Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Champagne for the spy

I did not read too many spy stories, but from what I've read, it seems that their stories are far beyond our already flamed imagination. What we are told is probably only one quarter of the story, in the happiest case scenario, but still enough to give ideas for thousands of thrillers. 
My latest story from this category is about the so-called Champagne Spy, by Nadav Schirman. The movie is reconstructing the life of Ze'ev Gur Arie aka Wolfgang Lotz, through personal stories of his son, Oded and access to direct access to Mossad operatives and documents. Lotz played an important role in the 1960s as a spy in Egypt, a time when German scientists were helping the anti-Israeli authorities in Cairo to build weapons and eventually nuclear and chemical facilities.
It may be a very simple post-WWII spy story but it's not at all. 

When German can be useful

Lotz was born in Germany in a family of artists. His father, not Jewish, was a theatre director and his mother, an actress, not religious and who did not even care to circumcise her son. The father killed himself when he was 2 and he grew up with his mother. They escaped Germany to the then Palestine , got a new name - Ze'ev Gur Arie. There, he was assigned by the Brits to interrogate the German POWs captured in Cairo. He also worked for Haganah. After the independence of the state of Israel, he was looking for a job and his good German skills helped him to make his way to the intelligence services, using also his good family connections, as a future Shin Beth director was part of his circle of relatives. 
He goes through the routine training, helped also by his native German skills, and even though in his evaluation is mentioned that he cannot stand torture and he has 'Problems in overcoming passion for women and wine', he will be accepted and assigned to Unit 131, a top secret unit that operated in cover countries posing a war threat to Israel. At the time: Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

Egypt and the chemical weapons

Hardly any German scientist who stayed in the country during the war was not involved in a way or another in the warfare industry. After, many were hunted either for the Americans for sharing the secrets or for being sent to the well deserved prisons for their involvement in the mass killings. Some of them - including notorious war criminals -  escaped and made their way in the Middle East countries. 
Even though the official explanations delivered by Bonn were that they haven't done it for anti-Semitic feelings, their contribution was on behalf of countries who were building up their arsenal with the aim to attack at a further date the state of Israel. The German government was not happy with the situation but could not prevent it either. This ambiguity and the need to answer international pressures would help somehow Wolf/Gur Arie later in his spy life. 
The scientists from Cairo who were involved in developing chemical weapons used to work at the Army Center in Peenemunde, an important center during the war.

Life in Paris

Wolf/Gur Arie and his family were sent to Paris, as part of the military mission of the embassy there. After the war, Paris used to be the European headquarters of Mossad and many of the children who were at the same school with Oded Gur Arie were part of a bigger family of secrets. Compared to them, he had the advantage of being aware of the reasons for the long absences of his father, as knowing his double identity and partially his mission. 
Except the absences of the father, they lived quite well, in a classy apartment in the 16th arrondissement. 
Unusually enough, he even took his son, less than 15 at the time, to a meeting with some liaison in Paris. He was even shown the tools used for the transmission of secret messages, again quite unusual. His wife was also aware and patriotically supported him, waiting for his returns, a couple of time the year. 

Champagne in Cairo

Life in Cairo seemed to be quite extravagant, if we are thinking about how Europe was. Wolf/Gur Arie started his mission by creating a horse racing club, a meeting point of the expats and rich locals, a good hub for making connections and sharing information.
The Egyptian secret services were pragmatical enough to use the knowledge of the Germans while watching them very carefully. 
The things were getting better for Wolf/Gur Arie who posed as a former Wermacht that participated at the Desert Storm. He enjoyed so much the life there that from a certain point on, noticed one of his superiors during the interviews, he forgot who he was. 'Spying is an art and you don't have to stick too much to the surroundings', this operative said, mentioning that Wolf/Gur Arie mistake was that he needed more self restraint.
Another possible mistake that was fatal to his mission was that he was operating completely on his own, as it appears from the movie: he was gathering information, created a base and also performed various direct missions, as the bomb threat letters sent to the offices of Paul Goercke, Wolfgang Pils and Hans Kleinwachter. The explosive were hidden in Yardley soaps and sometimes collateral victims suffered.

Dirty secrets

One Saturday morning, his mother sent Oded to buy, as usual, the International Herald Tribune. He bought the newspaper and he read on the first page that his father and his wife, whose existence was unknown not only to the family, but to Mossad as well, disappeared from their residence in Cairo, together with other German residents.
What was more strange again was that Mossad found out the news from Rivka Gur Arie, who called them to inform about the news read in the newspaper. 
The 'other wife', Waltraud Neumann, who will be faithful to him till her death, was born in East Germany, in a family of Yehovah Witnesses, a religious group that suffered a lot during the war. They accidentally met on a train during one of Wolf/Gur Arie trips to Europe and she followed him in Egypt. Another mistake: he told her too he is a spy, but didn't mention for whom, but she helped him in his efforts. 
The circumstances of his capture are not clear, the main suspicion being that he was caught while sending secret messages from his room.  

The reward

Because Mossad did not want to be directly involved in the case, the German embassy helped them and offered legal representation to Wolf/Gur Arie and his wife, who were tortured and beaten by the Egyptian secret services. It was convenient for the Egyptians too to consider him a German spy, as they were looking to get rid of the German presence there, now that they shared a lot of important secrets. 
He was condemned to life in prison and she to 3 years. The process was transmitted live in Cairo, and Mossad needed to blur the transmission to Israel, avoiding that someone from home will recognize him. 
They were freed though as part of the prisoners exchange after the Six-Day War, in 1968. Mossad suspected that he might have been recruited by the Egyptians and he was debriefed on several locations in Europe. 
Wolf/Gur Arie returned to Israel living with the German wife till her dead, in 1973. 
Oded and his mother returned too, but their lives followed different paths. Oded fought in the Yom Kippur war and after he went to the States to study business administration and made several businesses here where he resides with his family. Rivka Gur Arie and her son received the proper financial support but there were always resentments for her situation and her destroyed family. 

The adventure continues

Once an adventurer, always an adventurer. After returning, Wolf/Gur Arie was helped to set up a riding center in Israel, but he failed. Later on, he remarried twice, always with women that he met accidentally. He pursued various business projects that eventually failed again, and ended up selling fish at a shopping center in Munich. For a while, he got a book contract and wrote his memories and was paid to share his experiences, but this ended up too. At the end of his life, he was bankrupt and living from loans. He died in 1993 in Germany and was further buried in Israel.
As usual in such situation, his work cannot be evaluated in black and white. He lived in hard times, doing his duty, while trying to get the best out of his life, a glass of champagne in his hand. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cold War Stories

Being in between project is never easy, including for someone always busy writing, as the author of this small post. However, writing about foreign policy and international relations in general, and bringing to life interesting and fresh perspectives it is not that easy. With that blog I tried various recipes, from simply copy-pasting various international news and organizing it under a theme - long before spotify was on the market, to analyses on particular topics and outstanding information.
As I am (still) writing a booklet about social media and foreign relations, I dedicated quite a good amount of study to this topic and most probably I will continue to outline the topic at least till my work will be published - I hope to happen in the next 2-3 months though. The most important part of the blog will be dedicated to analysis the consequences of the Cold War to the current state of foreign affairs. Being a grown up in the time when the news about the imminent confrontation between the East and the West were permanently in the news I had a strong feeling and still fresh memories about those times. Also, as a historian by background I suspect that the radical change of paradigm to the 'new' world will still take some time and thus, the remnants will continue to hunt our world for a long time from now.
Because history is made up of small histories, I will try to read many of the episodes of the current world using the past background of the cold times. It does not necessarily work all the time, but at least when it comes to some big conflicts, as it is the case of the tensed situation in the Middle East (by the way, did you know for how many months a slaughter is taking place in Syria and not too many otherwise sensitive persons when it comes to other countries seem to feel ashamed for the lack of intervention) or the evolutions in Russia.
I promise, but not sure, that I will be able to post frequently but at least I give my word to my readers that every time something interesting will take place, will always be around to comment.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tourism and politics

Travel and tourism in general cannot stay away from the influences of politics, either the first aspect that we have in mind is instantly related to leisure and pleasures of the carefree life of a backpacker. After following for a couple of days the discussions organized at ITB Berlin, I decided that there are many points to be considered for a political or geopolitical - a terms that I don't fancy too much - view on tourism.

First and foremost, the home politics of a country are the first incentive or deterrent to a successful tourism sector. The taxes and the dedicated budget, the agreement or disagreement of politicians regarding the proper country branding as well as the economic development of the country as such influences directly the degree of attractiveness of a country. If the central government does not offer, for instance, special incentives to the tourism industry, the packages offered to the tourists will be expensive and the services overcharged and thus, the tourists will better move their tents to the neighbouring countries. 

Never forget the corruption. The degree of corruption in a country will most likely affect the everyday life of a tourist. I often went travelling in countries where the taxi drivers were overcharging me only because they caught me that I do not speak the local language or that I am obviously not a local. The same corruption reflects in special prices - 3-4 times higher - for foreign tourists and various extra taxes applied to everything. If they stole you, you will not want to return and will make bad publicity to the place you've been to. 

The overall stability in a country is very important. Egypt, for instance, lost around 17% of the revenues offered through the tourist activities due to the general instability of the last 12 months. Iran, despite the important amount of funds used to pay trips of foreign journalists from various European and East European countries, goes through a decline in terms of number of tourists and there it is no question why this happens. 

Many tourists and subsequently, the tourist agencies, will prefer to invest in countries where they do not need to worry for the safety of their customers. Westerners, among them Germans, dare to visit the South of Yemen and various African countries, including Nigeria, but their number is not as high as to determine a boost of tourism. Myanmar and Ivory Coast are trying to convince the tourists that things changed and there is no dangers, but this is until you will find another news about human rights abuses and kidnapping of foreigners. Ironically enough, Pakistan presented at the ITB some leaflets with taliban-looking men advertising tours in Kandahar area. I did not dare to ask them how many German tourists took the challenge for such an unique opportunity. 

I, personally, refuse to travel in countries where the record of human rights is in jeopardy. Thus, it is a long list of countries where I will not put my feet, even though I may be interested from the cultural and historical point of view. After all, there are my money that I don't want to be used for subsidizing a terrorist state. 

The freedom of travel affects considerably the options of tourism. Long time ago, many citizens from the former Eastern European block were unable to enjoy the right of free circulation. Their entrance to an airport in Paris, London or Berlin, capital cities they were used to dream about during the Cold War was the result of long lines in the front of the EU embassies and a lot of bureaucracy. US is using nowadays the same pattern, but compared with two decades ago, everything changed for good. Sooner or later, the doors of the 'golden country' will open to the curious citizens of the former Eastern bloc. 

On a very optimistic note, I wish I live in a world free where you can travel without worries.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What to read in 2013

The list of books on foreign affairs expected to be published in the next 6 months, according to Foreign Policy.
I would like to have a look and read the pages of the choices no.:6, 7, 9, 15, 20, 23, 24,25.

What's ahead for emerging economies in 2013?

Some economic expectations via The Economist.

ECFR Predictions for 2013

2012 saw continuing crisis in the eurozone, growing Euroscepticism and populism in some corners of Europe, faltering transitions in Egypt and elsewhere, more violence in Syria, a new leadership in China, and both Putin II and Obama II. 

So what will 2013 hold? Gazing into our crystal ball, we came up with the following ideas (although it's fair to say that we were divided on many of them). 

1. The single market unravels.
As ECFR’s recent paper - “Why the euro crisis threatens the EU’s single market” - shows, however the EU and eurozone deal with the crisis this main achievement of European integration will be damaged. A full eurozone break up would shatter the single market (and Schengen) while a great leap towards integration would see shrinkage as others (like the UK) withdraw. But even “muddling through” will diminish its depth.  In the past months banks in the eurozone have withdrawn from cross-border business. Because of the spreads, even poorly-managed German companies are paying significantly less interest than well-managed Spanish companies. All of these developments create new barriers and will lead to a renewed focus on domestic markets. For Europe, this means less competition, less growth, and higher prices for consumers. Our forthcoming paper on Europe’s “New Political Geography” (based upon ECFR’s 2012 series of 14 National Papers) shows how many EU member states are deeply concerned that differentiated integration is forcing them to the periphery of the European project.

2. “Small” states lead the EU’s foreign policy.
While the biggest countries of the eurozone are focused on the crisis and the UK is increasingly disengaged from Europe, new coalitions of willing members have been leading on the EU’s foreign policy. ECFR’s “Foreign Policy Scorecard 2012” showed that Poland and Sweden were the ones taking the initiative and leading Europe on the world stage. This year’s Scorecard, due to be published later this month, shows that Sweden is taking the initiative roughly as much as traditional large powers like France and the UK, with the Netherlands and Finland also demonstrating that in EU foreign policy size isn’t the only thing that matters.

3. The end of technocracy.
After a year where technocrats took over the countries of the periphery and other leaders, electoral politics will return to European integration. In Italy the vote could turn into a referendum on Monti’s reforms, with or without the current prime minister’s participation, with substantial implications for the rest of Europe.  And the German elections could also see a new government elected that has less constraints on what it is able to do – although the danger is that Europe will be largely absent from the campaign.

4. The British debate over Europe becomes less toxic.
Although the UK Independence Party will continue to make gains and force many Conservative MPs towards more Eurosceptic positions, 2013 will see a growing realisation that the UK is sleepwalking towards a disastrous EU exit. Business leaders will lead the backlash, followed by politicians – including many Conservatives who decide that Euroscepticism divides their own party, helps UKIP, and distracts from their own challenges with economic dysfunction and a fractious coalition. The arguments over Scottish EU membership also serve to highlight the tangible benefits of membership (see Peter Kellner’s ECFR paper on how the result of a British referendum on the EU may turn on how many judge the EU in pragmatic rather than ideological terms).

5. Syria as the playground for proxy conflicts.
The ongoing civil war in Syria is the epicentre of a wider regional battle, complicating hopes of resolution and bringing in the threat of wider destabilisation. It is sharpening sectarian tensions, reinvigorating dormant Sunni jihadi forces, pushing Iran and its allies on the defensive, and providing new room for Kurdish ambitions. The febrile atmosphere in Kurdistan is opening cracks between Ankara and its de facto allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and reverberations are spreading into northern Iraq.

6. Political versus religious Islam.
With a backlash against political Islam evident in Egypt and Tunisia, it’s apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists are finding it hard to deal with voters’ everyday practical problems and aspirations. Islamist parties have been forced to develop a more mature political style and formulate policies on socio-economic challenges to retain the support of essentially traditional and pragmatic voters.  However this is creating a gap between political Islamists and their religious such as the Salafists who are seeking to take advantage of greater religiosity in civil society. This tension will become a defining issue for countries such as Egypt and Tunisia as they continue their political transitions.

7. Putin’s increasingly ungovernable Russia.
A sick and politically enfeebled Putin is no longer able to play different power clans off against each other, making the country increasingly ungovernable while the petro-economy slows down. This may prompt a return to defensive/aggressive posturing to its south and west (it will keep quiet over China), for instance through greater involvement in the Former Soviet Union (meddling in Ukraine and Georgia), and diplomatic muscle flexing in Syria and with the US and NATO over missile defence and the Magnitski list. However, underlying this is the realisation that Russia desperately needs the West and can’t afford to push too hard in difficult times.

8. Security in the Maghreb becomes a real issue.
While UN and African peacekeepers struggle with the crisis in Mali, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) will attempt to extend its ambitions to terrorist attacks in Europe, prompting an increase in French military strikes against AQIM.

9. China 3.0 meets Chinese leadership 1.5.
Chinese intellectuals and thinkers, think their country needs to enter a new era. After Mao’s political revolution (‘China 1.0’) and Deng Xiaoping’s economic revolution (‘China 2.0’), they are expecting a ‘China 3.0’. Now that China is becoming more affluent, how does China deal with growing inequalities, rebalance its economy and increase its exposure to the global economy? How does the Communist Party retain stability, with increasing friction within Chinese society and half a billion ‘netizens’ active on the web? But the 18th Party congress has anointed leaders who have more in common with the past than the future.  As the political system becomes more rigid, and its foreign policy more aggressive, there is a growing tension between China’s strong society and its weak political system.
And finally, the big question in European foreign policy is…

10. Will post-American Europe fail to grow up or discover strategy?
For European foreign policy the elections didn’t really matter, and now President Obama is proving it by showing that a “pivot” to Asia is a fundamental “shift” away from the North Atlantic. As the 2013 Scorecard suggests, Europe continues to find ways to fail to come to terms with foreign policy… but if Europe’s leaders finally look up from the euro crisis, notice how much the continent has lost power, prestige and influence, and accept the need to formulate a European Global Strategy it could all be so different (perhaps in 2014).

And a word about how well we did with our predictions last year:

1. A “European Clash of Civilisations” – True (and predictable) enough, in as much as the EU has been torn (between core and periphery, eurozone and non-eurozone, “virtuous” North and “profligate” South) for much of 2013. The picture is of course far more complicated, as our National Paper series shows, but we called this one right.

2. Germany discovers that it’s a European country – There are signs that the debate in Europe is now shifting, with questions of political integration now being discussed (not quite extending to eurobonds). Maybe we had better judge this one after the 2013 German elections are out of the way…

3. A British Europe without Britain – British Eurosceptics have certainly had a good year (although next year may not be so promising), and there are definite signs that aspects of the EU (for instance a greater role for national governments, liberal reforms for the periphery, loss of central institutional power) are becoming more “British.”

4. China is forced into a financial G3 to safeguard the value of its reserves – this has not held up quite so well, although as we noted, the power shift to the East needs to take into account China’s economic interdependence with the West and its need to rebalance its economy.

5. The Russian Scramble for Europe (and banks) – So far this has not happened, although the situation in Cyprus, where Russia has played an important role in helping the country deal with the financial crisis, shows that Russian investment is something that the EU should not ignore.

6. The remilitarisation of Europe – Although the crisis and international impotence over Syria has crowded out real discussion of European strategy, there is a feeling in some corners of ECFR that 2013 could be the real year where an EU-wide sharing of security concerns and capacity could be on the cards…

7. China discovers competitive politics while reinforcing authoritarianism – The Bo Xilai affair and the autumn leadership “selection” showed that authoritarianism was reinforced without much in the way of competitive politics – although (as discussed in ECFR’s “China 3.0”) there is a vibrant internal Chinese debate over other mechanisms for political representation and competition.

8. The Domesticated Brotherhood – As noted in this year’s set of “Ten Trends”, political Islam has found its first steps in government to be difficult ones, leading to something of a recent anti-Islamist backlash. This has led to a tension between political Islam and religious Islam that we think could be a big story in 2013.

9. A perfect Iranian storm – At the time of writing this has not happened, although Iran and its nuclear programme remains a toxic issue in the Middle East and beyond.

10. The Youthquake doesn’t happen – Despite the Occupy Movement, the Pirate Party and so much else, we were right: organised older folk and the impotence of treating Facebook “likes” as a real proxy for voting and participation means the “Youthquake” is yet to happen.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The hopes of the new EU Irish presidency

The six-month Irish presidency will have to deal with the continuation of the financial crisis and the need for more jobs and economic growth. As other countries before, the Irish officials promise to offer good solutions for a sustainable recovery of Europe.

Realistically speaking, there are no expectations for a resolution of the debt crisis, but the next months may be important in creating more opportunities for growth. However, Ireland will demonstrate its support for the development of the hi-tech sector, as the most efficient way to support the long-term economic boost.
The Irish presidency will push forward for promoting the harmonization of the professional qualifications on the EU market. One of the suggestions is to create a professional ‘card’ allowing each holder to register his or her qualifications on a dedicated website.

Another priority endeavoured by Ireland concerns the problem of the language of the public procurement procedures. The public tenders have a contribution to the European economic growth of 19%.
Last but not least, the next six months are important in finding a solution to the rights of workers in one country to be sent to work on contracts in another EU country, an issue that is addressed in several rulings of the Court of Justice. Poland and France have opposite opinions in this respect.

Equally important are the discussions regarding the negotiations on the seven-year EU budget, following the failure at the end of last year. Last November, the European leaders were unable to to agree on the size of the cuts to the €1 trillion budget. The EU leaders need to find an extra €30 billion odd to bridge the gap between UK demands for a smaller budget and calls by France and other countries for programmes such as the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and Cohesion funding to be maintained. Discussions on this issue are expected at the 7-8 February summit. Next on the agenda are the projects for reforming both CAP and the Common Fisheries Policy, but the final decision belongs to the European Parliament.

The subject of the permanent bailout fund will continue during the next six months, without too many expectations for an agreement. Several meetings of the finance ministers will approach this sensitive topic.
The European Commission will continue the dialogue regarding the possibilities for signing free-trade agreements with third countries. After Singapore, Peru, Columbia and South Korea, the discussions regarding similar documents signed with India, US and Japan are included in the priority list of the next months. Especially the US-EU deal may have direct positive effects on the Irish economy, according to economic experts.

In terms of enlargement, there are expected more discussions with the Balkan countries, with Serbia waiting to be given a date for the beginning of the negotiations. The same hopes are expressed in Skopje. There are not too many chances that there will be clear positions concerning the eventual admission of Turkey. The foreign agenda will most likely keep the Syrian problems, due to the concerns regarding human rights, as well as the Iranian nuclear file and the evolutions in the Middle East.

The beginning of the EU Irish presidency was inaugurated with a special flag-raising ceremony that took place at Dublin Castle, in the presence of local officials, including the Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton. During the six months of the presidency, around 1,600 meetings are scheduled, out of which 180 will take place in Ireland.

It is the country’s seventh presidential term, 40 years after Ireland became a full member of the EU, in 1973. 
The last time when Ireland held the office of the European Union, in 2004, the country was going through a favourable time, as the so-called Celtic Tiger was highly appreciated for the good economic performances. One of the most noteworthy performances of the latest Irish presidency was the successful negotiation of the EU Constitution, at the end of difficult negotiations.


Startfor analysis: The Benghazi Report and the Diplomatic Security Funding Cycle

The Benghazi Report and the Diplomatic Security Funding Cycle is an another Startfor introspection into the challenges of diplomacy. One of the most interesting ideas, by far, is how diplomacy can take the advantage of the 2.0 world for a limited diplomatic activity in hostile areas. Something to think more about in the next days...