TIME Hizballah

Hizballah’s Failures Go Well Beyond an Alleged Israeli Mole

Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags as they attend a rally to commemorate slain top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh and two other leaders, Abbas Musawi and Ragheb Harb, in the Shiite suburb of Beirut, Feb. 22, 2008.
Hussein Malla—AP Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags as they attend a rally to commemorate slain top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh and two other leaders, Abbas Musawi and Ragheb Harb, in the Shiite suburb of Beirut, Feb. 22, 2008.

The so-called "A-Team" of terror has had a run of failures since the 2008 assassination of its mastermind. And Iran hasn't done any better.

In the last months of 2011 and first half of 2012, Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hizballah, put on perhaps the greatest show of rolling ineptitude in the history of modern covert warfare. Hopscotching the globe, their operatives tried and failed to strike Israeli or American targets perhaps two dozen times—in Azerbaijan, in Georgia, in Kenya, in Nigeria, in South Africa, in Turkey, in Greece, in Cyprus and, most spectacularly, in Thailand, where after blowing up an apartment while trying to make a bomb, an Iranian agent scrambled into the street and blew off his own legs.

What could account for such a formidable string of failures? According to Hizballah itself: an Israeli mole inside the militant group. A senior official with the Shiite militia this week acknowledged “some major infiltrations” in its ranks. Speaking to a Hizballah radio station on Sunday, Naim Qassem offered oblique but rare on-the-record confirmation of earlier reports that one of its most trusted operatives was on trial for treason, along with four others reported to be compromised by Israel’s Mossad.

“It appears to be the real deal,” says Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. Treasury official and author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God. “And they clearly are freaking out about it.”

The alleged culprit, identified as Mohammad Shawraba by the Lebanese English-language Daily Star, was in a position to know. The newspaper and other reports say he headed the “external operations” unit of Hizballah, the very group responsible for carrying out the bombings, assassinations and other terror strikes that the Shi’ite militia has long been known for conducting—and almost always without leaving behind evidence that it was responsible. Hizballah may not have quite invented terror strikes as a tool of modern warfare. (The first car bomb, actually a horse-drawn carriage, was exploded on Wall Street in 1920.) But by 2002, when the West felt wobbly from the attacks of 911, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage was calling them “The A-Team” of terror.

And yet, since the man hailed as Hizballah’s terror mastermind, Imad Mughniyah, was killed by a booby-trapped car headrest in 2008, his successors have been unable to deliver the revenge they repeatedly promised. Mughniyah’s assassination was, of course, laid at the feet of Mossad, as almost everything that happens in the Middle East is. The Israeli spy agency glories in its reputation for bloodless omniscience (Google the list of animals that neighboring Mideast states have named as Israeli spies), a notoriety that acts as a force multiplier. But as TIME and others have reported, Mossad has also a long run of real marquee missions, including the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists on the streets of Tehran in 2010 and 2011. Those attacks in turn ignited a response from Iran’s own elite covert operators, the section of the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force known as Unit 400. Though, like Hizballah’s external operators, Unit 400 soon proved less formidable than its reputation.

The full extent of the collapse became evident on February 13, 2012. Hizballah and the Qods Force were brought together by the anniversary of Muniyah’s death, four years and one day earlier, and the latest scientist assassination in Tehran, just a month previous. In what was intended as a one-two punch at “hard” Israeli targets, operatives tried to detonate bombs attached to Israeli diplomats’ cars in Tbilisi, Georgia, and New Delhi, India. The Tbilisi bomb was discovered. In Delhi, a man on a motorcycle managed to attach a “magnet bomb” to the side of a car carrying the wife of an Israeli diplomat.

It’s the method of assassination that Israeli operatives had repeatedly used on the streets of Tehran, targeting Iranian nuclear scientists on their way to work. But there was a hitch. “I was in New Delhi when it happened,” says Ely Karmon, a senior scholar at International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. “They put the bomb on the right side of the car, because it had to explode on the fuel tank. But in India they ride on the left side, and the tank is on the left side.” The mistake gave the chauffeur time to eject his passenger, a diplomat’s wife, who survived.

Shawraba, the alleged Israeli mole, would have been involved in both attacks, as well as the July 2012 bombing that killed a handful of Israeli tourists on an airport bus in Bulgaria, where Hizballah resorted to a soft target. Evidence of his presumed loyalty was offered in reports that he had earlier served as a bodyguard to Hizballah’s charismatic leader, Hassan Nasrallah, long assumed to be No. 1 on Israel’s hit list. The newspaper reports said he had betrayed five secret operations, and implied that his removal, along with four men working in his unit, had freed Hizballah from the shadow of suspicion.

“The idea is that they’ve stopped the sole source that was responsible for everything,” says Levitt, now a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he produced a 2013 report on the “Iran’s Shadow War with the West” that detailed operational incompetence in the string of failures under the heading, “Amateur Hour.” In an interview Monday, he noted that intercepted communications played a significant role in thwarting “many of these operations.”

“The Israelis are pretty good at what they do,” Levitt continues. “We’re pretty good at what we do. Nobody has one source for everything.”

Indeed, Israel has recruited Hizballah officials in the past, and likely has sources in the Iranian establishment as well, says Karmon. The Israeli army occupied southern Lebanon for 18 years, with its security services developing human assets that sometimes emerge only after decades, if ever. In 1973, the surprise Egyptian attacks on Israeli positions that became the cataclysmic Yom Kippur War was in advance tipped by the son-in-law of Egypt’s president. (His warnings were ignored, proving that Mossad isn’t omniscient after all.) What makes an insider turn? “Clearly money is very important,” says Karmon. “Also safe haven, in case of need. But sometimes it can be an issue of revenge, infighting in an organization, some personal dispute with one of the leaders.”

On the Iranian side, things have quieted down. Israel has greatly reduced its tempo of detectable attacks, and the Quds Force has eased off as well, likely in order to allow nuclear negotiations to go forward, Levitt says. But from Hizballah, the hits keep coming. Last April, another planned attack on Israelis was thwarted in Bangkok. And at the end of October, Peruvian authorities arrested a Lebanese man who admitted to working for Hizballah, and taking photos of apparent targets. Traces of nitroglycerin reportedly were found in his Lima apartment. The A-Team evidently remains on hiatus.

TIME Israel

Israel Sentences Palestinian Kidnapper to Life for Killing of 3 Teenagers

Rally Held In Tel Aviv For Missing Israeli Teenagers
Lior Mizrahi—Getty Images Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The killing quickly escalated into 50 days of conflict in last summer's Gaza war

An Israeli court sentenced a Palestinian man to life in prison on Tuesday, for the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers, which rapidly escalated into a wider regional war last summer.

Hussam Kawasmeh, a member of Hamas, was sentenced to three life terms for devising the plan to abduct three Israeli teenagers hitchhiking along a road in the West Bank, Reuters reports. The youths were lethally shot and found buried in the West Bank some three weeks after their disappearance.

Two members of the Hamas cell behind the attack were killed in a firefight with Israeli troops, while Kawasmeh, one of the sole survivors, was arrested in a West Bank raid in August.

The killing was quickly followed by a revenge attack against a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem and flared out into 50 days of sustained conflict in the Gaza war last summer.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME elections

These Are the Elections to Watch Around the World in 2015

From Greece to Argentina, elections could transform the international political landscape

This past year was marked by monumental elections that ushered in new political regimes in countries like the India, and Tunisia, and solidified or extended others in places like Egypt, Brazil and Japan.

The year 2015 is shaping up to be a respite from the chaos of democracy, with the electorate of some of the world’s largest countries sitting on the sidelines. But a spate of political developments has infused global importance into elections around the world and prompted two previously unexpected votes in Greece and Israel that will have major repercussions for their respective regions.

Here’s a look at what to expect:

United States

Three of the five largest cities are electing their mayors this year. In Chicago, former Obama adviser Rahm Emanuel is running for reelection in February and holds a strong lead in polls. In Houston, the biennial vote in November will select a successor to Democratic Mayor Annise Parker, who has reached her term limit. It will be a similar situation in Philadelphia, where Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter can’t run for a third term.

Meanwhile, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi are electing governors in November, including replacements for Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, both of whom have reached their term limits.

Greece

The Greek Parliament’s refusal to elect Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s choice for president earlier this week triggered snap general elections set for January 25. Opinion polls have placed the radical leftist opposition party Syriza in the lead, raising the prospect of an anti-bailout government that could move to default on its massive debt and prompt a new eurozone crisis.

Nigeria

A stumbling economy and a persistent Islamist insurgency in the north have drained some public support for President Goodluck Jonathan, in office since 2010, and the vote on Feb. 14 is expected to be close. Jonathan will go up against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler campaigning on a platform of security and anti-corruption. But the biggest determinant of who becomes the leader of Africa’s biggest economy may fall along ethnic and regional lines: Buhari is a Muslim northerner, while Jonathan is a Christian from the south.

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his already tenuous centrist coalition in early December and called for early general elections set for March 17, expecting to win a new mandate for himself and a more right-leaning government. But polls show that a new left-leaning coalition could beat Netanyahu’s Likud party, though the incumbent could stay in power if he successfully forms a coalition with rightist parties.

Sudan

The April 13 election is all but likely to ensure that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, wanted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Court, will extend his 25-year rule, even as violence continues between Khartoum and rebel groups in Darfur and elsewhere.

Britain

The United Kingdom is heading for what may be the closest election in a generation—and the first since a divisive vote in Scotland to remain part of the 307-year-old Union—as the Labour party seeks to unseat Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative party in elections slated for early May. The rest of the European Union will be closely watching this vote, as Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership in 2017, while Ed Milibrand, head of Labour, has rejected the idea.

Argentina

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has drawn some public support for her obstinate stance against U.S. investors and U.S. courts who are demanding Argentina repay $1.3 billion in debt plus interest. But the skirmish has scared off investors and helped put longterm economic growth largely on hold until the dispute is resolved or, as is likely, a more market friendly president takes office following elections in October. As for Fernandez, her tenure is up after reaching her two-term limit.

Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party has seen an uptick in support in recent days, putting it ahead of the Liberal party. But his party’s support took a hit this year and he’s far from guaranteed a win in elections in 2015, currently slated for Oct. 19. His biggest rival will likely be Justin Trudeau, head of the Liberal Party and son of long-serving Premier Pierre Trudeau.

Burkina Faso

In the wake of longtime President Blaise Compaoré’s ouster amid mass protests, the interim leadership agreed to hold new elections in November. If that plan holds, the Burkinabé people will select a government not headed by Compaoré for the first time since he seized power in 1983.

Spain

The nascent anti-establishment party Podemos has skyrocketed in popularity and is now competitive with the two stalwarts in a country still burdened by an economic crisis (unemployment stands at around 24 percent). Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the right-leaning Popular Party, is already under pressure from an empowered Catalan independence movement, and the populist movement does not augur well for him in next years elections, which must take place on or before Dec. 20. But he’s hoping that economic reforms and early indications of a recovery will boost his standing.

Myanmar

The vote in late 2015 could mark a significant step in Myanmar’s heralded-but-stumbling process of political reform, but that’s not certain. Though the elections will be the first since a semi-civilian government assumed power after half-a-century of military rule, the military is still highly influential and key constitutional reforms called for by the opposition are unlikely to pass ahead of the vote. Among them is a measure to repeal a law that prevents opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from running. For now, Shwe Mann, the speaker of parliament and a retired general, is the front-runner.

TIME Palestine

U.N. Security Council Rejects Palestinian Resolution

UN Security Council rejects draft resolution on Palestinian statehood
Cem Ozdel—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Riyad Mansour, second right, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, is seen during the United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting in New York on Dec. 30, 2014.

The measure was not expected to pass due to U.S. opposition

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Tuesday rejected a Palestinian draft resolution, strongly opposed by the United States, that sought peace with Israel within a one-year time frame.

The resolution failed to win the nine-vote majority required for approval, the Associated Press reports. Eight countries voted in favor of the resolution, while two opposed (U.S. and Australia), and five abstained.

“The fact that this draft resolution was not adopted will not at all prevent us from proceeding to push the international community, specifically the United Nations, towards an effective involvement to achieving a resolution to this conflict,” said Jordan’s U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar after the vote.

The resolution, whose voting had been requested by Jordan, demanded that East Jerusalem become capital of Palestine, according to Al Jazeera. It also asked that negotiations be based on territorial lines prior to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967.

The measure was not expected to pass due to strong opposition from the U.S., according to Reuters. U.S. diplomats previously said the resolution would bind Israel and Palestine to a “rushed” timeframe to resolve a decades-long conflict, and that they would use their veto if necessary.

“We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. “We voted against it because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”

[AP]

TIME

The Most Powerful Protest Photos of 2014

There wasn't a corner of the planet untouched by protest this year, from the tear-gassed streets of Ferguson to the student camps of Hong Kong

In 2011, TIME named the Protester as the Person of the Year, in recognition of the twin people-power earthquakes of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. TIME named the Ebola Fighters as the 2014 Person of the Year, but you could have forgiven if we went back to the Protester. There wasn’t a corner of the planet untouched by protest this year, from the tear-gassed streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to the squares of Mexico City, to the impromptu student camps of Hong Kong. Many of the protests were remarkably peaceful, like Occupy Hong Kong, which was galvanized by public anger over the overreaction of the city’s police. Others turned bloody, like the Euromaidan protests in Kiev, Ukraine, which eventually brought down the government of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, in turn triggering a war that led to the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in May and the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians.

Not every protest was as effective as those that began the year in the cold of Kiev. Hong Kongers still don’t have full democratic rights, gay rights are on the retreat in much of east Africa and every day seems to bring news of another questionable police killing in the U.S. But the wave of social action that ended 2014 is unlikely to crest in 2015. The ubiquity of camera phones means no shortage of iconic photographs and videos from any protest, whether in Lima or Los Angeles, and social media gives everyone the means to broadcast. What follows are some of the most powerful images from the global streets in 2014.

TIME portfolio

The Best Pictures of the Week: Dec. 5 – Dec. 12

From the ongoing protests against police brutality in the U.S. and the dismantling of the main pro-democracy protest camp in Hong Kong to the British royal couple’s first New York visit and Malala Yousafzai receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME Israel

This New Political Partnership Could Shake Up Israel’s Election

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Israeli army's training base complex near the southern city of Beersheba
Baz Ratner—Reuters Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Israeli army's training base complex near the southern city of Beershebaon Dec. 10, 2014.

The centrist Hatnuah party's alliance with the Labor Party could be a serious rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party in next year's elections

Israel’s former justice minister is expected to join her centrist party with the country’s center-left opposition, in a move that could significantly raise the stakes in the upcoming March election.

Tzipi Livni, who heads the centrist Hatnuah party, was expected to announce a unity deal with the Labor Party in a press conference Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Livni from his cabinet last week amid growing rifts in his coalition and called for early general elections in a bid to renew his mandate in office. Polls have found his center-right Likud party likely to come away with the most votes in the general election set for March 17.

But an alliance between Livni’s Hatnuah party and the larger Labor Party, headed by opposition leader Isaac Herzog, could reshape the electoral outlook. Recent polls suggest that the centrist alliance could take more parliamentary seats than Likud.

Still, Netanyahu could remain prime minister by forming a coalition with right-leaning parties in parliament. His party was expected to decide Wednesday whether to approve Netanyahu’s proposal to move primary elections to Dec. 31 from Jan.6, a move that has drawn criticism from some party members who say it puts other candidates for party leadership — such as former minister Gideon Sa’ar—at a disadvantage.

[Reuters]

TIME Ireland

The Irish Parliament Looks Set to Recognize a Palestinian State

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John Harper—Getty Images Irish Parliament in Dublin

Ireland would be joining the U.K., France, Spain and other countries in extending symbolic recognition

The Irish government accepted a motion Tuesday calling for the symbolic recognition of Palestinian statehood “on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in U.N. resolutions.”

On Wednesday, members of the lower house of the Oireachtas, or Irish Parliament, will continue debating the nonbinding bill, which is being put forward by the opposition, Reuters reports. A government spokesman said it would not oppose the motion.

“Recognizing the independent state of Palestine would be a symbolically important expression of Ireland’s support for the people of Palestine’s right to self determination,” said member of Parliament Dominic Hannigan, according to the Irish Examiner.

The Irish upper house passed a similar resolution in October.

Spain, the U.K. and France, have also passed symbolic votes of recognition, however some European countries have gone a step further and officially recognize a Palestinian state, with Sweden recently becoming the largest European nation to do so.

TIME Republican

Republican Party Leaders Offered Free Trip to Israel Next Year

Reince Priebus
Steven Senne—AP Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus addresses an audience at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Boston.

Several potential Republican Presidential candidates have already taken advantage of the trips

Members of the Republican National Committee will be treated early next year to a weeklong all-expenses-paid trip to Israel, according to an email from chairman Reince Priebus obtained by TIME.

The 168 members of the committee, three from each state, district, and territory, have been invited to visit the country from Jan. 31–Feb.8, 2015, paid for by conservative political operative David Lane’s American Renewal Project and the American Family Association. The meeting follows January’s winter meeting of the party committee in Coronado, Calif., where Priebus is set to be resoundingly re-elected to his post.

According to Priebus’ email, the trip is not an RNC event, but is reserved exclusively and is being coordinated by the RNC for members and their guests.

An RNC spokesperson said the trip was not officially a committee trip, but is a “spiritual, historic journey through Israel” organized by the groups in concert with RNC faith director Chad Connelly. According to the official, who declined to be named, about 60 members RSVPd to attend, or 36% of the full committee.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a likely Republican presidential candidate, joined Lane on a trip to Israel in 2013. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is considering a second presidential campaign in 2016, joined Lane with other Christian pastors on a tour of Poland and England this year, retracing the steps of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another possible 2016 Republican candidate, has also visited Israel with Lane.

The American Renewal Project, a conservative non-profit focused on getting Christians more involved in American politics, has recently been working to recruit 1,000 pastors to run for public office in 2016,

Here is a look at the full invitation, which was sent out on Nov. 21.

Dear RNC Members,

As previously announced, the RNC Members have been invited in their personal capacity, to participate on a trip to Israel in early 2015. This incredible opportunity is made possible through the generosity of David Lane’s American Renewal Project and the American Family Association. The trip to Israel will take place January 31 – February 8, 2015.

For RNC Members, the trip includes economy class roundtrip airfare from JFK International Airport to Israel, all meals, accommodations (based on double occupancy per room), tours, and admissions to museums and historic sites. RNC members are permitted to bring their spouse or a guest; however the spouse/guest will have to pay their way entirely including all airfare, hotels and meals. The approximate cost for the guest will be worked out once the agenda is finalized. RNC Members (and guests) will be responsible for their flight from their home airport to New York. The group will travel together from New York to Israel. Upgrades for the flight and single hotel room assignments are available for additional costs.

If you are interested in participating in the trip to Israel, please RSVP to Katie Hrkman in Member Services at ————- by Friday, November 28th.

Once we receive notice from all interested Members, we will notify those who have been selected so that travel arrangements and other details can be arranged.

Please note that although this is a trip for RNC Members and guests, this trip is not an RNC event.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Member Services at ————–.

Reince

TIME Syria

Syria Claims Israel Made Two Air Strikes Near Damascus

SYRIA-SKYLINE-DAMASCUS
Louai Beshara—AFP/Getty Images The minarets of mosques and the steeples of churches are seen towering above rooftops in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on June 26, 2013

Munitions warehouse could have been the target according to U.K.-based observer group

Syria accused Israel of carrying out two air strikes near its capital Damascus on Sunday.

The Syrian army made a statement on state television claiming that Israeli aircraft dropped bombs close to Damascus airport as well as on the nearby suburb of al-Dimas, the Associated Press reports.

The Israeli military has not admitted to the strikes and said on Sunday it would not rely on “foreign reports.”

At least 10 explosions were heard in the area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London. The organization also said an airport warehouse apparently targeted by bombs contained weapons, but it is not clear whether the weapons belong to the Syrian army or to militant group Hizballah.

Israel has launched several air strikes in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, specifically targeted at weapons it believes are being supplied to Hizballah.

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