It follow the biblical injunction (and the Mossad's old motto):"By way of deception thou shalt make war." The agency's job, its website explains more prosaically, is to "collect information, analyse intelligence and perform special covert operations beyond [Israel's] borders."
Founded in 1948 along with the new Jewish state, the Mossad largely stayed in the shadows in its early years. Yitzhak Shamir, a former Stern Gang terrorist and future prime minister, ran operations targeting German scientists who were helping Nasser's Egypt build rockets – foreshadowing later Israeli campaigns to disrupt Iraqi and (continuing) Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear and other weapons.
The Mossad's most celebrated exploits included the abduction of the fugitive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was later tried and hanged in Israel. Others were organising the defection of an Iraqi pilot who flew his MiG-21 to Israel, and support for Iraqi Kurdish rebels against Baghdad. Military secrets acquired by Elie Cohen, the infamous spy who penetrated the Syrian leadership, helped Israel conquer the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war.
It was after that that the service's role expanded to fight the Palestinians, who had been galvanised under Yasser Arafat into resisting Israel in the newly occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The 1970s saw the so-called "war of the spooks" with Mossad officers, operating under diplomatic cover abroad, recruiting and running informants in Fatah and other Palestinian groups. Baruch Cohen, an Arabic speaker on loan to the Mossad from the Shin Bet internal security service, was shot in a Madrid cafe by his own agent. Bassam Abu Sharif, of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was badly disfigured by a Mossad parcel bomb sent to him in Beirut.
Steven Spielberg's 2006 film Munich helped mythologise the Mossad's hunt for the Black September terrorists who massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Eleven of them were eliminated in killings across Europe, culminating in the small Norwegian town of Lillehammer, where a Moroccan waiter was mistaken for Ali Hassan Salameh, the Munich plot's mastermind. Salameh was eventually killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 1979 – the sort of incident that made Lebanese and Palestinians sit up and notice last year's botched training episode in Tel Aviv.
The campaign against Black September – which ended with the catastrophic arrest of five Mossad agents. Sylvia Raphael, a South African-born Christian with a Jewish father, was sentenced to five years in a Norwegian prison (of which she served slightly over a year); she may have been among the young Europeans in Israel who were discreetly asked, in nondescript offices in Tel Aviv, if they wished to volunteer for sensitive work involving Israel's security. Other agents who had been exposed had to be recalled, safe houses abandoned, phone numbers changed and operational methods modified.
Over the years, the Mossad's image has been badly tarnished at home as well as abroad. It was blamed in part for failing to get wind of Egyptian-Syrian plans for the devastating attack that launched the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Critics wondered whether the spies had got their priorities right by focusing on hunting down Palestinian gunmen in the back alleys of European cities, when they should have been stealing secrets in Cairo and Damascus. The Mossad also played a significant, though still little-known, role in the covert supply of arms to Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran to help fight Saddam Hussein's Iraq, as part of the Iran-Contra scandal during Ronald Reagan's presidency.
It has, in addition, suffered occasional blows from its own disgruntled employees. In 1990, a Canadian-born former officer called Victor Ostrovsky blew the whistle on its internal organisation, training and methods, revealing codenames including "Kidon" (bayonet), the unit in charge of assassinations. An official smear campaign failed to stop Ostrovsky's book, so the agency kept quiet when another ostensibly inside account came out in 2007. It described the use of shortwave radios for sending encoded transmissions, operations in Iran for collecting soil samples, and joint operations with the CIA against Hezbollah.
But the worst own goal came in 1997, during Binyamin Netanyahu's first term as prime minister. Mossad agents tried but failed to assassinate Khaled Mash'al – the same Hamas leader who is now warning of retaliation for Mabhouh's murder – by injecting poison into his ear in Amman, Jordan. Using forged Canadian passports, they fled to the Israeli embassy, triggering outrage and a huge diplomatic crisis with Jordan. Danny Yatom, the then Mossad chief, was forced to quit. Ephraim Halevy, a quietly spoken former Londoner, was brought back from retirement to clear up the mess.
Yossi Melman, the expert on intelligence for Israel's Haaretz newspaper, worries that, as before the 1973 war, the Israeli government may be getting it wrong by focusing on the wrong enemy – the Palestinians – instead of prioritising Iran and Hizbullah.
"The Mossad is not Murder Inc, like the Mafia; its goal is not to take vengeance on its enemies," he wrote this week. "'Special operations' like the assassination in Dubai – if this indeed was a Mossad operation – have always accounted for a relatively small proportion of its overall activity. Nevertheless, these are the operations that give the organisation its halo, its shining image. This is ultimately liable to blind its own ranks, cause them to become intoxicated by their own success, and thus divert their attention from their primary mission."
From an official Israeli point of view, the Mossad has an important job to do. Its reputation for ruthlessness and cunning remains a powerful asset, prompting what sometimes sounds like grudging admiration as well as loathing in the Arab world – where a predisposition for conspiracy theories boosts the effect of the disinformation and psychological warfare at which the Israelis are said to excel.
Some of those agents had one thing in common. Amit had sent them to their deaths.
"We did all we could to protect them. We trained them better than any other secret service. Sometimes, out on a mission, the dice is against you. But there will always be brave men ready to roll the dice," he said.
"Israel need not apologize for the assassination
or destruction of those who seek to destroy it.
The first order of business for any country
is the protection of its people."
Washington Jewish Week, October 9, 1997
The man known to Mossad as "The Engineer" ( Yihyeh Ayyash) was a top Hamas bomb-maker. He lived on the West Bank, protected by gunmen.
One day he received a visitor - a distant cousin from Gaza. The young man spoke like so many from that hotbed of Islamic fanaticism.
Over mint tea, the two men spoke far into the evening. Finally, The Engineer invited his guest to stay over. The offer was accepted. The youth asked if he could use The Engineer's mobile phone to call his own family to say they should not worry.
He asked if he could make the call from outside the house to improve reception. The Engineer nodded. The call over, the two men fell asleep on the floor.
Next day, the youth left to return to Gaza. That morning, The Engineer received a call on the mobile. As he put the phone to his mouth and started to speak, his head was blown off.
The youth had been recruited by Mossad to plant a powerful explosive inside the phone. The detonation signal had come from a kidon half a mile away.
No one had seen him arrive. No one saw him go.
RULES FOR EXECUTION IN THE MOSSAD
Were laid down over half a century ago by Meir Amit, the most innovative and ruthless director-general of the service.
"There will be no killing of political leaders, however extreme they are. They must be dealt with politically. There will be no killing of a terrorist's family unless they are also directly implicated in terrorism. Each execution must be sanctioned by the incumbent prime minister. Any execution is therefore state-sponsored, the ultimate judicial sanction of the law. The executioner is no different from the state-appointed hangman or any other lawfully-appointed executioner."
MOSSAD TRIVIA: WOMEN AGENTS USE SEX
Mossad agents in Baghdad had discovered that the woman, the widow of a serving Iraqi officer who had died mysteriously, would be driven from the palace to keep a tryst with Saddam in a desert villa outside the city.
Heavily guarded, the villa would be a hard target to hit.
But Mossad believed there was a window of opportunity between the time Saddam would land in his helicopter near the villa and enter its well-protected compound.
The plan to kill Saddam has long been on Mossad's agenda. But previous attempts had failed due to Saddam's obsession with changing his movements at the last moment.
Mossad believed he would not do so this time.
"The woman is irresistible," said a report from one of its Baghdad undercover agents.
Mossad had scouted an air corridor through which it believed a kidon could be flown in below Iraqi radar.
A final rehearsal was held in the Negev desert. Israeli commandos doubled as Saddam and his bodyguards - a party of five.
As they landed close to a replica of the villa, the kidon were in position. They were equipped with specially adapted shoulder-firing missiles. But their weapons were to only fire blanks for the rehearsal.
In a tragic mistake, one of the missiles had been replaced with a live one. It killed the make-believe Saddam and his bodyguards.
The operation was cancelled.
Mossad psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioural scientists, psychoanalysts and profilers – collectively known as the "specialists" – were told to decide the best way to kill Mughniyeh.
They concluded that he would be among the guests of honour at the Iranian Cultural Centre celebrations in 2008 for the celebration of the Khomeini Revolution. The team rigged a car-bomb in the headrest of the Mitsubishi Pajero they discovered Mughniyeh had rented, to be detonated by a mobile phone. As Mughniyeh arrived outside the Culture Centre at precisely 7pm on February 12, the blast blew his head off.
In their base deep in the Negev Desert – the sand broken only by a distant view of Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona – the kidon practise with a variety of handguns, learn how to conceal bombs, administer a lethal injection in a crowd and make a killing look accidental.
They review famous assassinations – the shooting of John F Kennedy, for example – and study the faces and habits of potential targets whose details are stored on their highly restricted computers. There, too, are thousands of constantly updated street plans downloaded from Google Earth.
Mossad is one of the world's smallest intelligence services. But it has a back-up system no other outfit can match. The system is known as sayanim, a derivative of the Hebrew word lesayeah, meaning to help.
There are tens of thousands of these "helpers". Each has been carefully recruited, sometimes by katsas, Mossad's field agents. Others have been asked to become helpers by other members of the secret group.
Created by Meir Amit, the role of the sayanim is a striking example of the cohesiveness of the world Jewish community. In practical terms, a sayan who runs a car rental agency will provide a kidon with a vehicle on a no-questions basis. An estate agent sayan will provide a building for surveillance. A bank manager sayan will provide funds at any time of day or night, and a sayan doctor provides medical assistance.
Instead he had offered his services to Saddam Hussein, to build a super-gun capable of launching shells containing nuclear, chemical or biological warheads directly from Iraq into Israel. Saddam had ordered three of the weapons at a cost of $20 million. Bull was retained as a consultant for a fee of $1 million.
On the afternoon of March 20, 1990, the sanction to kill Bull was given by the then prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir. Nahum Admoni, the head of Mossad, sent a three-man team to Brussels, where Bull lived in a luxury apartment block. Each kidon carried a handgun in a holster under his jacket.
When the 61-year-old Bull answered the doorbell of his home, he was shot five times in the head and the neck, each kidon firing their 7.65 pistol in turn, leaving Bull dead on his doorstep. An hour later they were out of the country on a flight to Tel Aviv.
Within hours, Mossad's own department of psychological warfare had arranged with sayanim in the European media to leak stories that Bull had been shot by Saddam's hit squad because he had planned to renege on their deal.
The Syrians eventually exposed Cohen, however, and hanged him in Damascus Square, while the Egyptians captured, tortured, and imprisoned Lotz in 1964. Meanwhile, another operative in Egypt, David Magen, turned out to be a double agent, and the work of Avraham Dar in Egypt during the mid-1950s ended in a disaster for Israeli intelligence, with numerous agents captured and imprisoned. At least one apparent success of this era turned out to be a political failure when Ben-Gurion reversed Mossad efforts to intimidate West German scientists who were assisting the Egyptians. Eager to develop better relations with West Germany, Ben-Gurion dismissed Mossad director Isser Harel (1952–63), who he had once accorded the title Memuneh, "the one in charge."
1960s and 1970s. Mossad, which gained its present name as the Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks in 1963, fared much better in the 1960s. Joint operations with Shin Bet, the internal security force, led to the capture of Eichmann—who had overseen the murder of millions of Jews during the Holocaust—from his hiding place in Argentina. Under the leadership of Meir Amit (1963–68), Mossad focused on intelligence-gathering, which greatly aided Israeli military efforts in 1967. During this period, Mossad also assisted the defection of an Iraqi airman who delivered to Israel a Soviet MiG-21 fighter jet in 1963. In 1968, Mossad successfully captured eight missile boats that Israel had ordered from France, but which President Charles de Gaulle had placed under embargo. That year also saw the capture of nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, who had revealed Israeli nuclear secrets to the British press.
Following the massacre of Israeli athletes by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Mossad directed an assassination effort under an action team dubbed "the Wrath of God" (WOG). Over the next two years, WOG tracked down and killed more than a dozen members of Black September, but also accidentally killed a Moroccan waiter who had no affiliation with the terrorist group.
Failure to predict Egyptian actions leading to the Yom Kippur War in 1973 forced the resignation of several top officers, including Mossad director Zvi Zamir (1968–74). Yet, on July 3–4, 1976, Mossad more than recovered its reputation with the daring raid at Entebbe, codenamed Operation Thunderbolt. After intensive intelligence-gathering at the site, the Israelis assaulted the plane, rescuing all but four of its 97 passengers and losing a single officer—along with 20 Ugandan soldiers—in the process.
1980s and 1990s. During the 1980s, Mossad's intelligence-gathering against Arab countries helped pave the way for Israeli airstrikes against Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters in Tunisia, and against an Iraqi nuclear reactor. In April 1988, a Mossad assassination team infiltrated the residence of Abu Jihad, deputy to PLO chief Yassir Arafat, and killed him. Two years later, in March 1990, another hit team killed Gerald Bull, a Canadian scientist aiding the Iraqi weapons program, at his apartment in Brussels.
Among the less successful activities of Mossad during the 1980s and 1990s was its involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, when it acted as an intermediary between the United States and Iran. Embarrassment surrounding the failure of Mossad to prevent the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin by an Israeli citizen in November 1995 led to the resignation of Mossad director Shabtai Shavit in 1996. Prime Minister Shimon Peres then appointed Major General Danny Yatom, the first Mossad chief ever publicly identified. In 2000, Mossad undertook a recruitment campaign, complete with newspaper advertisements and a Web site that took applications on line.
Barely raising his voice he spoke.
"When I was fighting in Lebanon, I witnessed the aftermath of a family feud. The patriarch's head had been split open, his brain on the floor. Around him lay his wife and some of his children. All dead. Before I could do anything, one of the murderers scooped up a handful of brain and swallowed it. This is how you will all now operate. Otherwise someone will eat your brain."
His every word held them in thrall - even if they sent a shudder through some of his listeners, hardened as they were.
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