Ronen Bergman is one of Israel's leading investigative journalists. The senior security and intelligence correspondent and analyst for Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, and an anchor on a leading Israeli television news program, he is the author of three bestselling books published in Israel. He was awarded a PhD by Cambridge University for his dissertation about the Israeli Mossad.
Ronen Bergman: In almost the last 30 years, because Khomeini took power in Iran in the 1st of February, 1979, almost since day one, there has been a clandestine war, most of it taking place under the public’s radar, between the West, on one hand, chiefly the intelligence services of Israel and the US, the Mossad and CIA, the NSA [National Security Agency] and other intelligence services, on one hand, and the clerical regime of Iran.
This has taken place secretly. And the book, “The Secret War with Iran,” first publishes the classified details of this war.
Now, as an Israeli, I would be happy to come forward and say the West has been wining this war, but this would not be true. The Iranians and their proxies, mainly Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistant movement, have proved to be far most sophisticated, shrewd, stubborn, determined, and in most cases, have the upper hand.
Yet, as the book suggests, the last two year do suggest a recovery of some of the abilities of Mossad and CIA in intelligence collections, as well as executing operations in the Middle East. Just briefly, I’ll give four short examples.
The first would be the defection on February of 2007 of a prominent Iranian intelligence general, by the name of General Ali-Reza Asghari. He disappeared from his Istanbul hotel room, defected to the CIA, because having some call with the Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and has been in CIA custody with part of his family in very good condition, not far away from Langley were he gives valuable information to the agency and western intelligence. That would be the first.
The second incident I will mention in this context would be the July 2007 mishap, an accident, that happened in a joint Syrian, Iranian Scud missile factory in a Syrian site called Al Safir. They were trying to fuel some of the missiles, something happened, something exploded, and many of them got killed and severe damage was caused to the facility. This incident was termed by an Israeli Cabinet Minister as a miraculous accident.
The third incident is the February 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the Supreme Military commander of Hezbollah, who was only second to Osama Bin Laden in the FBI most wanted list. 25 million dollars were offered for his head. He was the one killing the biggest number of Americans until September 11 . Vast effort were invested in numerous attempts to kill him, and in 2008 someone replaced the backseat of his car with another, brand new backseat but filled with explosives, and he got killed in the middle of Damascus.
The fourth most significant incident was exactly a year ago, the Israeli’s September 2007 stealth bombing over the Syrian reactor in North East Syria, in a place called Deir ez-Zor. This was a joint North Korean, Syrian, Iranian effort to try and build a rapid project that would lead Syria as soon as possible to have the nuclear bomb. Syria tried to hide that facility for a very long time. In fact, President Bashar al-Assad was so afraid that his regular bureaucracy, the intelligence and the military apparatuses, are infiltrated by the NSA or Israeli signal intelligence. He believes that every electronic communication of Syria is being bugged by the NSA or the Israeli intelligence. Every time that Mustafa called Ahmadinejad, they is listening. So he created the mechanism that is churned by the CIA. It’s called a pregnancy outside of the womb. It is something that bypass all bureaucracy in trying to hide it, but yet it was discovered, very late but it was discovered, and [Ehud] Olmert initiated a strike of this reactor.
So, all this together does suggest a sort of a recovery, but yet Iranians proved to be far most sophisticated and have the upper hand.
Question: How did you gain access to the intelligence information that drove your research?Ronen Bergman: Well, some from American sources. I would just quote in this context Bob Woodward’s book [Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987] about the CIA where he quotes director of the CIA, William Casey, that said, “People always say far more than they are expected to say.”
So, some were American sources, and of course, once you have very good Israeli sources, they can share with you information that was shared with them by American intelligence.
I think this book gives also a very strong glimpse into the abilities, operations, intentions, planning of American intelligence in the Middle East or vis-à-vis Iranian Nuclear Project.
Question: Did you encounter obstacles to your research?Ronen Bergman: Yeah. A few times. The Israeli Mossad doesn’t like what I’m doing. They prefer not to have any scrutiny. It’s not like the United States have the Intelligence Senate Committee. The Mossad is not exposed to any sort of outside criticism, and once a journalist comes forward and has some information from the inside and tries to reveal some of the screw ups, they fight with him and they fight very hard.
I had lunch not long ago with a former director of Mossad, General Danny Yatom, and he says, “Do you know [Riva]?” And I said, “Of course I know [Riva].” [Riva] was the mighty security officer of Mossad in charge of prevention of leakage. So, he said, "Listen, if it was just up to [Riva], they would find your body in a gutter long ago."
So, I was laughing and he said, “I’m not laughing.”
But they have bugged my phone. They hacked my computer. They prosecuted me a few times. They raided my house. They prosecuted charges against two of my sources. One of them had two years in arrest until he was acquitted. A few of them were fired. Dozens of people were taken to a lie detector test to check whether they had any contact with me. They compared my cellphone number to their logs of all phones going out of Mossad.
So they are trying to stop me and, holding the book in your hand, you can get an idea, that [hope], that fortunately, in most cases, they did not succeed.
Recorded: Sep 19, 2008