the loss of ‘innocent life’ in the region. ‘It breaks my heart,’ Mr. Bush said."
The best confirmation of the Israeli spy story is the rapid evolution of US policy on the Palestinian question in the last week or so. America’s stance toward Israel has taken a decidedly adversarial turn, and it isn’t because Dubya’s heart is breaking. What’s breaking is the real story of 9/11 – and, perhaps, America’s unconditional support to a troublesome and deceptively double-dealing "ally."
The Bush administration has done everything possible to bury this story, because what it means is that, while the Israelis were watching Al Qaeda, we weren’t. Naturally, the FBI will deny this story ‘til the cows come home, because it makes them look as clueless as they are. By revealing at least a small part of the truth, now, The Forward piece not only spins the story the "right" way, but is also payback for the administration’s new policy direction.
The Forward devotes a whole separate story, "FBI Probe Defuses Israeli Spying Rumors," to the "Israeli art students" aspect of the spy apparatus, and tries to paint a more equivocal picture. The piece starts off with denials by Israeli and US government officials and ends with a rather dubious alibi:
"A former senior U.S. intelligence official offered a different hypothesis. ‘My guess and the one I heard from people in counterintelligence is that this could have been an Israeli training exercise, because they were all young and amateurish,’ he said."
Yeah, but in seeking to penetrate US government and military facilities, what were they "training" for? Cells of 20 or so each scattered around the country, trying to get into DEA offices, trailing officials to their homes, even trying to get into Tinker Air Force Base – rather ominous, wouldn’t you say? Even more ominous is a mid-October report in the Philadelphia Mercury about two "Middle Easterners" with Israeli-sounding names picked up by police in Plymouth, Pennsylvania:
"Two men whom police described as Middle Eastern were detained in [Plymouth] township by federal immigration authorities after being found with detailed video footage of the Sears Tower in Chicago."
Moshe Elmakias, 30, and Ron Katar, 23, were detained by police. The cops first approached their parked van, on a report that the occupants, two "Middle Eastern-looking men," had engaged in illegal dumping. According to the Mercury, witnesses "were able to provide township police with the Florida registration number of the tractor-trailer and said that a sign posted on the side of the vehicle read ‘Moving Systems Incorporated’ and included a phone number."
When police approached, Katar exited the sleeper and told them the others were across the street. Just then:
"Elmakias and a white female, Ayelet Reisler, 23, were approaching the vehicle from the dealership, but the female then began walking in a different direction, acting as if she were not with Elmakias, according to reports. Reisler was detained and checked for identification. She had a German passport in her name and medication in a different name, police said."
As David Schmader put it in Seattle’s lively alternative voice, The Stranger:
"What alibis can two Middle Eastern men in a stolen truck containing footage of the Sears Tower provide? They're tourists with an eye for architecture? They were collecting footage to submit to FOX TV's America's Funniest Gargantuan Structures? Who knows? Stay tuned for further details."
Except there are no "further details." All we know is that Ms. Reisler was released, and the other two were transferred to a federal facility "for further investigation." Whomever is investigating certainly is taking their time about it, because we have heard neither hide nor hair of these folks again – they vanished into detention and then simply disappeared. Whether they were quietly spirited back to Israel, like their fellow Urban Movers in New York, or else still languish in federal prisons, is anybody’s guess. One hopes for the latter, but strongly suspects the former is true.
Clearly, this "Urban Moving Systems" was a scam – there’s a whole organization devoted to exposing what a rip-off these guys were, regularly absconding with their customers’ possessions. Were they really a harmless bunch of Israeli "students" trying to earn a living? But if these guys were just scam artists, then why did they make a video that gives a detailed look at the Sears Tower? And if they were, indeed, a front for Israeli intelligence, like their New York counterparts, but just trainees on a practice run as the anonymous spook cited in The Forward piece avers then what were they practicing for … and how can we be so sure it wasn’t the real thing?
"You’re either with us," says George W. Bush, "or you’re against us," there can be no "neutrality" in the never-ending "war on terrorism." But which side are our friends, the Israelis, on?
There are more sides to this battle than the President is letting on. Beyond the one-dimensional rhetoric of the "war on terrorism," the complexity of the struggle comes out in his recent actions – and is underscored by the stunning implications of this breaking story. It began with various and scattered odd accounts of mysterious Israeli "art students" pushing their way into government offices nationwide, and a story about the laughing Israelis, whose delight in the downing of the twin towers was their undoing. (I hear they are also now planning to sue the US government for the ill treatment they received at our hands.) Where it will all end is impossible to say, but the evidence, as it comes out, validates and confirms what we have been saying in this space since late November: a secret war was fought on our soil in the crucial days leading up to 9/11. To our shocked horror, the bad guys won out – and I don’t just mean Al Qaeda.
What is needed is a public investigation by Congress into Israel’s spy operations in the US, one that zeroes in on their possible connection to what happened on 9/11 – and what didn’t happen. Then and only then will the cloud of obfuscation be lifted, the dark rumors dispelled, and the air cleared once and for all.
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