Israel’s survival depends on the performance of its spy agencies. ‘Mossad’ is the deadliest agency known to the world. It has many deadliest operations to its credit.
This article tries to look at the agency’s clout in today’s reference.
"Where there is no guidance, a nation falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety."
This quote is of-course useless for a country like India run by allegedly careless politicians. However there is no doubt that it best serves the agency that proudly boasts this Hebrew proverb as its motto. Gifted with a pool of limited but talented manpower, ‘The Institute’ as the agency is called has dominated not only the middle-east but all corners of the world where it had to pursue its goals by hook or by crook.
Having no qualms about using kidnapping and assassination to get what it wants and specializing in sending infiltrators deep into enemy camps has spawned the saying “only God knows everything, and he works for the Mossad”.
Mossad, Hebrew for ‘the institute’ is short for HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuḥadim - Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations. Founded on December 13, 1949, the Mossad is premier external intelligence agency of Israel. The story of Mossad is a story of suffering, adventure and fascinating experiences in secret operations that began in closing years of world war two when Palestine was under British control.
Afraid of hurting the Arab majority the British sought to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine, prompting the intelligence department of Hagana jewish defense to bring in jews covertly and illegally. The Haganah soon established immigration networks and acquired mastery in fake documents.
When Israel became a state on 14th May 1948, Haganah intelligence was disbanded and replaced by three separate agencies. By prime minister David Ben Gurion. Agaf HaModi'in’, i.e. the Information Bureau abbreviated as ‘Aman’ handled military intelligence, while the Shin Bet i.e. the General Security Service took on the responsibilities of counter terrorist intelligence operations and guarding Israel’s overseas embassies. A political department was formed within the foreign ministry to collect political and military intelligence outside Israel.
Impressed by the work of western intelligence agencies and the formation of the American CIA in 1948, Shin Bet chief Issar Harel played an instrumental role in establishing the ‘Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations’ or ‘Mossad’ which replaced the political department. The new intelligence agency soon built itself with the help of Jewish diaspora spread around the world. In 1956, this network was able to lay its hands on a secret copy of Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev's speech denouncing Stalin at the 20th Communist Party Congress.
By 1960, the Mossad had managed to place its agents in Syria and Egypt. One of the most successful of these, was Wulfgang Lotz, a German Jew born to a Jewish actress who had migrated to Tel Aviv in 1933. Lotz was working with Aman when the Israelis decided to send him to Egypt to gather intelligence.
According to his cover story, Lotz was a German businessman who had served with Wehrmacht in Africa (where in fact he had served with the British army). Lotz mission was to gain access to the upper echelons of the Egyptian society. He ran a successful racing stable. Lotz gathered information on Egyptian armed forced and radioed it back to Israel. He was blown by the Soviet military advisers in Egypt who suspected his movements. Arrested and tried in 1965, Lotz was later freed in a prisoner exchange after the six day war. The Egyptians never knew he was a Jew and ran the whole trial thinking he was a German working for Israel.
The second Israeli agent, Eli Cohen wasn't so lucky.
The son of Syrian Jews who had migrated to Israel in 1956, Eli Cohen posed as a rich Beiruti businessman named Kamaal Amin Tabet. He arrived in Damascus in 1962 and began to move effortlessly in the high society. He broadcast regularly on Syrian radio and even joined the ruling party in Syria. While he was being viewed as the potential foreign minister for Syria by his unsuspecting Syrian friends, Cohen gave the Israelis a complete breakdown of Syrian defenses on the Golan heights, complete with the Syrian order of battle and the breakdown of Syrian army weapon inventories. Exposed by his lengthy radio transmissions, Cohen was still operating his radio when he was arrested. He was tried in secret and sentenced to a public hanging. The resulting scandal brought down the Syrian government. Syria has repeatedly denied requests to hand over Cohen’s remains to his family in Israel.
Two operations undertaken by Mossad between 1960 and 1976 are noteworthy in building the clout that it holds today. The first was the capture of Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann who like many of the senior SS officers, had disappeared after the war with the help of Nazi network ODESSA formed to help Nazis escape after the war.
15 Years after the war, a Mossad team was in Buenos Aires, looking for an Argentine businessman named Riccardo Klement. On 11th May 1960, while Klement waited for his bus from work to home, he was surrounded by five men who hustled him into a car and took him to a Mossad safe house. While their victim voiced his protests, the agents checked his medical details, placed an SS cap on his head and compared him with this picture.
Voila! He was Adolf Eichmann.
Faced with the choice between instant death or trial, Eichmann agreed to stand trial in Israel and was smuggled to Tel Aviv. His defense fell weak before the array of eyewitnesses and documents and he was finally hanged. The capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann created headlines and added to the Mossad’s reputation for ruthlessness.
In the second operation called Operation Wrath of God, the Mossad calmly hunted down and killed the terrorists of Black September faction, responsible for the murders of Israeli athletes in 1972 Munich olympics. The operation was mounted by a special committee formed by the Israeli government and chaired by Prime Minister Golda Meir and defense minister Moshe Dayan. Other members of the committee included counter terrorism adviser general Ahron Yariv and Mossad director Zvi Zamir, who were directly responsible for carrying out the operation. The committee concluded that those responsible for the Munich massacre had to be assassinated in the most dramatic manner possible as a lesson for anyone else planning to perpetrate violence against Israeli citizens.
The first prey of this operation was the head of Black September operations in Italy, Wael Zwaiter who was assassinated on October 16, 1972 in Rome. Zwaiter was shot 11 times-once for each Israeli Athlete killed by Black September. Police forces across Europe never found the assassins. Ten prominent Palestinians were assassinated within a year in a terrifying manner.
This major operation however, was not without its glitches.
Almost a year after Munich, the Mossad believed it had located Ali Hassan Salameh, the mastermind behind the massacre, in a skiing resort in Lillehammer, Norway. However, the man they gunned down was an innocent Moroccan waiter. Six members of the hit team were arrested and tried, five were jailed. The leader of the team managed to escape and was never extradited to Norway by Israel. The Israeli government paid US $283,000 in compensation to the killed waiter’s family but never officially took responsibility for the assassination.
Ali Hassan Salameh, the Black September chief of operations was a man who wore many secret hats. He was the secret contact between the Yassar Arafat and the US government who valued a back door communication channel with the PLO. The deal was of course set up by the CIA who simply wanted a high level source inside the PLO. The CIA, which was under no illusions about Salameh's role in anti-Israel terrorism, tried to warn him of his impending fate but to no avail. On January 22, 1979, Salameh and his bodyguards were making their way by their usual route in Beirut when a car parked outside a taxi company on the road exploded killing Salameh with all his bodyguards.
Former Israeli counter terrorism advisor General Aahron Yariv later stated that assassinations might not be a good way to bring peace, but Israel had no choice in case of an organization like Black September.
Cracks began to appear in the armour of Israeli intelligence in late 1970s and early 80s when Mossad assessments of a surprise Egyptian attack were rejected by Aman. The subsequent Yom Kippur war extracted a high price from Israel. Political support for the Mossad and Shin Bet declined as the agencies were accused of using dubious means to suppress Palestinian intifada (‘uprising’) in West bank and Gaza. However, the most serious setbacks encountered by the institute were in its relations with its own longtime loyal ally, the CIA.
Pollard affair of the mid 1980s was an outright manifestation of the lengths to which Israel could go to in order to fulfill its own interests. Jonathan Polard was a Jewish naval intelligence officer in the US navy. He was recruited by Israel’s Science Liason Bureau ‘Lekem’ which is responsible for protecting. Pollard gave several classified documents to Israel for a payment of $1500 per month and luxary holidays and other gifts for him and his wife. Upon being discovered in late 1985, he attempted to take refuge in the Israeli embassy and was promptly rebuffed.
The US was even more appalled when it discovered that a considerable data given to Israel by Pollard went to the Soviet Union through Soviet moles in the Mossad. The data included sensitive material on code breaking generated by the American National Security Agency which is the hub of US electronic intelligence. Pollard had also informed Israel about the identities of several American agents in Arab countries.
Pollard’s Israeli contact in the US was Israel air force colonel Aviem Sella. Sella was in US in 1979 when he had taken a leave from the air force to study in the US. He had been approached by Pollard with the offer to spy for Israel which the Israelis had accepted. When Pollard was arrested by US authorities, Aviem Sella immediately fled the US along with his family. Israel denied extraditing Sella to the US for questioning in Pollard case. Sella was declared a fugitive by the US in 1990. The closing decades of 1990s were troublesome for the Israeli intelligence. Israeli intelligence was accused of using suspicious means to suppress the Palestinian intifada. Clandestine Arabic speaking units had gone under cover for the operation. Political support for Mossad declined.
Still, the Mossad struck back at the Palestinians in January 2010 by assassinating Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the senior commander of Hamas. According to Dubai police, the commander was transiting in Dubai on his way to China. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found dead in his room at Al Bustan Rotana hotel in Dubai on 19th January 2010. A team of at least 20 Mossad agents is believed to be involved in the assassination.
Dubai police claim that the European passports used were not forgeries. British, Canadian and Irish governments have stated that the passports bearing their countries' names were, "either fraudulently obtained or were outright fakes." All the stolen passports are from countries that do not need visas for the UAE. No one has been prosecuted in the case. Dubai police is considering taking out warrants on Israeli prime minister and Mossad chief.
The institute again faced criticism in 2010 for its failure to detect the Arab Spring. An already volatile Middle East became all the more unstable as the Arab Spring unfolded on one side while Iran began developing a nuclear programme on the other.
Mossad director Meir Dagan is particularly noted for making efforts to delay Iran’s nuclear programme. Several books and news reports have claimed that Mossad was involved in assassinating several Iranian nuclear scientists.
The awesomeness of Israeli intelligence continues to enthrall the world. Israeli security apparatus has been shaped by its strategic situation. Israel has limited population which has forced the country to introduce compulsory military training and raise a citizen army. In the event of war, entire country is forced to mobilize itself bringing the economy to a halt. Due to this very reason, Israel cannot afford a long war. Secondly Israel cannot afford to lose a war. It will result in annihilation of the country.
The answer : An effective intelligence service, which is able to prevent wars or provide an information edge if a war occurs. Mossad has lived up to this task beyond doubt. The performance of its security agencies is crucial for the existence of Israel. The methods they use throw up several questions, but who cares? Survival is Israel’s first instinct. All else is secondary.
HIstory channel documentary on Mossad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga1QlgBXtQQ
BBC documentary - Modern Spies http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSiE8s36fEM
Mossad : murder in Dubai complete timeline http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8ajRErIOsc
Jay Joshi is a young journalist based in Goa & is a upcoming International Relations specialist.