Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's appointment of David Meidan as mediator to negotiate the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit marks a new process - the passing of a generation at the Mossad spy agency. Meidan, who replaces Hagai Hadas, was the former head of Tevel, the Mossad branch responsible for liaising with its counterparts around the world. It's also responsible for relations with states, including several Muslim ones that have shunned diplomatic relations with Israel but have an interest in secret contacts. For example, the WikiLeaks documents reveal that Bahrain maintained such contact with the Mossad.
Before becoming Tevel's head in 2007, Meidan was a case officer in the Mossad's Tsomet branch responsible for running agents. Meidan served in several overseas Mossad offices. In some of them he quarreled with colleagues; only due to the intervention of a friend, Tsomet chief N., did he survive these incidents unscathed.
The decision to put Meidan in charge of the negotiations for Shalit while leaving him at the Mossad is exceptional and unprecedented. It has been portrayed as a kind of compensation for not getting the job he desires most: Mossad deputy chief. The two men chosen before him to handle the prisoner issue - Hadas and Ofer Dekel - were former senior officials at the Mossad or the Shin Bet security service, not acting ones.
The job of deputy Mossad chief is an important stage for every department head who hopes to be promoted someday to lead the organization. The Mossad's current head, Tamir Pardo, twice deputy to Meir Dagan, will testify to this. Pardo prefers somebody else as deputy: Y., considered a successful case officer; he has spent most of his career as a case officer and branch head, and today heads Tsomet. Y. will soon leave for a sabbatical, and upon his return - probably in the summer of 2012 - will replace the current deputy.
Pardo, who has served for 30 years in the Mossad, continues to consider whether other changes, mainly structural, should be instituted. He has to deal with severe problems, mostly waste and the awarding of contracts without competitive tenders to companies close to the organization, a situation pointed out by the state comptroller. The appointment of a deputy is one of the most important decisions Pardo must make since he entered office five months ago. We can surmise that after this appointment, several disappointed senior officials will resign.
Chemical weapons in Iran
Near the city of Qom, Iran has a secret plant that is part of its chemical weapons program, according to a secret U.S. cable sent by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which is part of the WikiLeaks documents obtained by Haaretz. Clinton instructed the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to take action against a Chinese company that is involved in the transfer of equipment, know-how and technology to Iran.
The document, dated July 24, 2009, reveals American concerns about the company, Zibo Chemet, which has supplied vital equipment for Iran's chemical-weapons program. Such sales are forbidden, according to the regulations of the Australia Group, which supervises the sale of sensitive chemical technology, equipment and materials. China is member of that group. According to the cable, "We have new information indicating that Zibo Chemet transferred technology for the production of glass-lined reactor equipment to Iranian customers, significantly enhancing Iran's ability to produce indigenously chemical equipment suitable for a chemical warfare program."
The cable asks the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to pass on information about the company to the Chinese government and demand that it take aggressive action to get the firm to cease its shipments. The cable also provides background on the company, revealing its dubious track record. It says the company in April 2007 was blacklisted by the United States amid suspicions that it supplied similar equipment to Iran, North Korea and Syria. The earlier suspicions forced the Chinese government to open an investigation into the company and take "limited punitive action," which is not detailed in the cable.
But, despite the company's dubious past and the steps taken, it did not refrain from holding secret contacts with Iran. According to the cable, the company "recently transferred Australia Group-controlled technology to manufacture glass-lined chemical reactor vessels to the Iranian entity Shimi Azarjaam. This glass-lining plant is located in Shokoohieh Industrial Park, Qom."
The equipment supplied by Zibo Chemet includes technology and expertise that would allow the Iranian company to produce glass-lined reactor vessels resistant to the chemicals they contain. The raw chemicals from which weapons such as nerve gas are produced are placed into these containers, which must be glass-coated so the chemicals don't eat away at the containers and evaporate into the air.
Clinton's cable shows that as the international community anxiously follows the progress of Iran's nuclear program, Iran continues to develop conventional and unconventional weapons, including chemical ones. And this progress has gained momentum in recent months as the revolutions in the Middle East divert attention from the Islamic Republic. Iran's decision to speed up the development of chemical weapons at the end of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War was one of the lessons of that conflict.
Saddam Hussein's army used chemical weapons against front-line soldiers during that war; to this day thousands of these Iranian veterans are still suffering. One of the largest suppliers for Iran's chemical program was Israeli businessman Nahum Manbar, now serving 16 years in prison. He is due to be released in two years, after all his requests for a reduced term were denied.
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