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Israel helped the US track Bin Laden in Pakistan, former CIA chief

  • 9 Dec 2020

John Brennan says the Jewish state provided some of the information which led to the operation that brought embarrassment to Islamabad.

A roadside vendor sells newspapers with headlines about the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in Lahore May 3, 2011. ( Reuters Archive )

Pakistanis now have another thing to ponder. As it turns out, Israeli agents helped the United States, to a certain extent, in tracking down Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda who carried out the deadly 9/11 attacks. 

Bin Laden was killed in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in a joint US military-CIA operation in 2011. His killing led to a deep introspection in Islamabad which denied knowing the whereabouts of America’s then most-wanted terrorist. 

The fact that Bin Laden was living in a massive house located close to the Pakistan military’s main academy, fuelled anger both at home and abroad. The South Asian country itself had lost tens of thousands of people to terrorist attacks.

In a wide ranging interview with the Haaretz, former CIA chief John Brennan said that while overall it was a US-led operation, the Jewish state provided some assistance in locating Bin Laden. 

Years of effort went into preparing the night raid, “And the thousands of bits of pieces of intelligence do include some which were provided by the Israelis as a result of their intelligence operations,” he said. 

A Pakistani commission created to look into the incident, which it called the “greatest humiliating” since the secession of its eastern wing in the 1971 war, underscored a major failure on the part of its vaunted intelligence apparatus. 

US Navy Seals flew from neighbouring Afghanistan in helicopters in the early hours of May 2, 2011,  and over the next 40 minutes killed Bin Laden and whisked his body away. By the time Pakistani jets scrambled, the US soldiers had already crossed the border. 

It remains one of the most glaring episodes of intelligence failures, as Bin Laden remained in Pakistan for nearly a decade, moving between different cities. The compound where he was killed was built in an unusual way, its high walls, barbed wires and lack of visitors or absence of any cars made it suspect, yet no officials raised any red flags, the commission noted

Pakistan arrested and jailed Shakil Afridi, a doctor who helped the CIA collect blood samples from Bin Laden’s family members under the garb of an immunisation campaign.  

But no one from the government or security establishment has ever been publicly punished for the intelligence failure. 

Dangerous precedent

Haaretz’s interview of Brennan, who stepped down as CIA chief in 2017 shortly after US President Donald Trump took over, comes in the wake of his recently published memoir, Undaunted: My Fight Against America’s Enemies, At Home and Abroad.

Brennan criticised the US decision to kill Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Gen. Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike earlier this year, something which risked igniting another crisis in the Middle East. 

“It’s dangerous for one sovereign state to decide to kill a senior official of another sovereign state. What type of signals does that send other countries? What would happen if the Chinese or the Russians decided to do that?”

Brennan’s interview was conducted a few days before the targeted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. But in a tweet, he called it “highly reckless. It risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict.” 

He also spoke about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling him a “very typical of a politician.” 

“I do not believe that honesty or his word are his strong suits. He is, as I said, a strong political operative who will change his views, his position, and not follow through on his commitments if he feels it’s in his best political interest not to.” 

Brennan says that while the threat Israel faces from Iran is real, Netanyahu has also used it to his political advantage. 

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