Mossad: The history of Israel’s deadly assassins

Clinical and quick, the killing of Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh looked exactly like a Mossad assassination.

Clinical and quick, the killing of Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh looked exactly like a Mossad assassination.

Hours after checking into his five-star Dubai hotel room, al-Mabhouh lay suffocated and his killers were on planes out of the country on fake British, Irish and Canadian passports.

It is a technique perfected over five decades by Israel’s secret service.

Ordinarily the murder would have only made a few lines in Middle East newspapers.

But this time the killers were sloppy. As they fled Dubai their pictures were beamed around the world and Israel stands accused of state-sponsored murder.

Yesterday the country did not deny that the assassination of one of their major opponents was the work of Mossad, and international pressure was mounting as Gordon Brown announced a full investigation into the use of fake passports.

Now the spotlight is firmly on the inner workings of one of the world’s most feared intelligence agencies. murder

Mossad is usually so ruthlessly efficient that some observers have speculated that Israeli agents cannot have been behind the murder of al-Mabhouh because they would never have been so careless and allowed themselves to be identified.

But Mossad expert Gordon Thomas is convinced that a specially trained assassination team – known as a kidon – was behind the murder.

He says: “This is most definitely the work of Mossad. This was no opportunistic attack, months of planning have gone into this hit.

“Each member of the team will know their cover story backwards. They have to know who they are, what their background is, what food they like – everything.

“This was a very well organised and planned assassination.”

Formed in 1949, Mossad is a small but notorious intelligence agency.

It developed its reputation after it discovered Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann living in Argentina in 1960 under the name of Ricardo Klement. He was captured by a team of agents and smuggled to Israel where he was tried and executed.

But as tensions increased with its Arab neighbours, Israel changed tack and created the kidon – the Hebrew word for bayonet – assassination squads.

They quickly came to the world’s attention after striking back at the terrorists who had killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Up to 35 Black September and Palestine Liberation Organisation agents were wanted for murder after Operation Wrath of God – immortalised in the film Munich.


The kidon team operated across Europe, assassinating Palestinians using everything from guns to exploding phones.

But the operation went spectacularly wrong when the murder of the man Israel believed to be the ringleader – Ali Hassan Salameh – was badly botched.

Mossad believed they had found him in the small Norwegian town of Lillehammer in July 1973.

They shot a man returning from a movie with his pregnant wife. The victim turned out to be a Moroccan waiter not Salameh. Six Mossad agents, including two women, were captured by Norwegian authorities while the rest of the team fled.

The scandal forced Israeli leader Golda Meir to end Operation Wrath of God. Yet five years later it was revived under orders of new Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

In 1979, a kidon car bomb in Beirut finally killed the real Salameh.

Gordon Thomas spent two-and-a-half years researching his book on the kidon –called Gideon’s Spies – and says the Dubai assassination bears all the hallmarks of a kidon operation.

“There are 48 kidon,” he says. “Six are women and they are all in their 20s and early 30s.

Mr Thomas says any Mossad assassination has to be approved by the Israeli Prime Minister.

“There are very clear rules set down that have to be met for each assassination,” he says. “There is a clear process that has to be pursued.”

The kidon, he says, are spotted early when taking part in compulsory Israeli national service. They are picked out to go into military intelligence and then on for further training as Mossad agents.

Only a few are then chosen to be the executive arm of the intelligence agency.

In the heart of the Negev desert, near the country’s nuclear facility at Dimona, they are taught how to use handguns, bomb making skills, poisons, seduction techniques and how to kill without leaving a trace.

The team have available all the latest intelligence on potential targets, their movements and activities, as relayed to them by Mossad spies around the world. But they are not alone. A system of sayanim – or support agents – provide help on the ground near where the target lives.

Mr Thomas says: “The sayanim can be anywhere around the world. They can rent you a car or own a fast food stall. A sayan will rent a car or pass money to a kidon with no questions asked. Every country has a network of sayanim built from the Jewish community.”

The assassination of al-Mabhouh has thrown an unwanted spotlight on to the workings of Mossad and the kidon and with it pressure that the Israeli government may find uncomfortable.

But it knows that again, it has sent out a message to its enemies abroad.

Dave Kimche, a former deputy head of the agency, said of one assassination carried out by a bomb planted in a telephone. “”We tried not to do things just by shooting a guy in the streets, that’s easy – fairly.

“By putting a bomb in his phone, this was a message that they can be got anywhere, at any time and therefore they have to look out for themselves 24 hours a day.”

A world of lethal spies

DISI Pakistan’s notorious Inter Services Agency supports Islamic extremists in Indian Kashmir, originally backed the Taliban in Afghanistan and is known to abduct and torture enemies.

DMSS China’s Ministry of State Security targets hi-tech firms in the US often using travellers, businessmen and students as spies.

DMOIS Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security has been behind almost 500 acts of terrorism in the past 30 years and murdered a string of dissidents in the 90s.

DCGIB The mission of North Korea’s Cabinet General Intelligence Bureau is to undermine the government of South Korea and gather information on US forces stationed there.

How Mossad killed an Iranian Scientist Part1

Secret CIA Documents on MossadCounterSpy, May-June 1982 pp. 34-54

Intelligence and Security

A.  General

Israel’s principal intelligence and security authority is the Va’adat Rashei Hasherlim (the Committee of the Heads of the Services), generally know as the Va’adat. It coordinates the operations and activities of its members. Mossad Letafkidim Meyouchadim (the Secret Intelligence Service) or Mossad, its common name, has the primary responsibility for foreign operations and is subordinate to the Prime Minister. Sherut Bitachon Kiali (Counterespionage and Internal Security), popularly known as Shin Beth, is responsible for security and is directly subordinate to the Prime Minister. Agaf Modiin (Military Intelligence) has the main responsiblity for strategic militrary intelligence and communications intelligence and is under the command of the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides support in research and political planning to the Israel intelligence community. The Ministry of Interior assists the National Police with police investigations and the maintenance of border security.

1.  Background and development of services

In 1948, when the British Mandate ended, the Jewish population of Palestine established the State of Israel. Among the agencies of government to emerge was the intelligence and security unit known as the Information Service (Sherut Yedioth — popularly known as Shay). This organization, which was the intelligence arm of the Zionists’ underground resistance force, the Haganah, during the years of the British Mandate, had begun to engage in operations on a worldwide scale with the founding of the Jewish Agency in 1929 at the Zionist Congress in Zurich, Switzerland. At that time, the Jewish Agency was composed of both Zionists and non-Zionists, including a strong American participation. The Jewish Agency, which was created to aid and support distressed Jews and to sustain the Palestine Jewish community, has been effectively under Zionist control over the years. It has also served as a cover for Shay, which extended its covert operations into Western Europe and the United States.

From 1923 to 1948, Shay’s objectives were to promote the establishment of an independent State of Israel; infiltrate Mandatory installations in order to apprise Zionist leadership of British attitudes and proposed actions; collect political intelligence that could be used in Zionist propaganda; penetrate Arab and anti-Zionist factions in Palestine and peripheral nations; monitor and control all extremist groups — left and right — among Jewish communities in Palestine and abroad; provide security for the arms smuggling and illegal immigration programs of the Haganah; and finally collect information on Nazi Germany to guarantee the security of the Jewish underground and escape channels throughout Europe before, during, and after World War II.

Shay consisted of the following components: Political Intelligence (Machlakit Medinit); Counterespionage and Internal Security (Sherut Bitachon Klali); Military Intelligence (Sherut Modiin); Police Branch of Military Intelligence (Sherut Modiin Shel MateArtzi); and Naval Intelligence and Security (Sherut Modiin ve Betachon Kohoi Ha Yam). These services worked independently on behalf of the different ministries to which they were individually responsible. This intelligence and security community was competitive and frequently acted on its own, a product of the general postwar chaos which required the accomplishment of many urgent tasks wherever and whenever they might arise. In some of the West European capitals all services were represented and competed for the same agents and sources.

By April 1951, the Prime Minister and cabinet, seriously alarmed by the atmosphere of mutual jealousy and mistrust prevalent among the services at the increasing cost of their uncoordinated efforts in the field, decided to reorganize completely the basic structure of Israel’s intelligence and security community. The dynamic force behind the plan was the late Reuven Shiloah, who reorganized the services according to functions and responsibilities and established a mechanism to coordinate their activities. Shiloah was chairman of this authority, the Committee of the Heads of Services (Va’adat Rashei Hasheruiim, called Va’adat). He integrated the Naval Intelligence and Security Service and the embryonic air intelligence unit into Military Intelligence (Agaf Modiin). The Political Intelligence Service was made independent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and reorganized as the Secret Intelligence Service (Mossad Letafkidim Meyouchadim or Mossad). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs retained Research Division (Machleket Hackeker). Shin Beth remained intact except for internal changes. The Special Tasks Division in the Investigation Department of the police became a part of the new apparatus. Shiloah’s reorganization of the intelligence and security structure produced an efficient and well-coordinated community.

The Israeli intelligence and security services retained this structure relatively unchanged throughout the Arab-Israel War in October-November 1956, the Six-Day War in June 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in Octobeer 1973. During the early and mid-1960s, hovever, the Israeli Goverment had considered changes in the structure and duties of the components of the intelligence and security community. Despite Shiloah’s earlier reorganization, much of what happened in the Israeli services at this time depended on the personal relationships between Ben Gurion and the directors and chiefs. In early 1963, just before his retirement, Ben Gurion appointed a committee to review the situation. He was concerned that the intelligence and security establishment which by virtue of his serving both as Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, usually functioned satisfactorily, might deteriorate when he left office. He also was reported to be dissatisfied with the lack of clarity in the community’s chain of command and functions and ordered the committee to define the subordination and tasks of these bodies.

In July 1963 the committee submitted its report to a new Prime Minister, the late Levi Eshkol. The committee stated that, while the functions of Prime Minister and Minister of Defense did not necessarily have to be concentrated in the hands of one person, the Prime Minister must know about all the activities of the national intelligence and security services and be given objective intelligence evaluations balanced and based on different viewpoints from more than one source. To accomplish these aims the committee recommended that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Research Division be strengthened so that it would be capable of presenting independent political evaluations, both on Middle East issues and other political subjects. By upgrading the Research Division, the committee believed that a certain balance would be created for security and political evaluations, which were handled almost solely by the Military Intelligence Production Department. The committee also observed that the existence of Mossad, which controls secret foreign information gathering assets, facilitated to some extent the possible formulation of another independent evaluation unit. The committee also regarded as a matter of vital importance the appointment of a special adviser, subordinate only to the Prime Minister. He would be a person of high caliber who would aid the Prime Minister in keeping in touch with and monitoring the activities of the intelligence and security services. The committee’s principal recommendations were not implemented at the time except for the extablishment of the adviser position and the shift of responsibility for Shin Beth from the Minister of Defense to the Prime Minister. There was a brief interlude from September 1965 to July 1966 when Isser Harel, the former Chairman of the Va’adat and Director of Mossad, served as a special adviser to Prime Minister Eshkol on intelligence and security matters. Harel resigned as a result of internal policy disputes within the community and he was not replaced at the time.

Following the alleged “intelligence failure” in the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli Governement established the Agranat Commission in November 1973 to investigate matters relating to the hostilities and the performance of the intelligence and security services. The commission in its Partial Report in April 1974 proposed reactivating and strengthening the post of special adviser to the Prime Minister on intelligence and security matters. The commission also recommended changes in the intelligence and security forces through the establishement of a reseach and evaluation unit in Mossad and the elevation of the Research Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The object of this modification was to avoid relying exclusively on Military Intelligence for major estimates and assessments. The commission also emphasized the need for better operational coordination in the field of collection between the services but it opposed the coordination of their finished intelligence judgments. A full or final commission report, if there ever was one, was never made public.

From 1974 to 1976 the recommendations of the Partial Report of The Agranat Commission were implemented. The Prime Minister appointed Reserve General Rehavam Zeevi as his intelligence adviser, a postion that was purely advisory and carried no executive authority. Zeevi assumed this new job in addition to serving as the Prime Minister’s adviser on counterterrorism. Zeevi was also to be the Prime Minister’s liaison with the Director of Military Intelligence and was also to keep the Prime Minister alerted to differences of views among the intelligence and security services. In October 1976, however, Zeevi resigned from this post and was replaced by Brigadier (Ret.) Yehoshafat Harkabi, a former Director of Military Intelligence. The Research and Political Planning Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came into operation in January 1975. Changes in the Military Intelligence structure were being carried out. A new research and evaluation unit for assessing information was established within Mossad. New appointees had taken over in most of the intelligence and security components. In June 1977 the Israeli Goverment established a Ministerial Committee on Security Affairs.

2.  Objectives and structure

The principal targets of the Israeli intelligence and security services are: (1) the Arab states — their capabilities and intentions toward Israel, their relations with the USSR and other powers, their official installations and representatives throughout the world, their leaders, internal and inter-Arab politics, morale, military preparedness and other order of battle; (2) collection of information on secret US policy or decisions, if any, concerning Israel; (3) collection of scientific intelligence in the US and other developed countries; (4) determination of government policy toward Israel in the USSR and East European nations and the problem of Jewish emigration from these areas; (5) close monitoring of anti-Zionist activity throughout the world; and (6) collection of political, and economic intelligence in other areas of interest to them, such as Africa. The Israeli services also make special efforts to counter Arab propaganda and to neutralize anti-Zionist activity. Within recent years the Israelis have devoted much operational activity to combating Arab terrorism, which has grown over the years from isolated cross-border raids by Palestinian Fedayeen to daring and deadly attacks, often international in scope, on Israeli personnel and property. The Israelis also have undertaken widescale covert political, economic and paramilitary action programs — particularly in Africa.

Authorization for foreign intelligence and internal security organizations, while not defined by specific charter, is in Israeli legislation. Paragraph 29 of the Basic Law states: “The Government is authorized to carry out on behalf of the State, in accordance with any law any act whose implementation is not lawfully entrusted to any other authority.” This implies that the goverment is entrusted with the management of intelligence and state security affairs since no other authority is empowered to act in this sphere by any other law. Attempts have been made over the years by officials within the government and the community to have an act passed defining the status of foreign intelligence and security organizations and their operations, but nothing has come of these efforts.

Internal security, on the other hand, is more clearly defined in law. The Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945 (established during the British Mandate), the Military Law of 21 June 1955 and the Penal Revision (State Security) Law of 31 July 1957, the Israeli equivalent of the British Official Secrets Act, all are concerned with internal security. The Emergency Regulations of 1945 gave the military administration the power to arrest and deport troublesome elements and to designate certain locations as “closed areas,” thus requiring local inhabitants to possess travel permits to transit such places. While the regulations originally applied to both Jews and Arabs in Palestine, they are now used largely to monitor the Arab community in Israel. Administration of the regulations was transferred from the military to the police in 1966. Internal security organs reportedly increased their agent activity to meet this responsibility.

Israeli laws require severe punishment ranging from the death penalty or life imprisonment for treason or assistance to the “enemy,” to terms of incarceration from three to 15 years for espionage, contact with foreign agents, aiding and abetting a crime against state security and unauthorized disclosure of information by a public servant. There is no statute of limitations regarding the unauthoized disclosure of classified information.

The central body in Israel’s intelligence and security community is the Va’adat, which has as its primary function the coordination of all intelligence and secrurity activities at home and abroad. The Va’adat consists of the Director of Mossad, the Director of Military Intelligence, the Director of Shin Beth, the Inspector General of Police, the Director General of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Director of Research and Political Planning Center of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the political, military, intelligence and antiterrorist advisers of the Prime Minister. The Head of the Special Tasks Division in the Investigations Department of the Police also occasionally attends the meetings with, or in place of, the Inspector General of Police. Meetings must be held biweekly but may be held more frequently. At these meetings each director usually provides a briefing on the key activitiies of his service during the preceding two weeks. The Director of Mossad chairs Va’adat and in this capacity is directly responsible to the Prime Minister. The members of Va’adat are quasi-equal in status and the term memune referring to the Director of Mossad as chairman is designed to denote a concept of preeminence among equals. In actuality, however, the Director of Military Intelligence now overshadows the Director of Mossad in power and importance. This development resulted from the continuing Israeli reliance on military preparedness for national survival.

Mossad is charged with the collection of foreign intelligence and the conduct of covert action programs outside Israel.

Shin Beth is responsible for counterintelligence and internal security. It functions as the governmental authority on personnel security matters. It is also responsible for the personal safety of the Prime Minister and other high ranking Israeli officials. Shin Beth is in charge of physical security for ports, airports and key military/industrial installations in Israel and for Israeli missions and El Al operations outside Israel. Shin Beth does not have the power of arrest, this function being performed by the Special Tasks Division of the Investigations Department of the Police, which works in close collaboration with Shin Beth in Israel. Within the Administered Territories, which are controlled by the Israeli Defense Forces, Shin Beth applies to the military to undertake arrests and searches. A special component under the Inspector General of Police is the Border Guard, whose mission is that of guarding the cease-fire lines against Arab infiltration and of detecting and running down Fedayeen terrorists. In recent years Border guard units have been used increasingly to control and suppress riots and demonstrations in the West Bank area.

Military Intelligence, in additon to its responsibility for strategic and tactical intelligence, prepares the national intelligence estimates and evaluates all information dealing with the Arabs. It also is responsible for developing and protecting communication codes and ciphers for all the services and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and for communications intelligence.

The Research and Political Planning Center, which was formerly the Research Division of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, analyzes raw intelligence from various sources for officials on the policy making level.

Other Israeli governement organizations that provide support to the intelligence and security community are the Ministries of Finance (Customs and Excise, Investment and Securities) and Tourism, the national airline, El Al, and the national shipping line, Zim. Unofficial Zionist organizations based in Israel and Jewish communities throughout the world also give aid to Israeli operations when needed.

There are between 1,500 and 2,000 personnel in Mossad, of whom about 500 are officers. Shin Beth has about 1,000 members of whom some 550 hold officer rank. In Military Intelligence there are about 7,000 personnel, of whom 450 are officers, the others being enlisted personnel and civilian clerks. The number of officials in the Research and Political Planning Center of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs ranges between 75 and 100. The police number about 12,000 and the Border Guards around 6,000.

Since the financing of the intelligence and security services is a closely held secret, it is very difficult to get accurate information on the total amounts expended for these purposes. The funds are concealed in the defense budget, and known to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, one or two of their top assistants, the Minster of Finance, the State Comptroller and his Defense Services Inspectorate. The Comptroller deals directly with the directors of the services, who request funds at the beginning of the fiscal year in April. The estimates of expenses by the directors, who have established reputations for honesty and integrity are usually acceptable as a starting point for budget negotiaions. The Ministry of Finance however, does require a 10-year projection of expended financial needs (an impossible task which is not taken seriously). The Comptroller holds a series of meetings with the various service directors and their staffs, reviewing their programs in detail. These sessions continue throughout May and result in a careful redefinition of the entire intelligence and secrurity effort and its cost. By October, the determination of specific budget needs is completed, based on the program analysis completed in May. This is then submitted for higher approval and the planning and budgeting cycle is, upon budget approval, completed just in time to begin again.

Much of the administrative support for the services is handled by the Ministry for Defense. Various types of cover are provided for and funded by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). There is close professional cooperation between the civilian intelligence and security services and military intelligence. These services, like all goverment offices, are subject to inspection by the State Comptroller’s office. An Assistant Director-General is in charge of inspecting the defense and security services, the Ministry for Foreign affairs, and the police. The annual inspection covers bookkeeping, financial management and handling of administration. The Comptroller is required to see that the services are operating economically, efficiently and with irreproachable morality.

Israeli governmental offices and departments are continuously borrowing money, personnel, equipment and material from one another and salaries are paid by the office to which the individual is assigned. An intelligence officer or a Ministry for Foreign Affairs official stationed in New York and assigned to the Jewish Agency is paid salary and allowances by the Agency but loses neither seniority nor retirement status while serving in that capacity.

3.  Political Aspects

3a.  Relationship Between the Government and the Services

The intellligence and security community enjoys a strong position in the government, and their affairs are well integrated into more general operations. Members of the generation which worked for the establishment of the state were companions of longstanding and joint veterans of such enterprises as illegal immigration and arms-running. Many of the current leaders came up through the ranks of the military in a series of wars with the Arabs and entered politics through affiliation with one of the major political parties. All of them had some experience in clandestine matters and have been personally convinced by stern lessons of the value of good intelligence and security.

The intelligence and security services receive excellent support from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Many senior diplomats are former intelligence officers and therefore conversant with intelligence problems and operations. With their experienced observations and manifold talents, they serve as valuable auxiliaries to their covert colleagues, whose diplomatic cover is diligently sustained by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, almost every Israeli diplomat abroad has good foreign language and area knowledge or some specialization which enables him to pursue a much broader social life, with its resultant contacts, than is the case in most foreign services. In many instances, embassy officers, including chiefs of diplomatic missions, were former citizens of the countries to which they are accredited. Information developed by Israeli diplomats is made available to the intelligence and security community for immediate use of operational intelligence or inclusion in archives. As a final boon to covert intelligence personnel, the vigor and variety of a normal Israeli diplomat’s life outside his installation usually renders detection of intelligence officers by the host country extremely difficult. The same kind of effective support regarding operations is given by the Ministry of Defense and the Jewish Agency.

The Israeli intelligence and security services play an important role throughout the government and private sector. Many leaders in both the civil service and industry have at some time in their careers been directly or indirectly involved with the intelligence community. Service assignments are not regarded as the end of a career, as persons with intelligence and security backgrounds frequently are selected for other jobs in the government. Thus the services are supplemented by persons who know and continue to relate their missions to intelligence and security responsibilities, in senior posts in both the public and private sectors. Officially, the services are nonpolitical and members of the community are not encouraged to enroll in any party or engage in political activity. The Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee of Knesset is normally the government’s point of discussion for the review and resolution of sensitive policies and activities. The Director of Mossad and the Director of Shin Beth are often present at sessions which are of concern to them.

The Mossad’s secret wars

Spy agency hailed for being Israel’s “first line of defence” but condemned for acts abroad.

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The Mossad has built itself a formidable reputation for killing enemies of Israel [AFP]

For more than half a century, the Mossad has been blamed for numerous killings around the world, and is often at the centre of conspiracy theories, including those surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 1998 Lockerbie bombing and the 911 attacks in the US.While some of its actions have been celebrated within Israel, the organisation has at times come under criticism for disrespecting the sovereignty of other nations and has been accused of violating international law.

The Mossad was established in 1951 by David Ben-Gurion, the then prime minister of newly-formed Israel, who set out that the intelligence apparatus would provide the “first line of defence” at a time when Israel, he said, was “under siege by its enemies”.

It eventually adopted a verse from the Book of Proverbs: “Without guidance do a people fall, and deliverance is in a multitude of counsellors” as both a motto and a warning to its enemies.

While the secretive organisation forms one of three intelligence entities – Shin Bet (internal security) and military intelligence are the other two – its director reports directly to the prime minister.

Sovereignty violations

David Ben-Gurion called the Mossad Israel’s first line of defence

Mossad has built itself a formidable reputation, not only through suspected assassinations but also successful rescue operations and intelligence missions, such as the freeing of 100 hostages at Entebbe airport in Uganda in 1976.The first notable victory came in 1960, when its agents kidnapped Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal living in Argentina, who was then smuggled into Israel where he was tried and executed two years later.

While Eichmann’s capture propelled Ben-Gurion to receive a standing ovation in Israel’s Knesset, Argentina complained to the United Nations that its sovereignty had been violated.

Subsequently the UN Security Council passed a resolution saying that such acts, if repeated, could endanger international peace and security.

But such acts were repeated and the UN Security Council’s resolution could not prevent Israeli intelligence agents from operating on foreign soil again.

Operation Wrath of God

During the 1970s, Mossad agents assassinated a number of people said to be connected with the Black September group, which had killed 11 Israeli athletes and a coach at the 1972 Munich Olympic games.

The so-called Operation Wrath of God, which aimed to hunt down those responsible for the attacks, began with the killing of Wael Zwaiter, a Palestinian translator living in Rome, whom Israel accused of being a Black September commander.

Although his supporters say he was an intellectual with no conclusive links to the Black September group, Zwaiter was shot dead by agents as he walked home late on the evening of October 16, 1972.

Mahmoud Hamshari, who Israel said was the head of Black September in France, was killed by a bomb that was detonated after he picked up the phone in his Paris apartment in December 1972.

Nearly one year later Israeli agents targeted Ahmed Bouchiki, a Moroccan waiter working in Lillehammer, Norway, who Mossad had confused with Ali Hassan Salameh, one of the Black September leaders.

He was shot dead in front of his pregnant wife as they emerged from a cinema on July 21, 1973.

When the Mossad agents tried to leave the country, six of them were arrested and sentenced to prison terms in Norway.

Ali Hassan Salameh was eventually tracked down by the organisation and killed by a car bomb in Beirut, Lebanon in January 1979, which reportedly killed eight other people.

Palestinians have always claimed, however, that many of those assassinated in Operation Wrath of God were not involved with Black September and were instead advocates of dialogue with Israel.


Nevertheless, the Mossad continued to carry out high-profile assassinations, including the killing of Abu Jihad, the PLO military chief in Tunisia in 1988, and Fathi Shaqaqi, an Islamic Jihad leader in Malta in 1995.

Due to its secretive nature and policy of “ambiguity”, it has not admitted to a number of operations believed by many to have been carried out by its agents.

Gerald Bull, a Canadian scientist who developed the “Super Gun” for Iraq, is commonly believed to have been killed by the Mossad at his Brussels apartment in March 1990.

In 1996, Yahya Ayyash, a Hamas bomb-maker known as “The Engineer”, was killed in the Gaza Strip by a booby-trapped mobile phone in an operation also attributed to the spy agency.

In September 2004, Syria blamed Mossad for the death of Izz El-Deen Sheikh Khalil, a member of Hamas, who was killed in a booby-trapped car in Damascus.


Meshaal survived the Mossad assassination attempt and is currently in Syria [AFP]

But Mossad’s brilliant successes are also balanced out by its embarrassing failures.In 1954, Israeli agents in Egypt planted bombs in cinemas, trendy cafés, and US-owned installation where foreigners were known to frequent. The hope had been that the violence would undermine the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser and stall the withdrawal of British troops from the Sinai.

But the Egyptians got wind of the plot and arrested many Israeli agents, leading to the eventual resignation of Pinhas Lavon, the then Israeli defence minister. The operation – and debacle – came to be called the Lavon Affair.

On September 24, 1997, two Mossad operatives carrying Canadian passports entered Jordan under orders from Binyamin Netanyahu, the then Israeli prime minister, to assassinate Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas political leader.

The two agents were caught after injecting poison into Meshaal’s ear the next day. A furious King Hussein at the time demanded that Israel hand over the antidote and the three-year peace treaty with Jordan looked set to unravel.

After US intervention, Netanyahu apologised to the Jordanian king, handed over the antidote and released Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, another key Hamas leader, in exchange for the two Mossad agents in Jordanian custody.

The botched attempt became the Mossad’s most high-profile failure: Relations with Canada were strained once it was learned its passports were used in the operation; the US was displeased with the apparent setback in peace talks, and Israel was forced to release a wanted Hamas leader it would later assassinate in 2004.

In a 2008 interview with Al JazeeraDanny Yatom, the head of the Mossad in 1997, defended his decision to assassinate Meshaal.

Meshaal continues to lead Hamas from Damascus, Syria.

The Mossad is now again under scrutiny over its alleged role in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas figure found dead in a Dubai hotel in January this year.

Its alleged use of British and other European passports has strained ties with London, Paris, Dublin and Berlin.

Smuggling Jews

The Mossad is involved in non-military operations as well. In 1938, a precursor to the modern organisation began smuggling Jews into Palestine, in violation of the British mandate there.

According to the Mossad website, the organisation “brings Jews home from countries were official Aliya agencies are not allowed to operate”. In 1992, the Mossad evacuated hundreds of Bosnian Jews from besieged Sarajevo.

The current head of the Mossad is Meir Dagan, a former commander of a commando unit, who served in the Israeli army during the 1967 and 1973 wars, and in the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Source: Al Jazeera

Over many years, it has been an open secret in the Middle East that Israel and Jordan have quietly cooperated on a host of covert projects. And so, diplomats here say, King Hussein was not surprised on Sept. 25 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to ask that he immediately meet Israel’s chief spymaster.

Danni Yatom, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, was a frequent, if unheralded, visitor to Amman, according to the diplomats. The King assumed he would be discussing a new peace overture relating to Hamas, the radical Palestinian Islamic group, which had taken responsibility for two devastating suicide-bombings in Jerusalem over the summer.

Mr. Yatom had considerably grimmer news to convey, according to an account of his meeting provided by Israeli and Jordanian officials. Only three or four hours earlier, he told the King, an Israeli operation to assassinate Khaled Meshal, a Hamas political figure, had gone awry on the streets of Amman. Two Israeli agents posing as Canadian visitors were in a Jordanian jail and Mr. Yatom wanted the King’s cooperation in getting them freed.

No one in Jordan had thought to inform the King about the attack because the situation on the ground was still confused. But a great many people had seen the confused brawl, and word about it was spreading.

Mr. Yatom’s pre-emptive disclosure and plea for help exploded in Israel’s hands: They brought Israel’s relationship with Jordan to its lowest point since the Persian Gulf crisis of 1990-91, ruptured the decades-old covert intelligence relationship and, King Hussein has said publicly, threatened to scuttle the entire peace process.

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The damage to Israel’s vaunted spy service has been particularly acute. Not only was Israel forced to disclose information about what it said was a new assassination technique — believed to be based on a synthetic opiate called Fentanyl — but more importantly, for several years the Mossad spy agency had been quietly allowed to keep an office in Amman, and now Jordan has thrown it out.

Jordanians who are close to the King say he was aghast at Mr. Yatom’s news, and rejected his plea out of hand. ”He felt he had been stabbed in the back,” said a participant in the high-stakes diplomacy that followed. ”He was furious.”

As the ruler of a country with a restive Palestinian majority, Jordanians and diplomats who dealt with him at that time said, the King felt he had done more than any other Arab leader to help his Israeli neighbors.

His intelligence service had worked closely and secretly with Israel and the West, sometimes at considerable risk. The lines of communication to Mossad had been kept open through many turbulent years. More than any other Arab leader, he had sought to deepen the three-year-old peace with Israel far beyond, say, Israel’s cold peace with Egypt.

And yet, Israel had dispatched assassins to his capital for a killing in broad daylight with a mysterious chemical — an act that risked undermining the King’s legitimacy and that of his Hashemite dynasty as the guarantors of peace and stability in the kingdom.

More than that, the King was now being asked to help Israel escape the consequences.

”What the Israelis did touched an extremely sensitive spot in the King’s psyche,” said Radwan Abdullah, a respected political scientist. ”It seemed as if it was was a challenge to the King personally.”

Netanyahu Makes A Late-Night Flight

Interviews with diplomats, Jordanian and Israeli officials and witnesses to the bungled assassination provide a much fuller picture than hitherto publicized of Mossad’s most embarrassing public failure in decades — one in which the fallout for Israel has been enormous.

Immediately after the attack, the King ordered Mossad to close its base of operations here, and he has expelled the two or three agents who worked out of the Israeli Embassy with Jordanian permission, according to Israeli officials and diplomats.

According to Jordanian officials, the agents were on permanent station here, though their presence was never publicly acknowledged. Their job was to maintain contact with the Jordanian security service to prevent any of Israel’s Arab adversaries from using Jordan as a launch pad or transit route for terrorism. This was in Jordan’s own interest, since such attacks could draw reprisals onto Jordan itself.

According to Jordanian and Israeli officials, Mr. Netanyahu was obliged to fly here in the middle of the night four days after the attack to assume blame and apologize to the King’s brother, Crown Prince Hassan. King Hussein refused to meet him.

Only when Israel provided a full accounting of how the attack had been carried out did the King agree to discuss the release of a reported eight Mossad agents who came from Israel to carry out the attack — the two who were in jail, four who were holed up in the Israeli embassy and two more cornered at the Intercontinental Hotel, according to diplomats.

The days of wrangling drew in President Clinton as a major mediator, and Israel was eventually forced to release Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the Hamas movement. Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu came under strong American pressure to release additional scores of Hamas prisoners because the King was threatening a total breach of relations, the closure of the Israeli Embassy and a public trial by military court of the two Israeli agents, according to participants in the negotiations.

”Did we get to the brink?” said Crown Prince Hassan in an interview at the Royal Palace last Sunday. ”Yes, we got to the brink.”

The exact nature of the toxin used to attack Mr. Meshal, who now appears fully recovered, is a closely-guarded secret here and in Israel. But according to accounts by people closely involved in the subsequent arm-twisting, who insisted on anonymity, Israel eventually told Jordan that the assailants had used a high-tech and previously unknown delivery system to blast a fatal overdose of a synthetic opiate called Fentanyl through his skin.

The delivery system remains a mystery: Jordanian officials insist that no device was found, and diplomats were left to speculate that it was perhaps some form of miniaturized gas canister that the assailants abandoned in a getaway car whose driver sped off after the assailants jumped out. The drug is in wide use in anesthesiology, usually in small controlled doses to control pain. But it is said to be 50 to 100 times more powerful by weight than morphine and an overdose is usually fatal, according to doctors in Europe.

An Offer to Mediate And Then the Attack

According to those physicians, the drug can be given orally, by injection or through the skin in what is called transdermal delivery. The body metabolizes it quickly — meaning that traces of it in Mr. Meshal would likely have dispersed rapidly.

Mr. Netanyahu is thought to have authorized the operation in reprisal for a Hamas suicide-bombing in Jerusalem on July 30 that killed 16 Israelis. His rationale was that, as an Israeli statement put it, Mr. Meshal was ”the pre-eminent figure in Hamas and responsible for the murder of innocent Israeli civilians.” Yet, by many Jordanian and Western accounts, Mr. Meshal limits his activities to what a diplomat called low-level ”propaganda and rhetoric,” and it is the Hamas military wing based in Damascus that is held responsible for planning suicide bombings.

The timing also seemed odd. Only two days before the attempt, Jordan transmitted to Israel what it described as an offer to mediate with Hamas for a moratorium on suicide bombings, according to diplomats and King Hussein himself in a speech last week.

According to Hamas and Jordanian officials, moreover, Hamas officials here operate under tight control by Jordan’s pervasive intelligence service, whose principal task is to insure that Jordan is not used as a launch pad for terrorism.

Nonetheless, in mid-September eight Mossad agents infiltrated Jordan, at least two of them with forged Canadian passports, according to diplomats.

At 10 A.M. on Thursday, Sept. 25, the two assigned to carry out the hit moved into position around Mr. Meshal’s suburban home and tailed him in their green Hyundai rental car, according to accounts pieced together from interviews with Hamas, Jordanian and Israeli officials, diplomats, witnesses and Mr. Meshal himself. Four more Mossad agents were deployed around Mr. Meshal’s office, either as drivers or as lookouts, diplomats said. And two — one a doctor carrying an antidote known as Narcan or Naloxone, in case the attack misfired — holed up at the Intercontinental Hotel.

When the Hamas official arrived outside his office building, according to Mr. Meshal’s driver, who spoke on condition of anonymity, a man advanced toward Mr. Meshal and then lunged toward the area around his left ear. The Mossad agent’s hand, the driver said, was wrapped in a white bandage, with a small lead-colored protuberance in the palm.

”I felt a loud noise in my ear,” Mr. Meshal said in an interview at a Hamas house here. ”It was like a boom, like an electric shock. Then I had shivering sensation in my body like an electric shock.”

Within two hours he had begun to vomit and was heading for respiratory collapse. According to Ismael el-Faridi, a clothing store owner who saw the attack, the two Israelis ran off after a struggle with the driver and with Mr. Meshal’s bodyguard, Mohammed Abu Saif, 30.

In interviews published in Arabic-language newspapers, Mr. Abu Saif said he pursued the Israelis on foot some 200 yards to their Hyundai, which started moving even before the two agents leaped in.

At that point, Mr. Abu Saif said, he kept up the chase by flagging down a taxi. Within half a mile, the Israelis left the Hyundai and traveled on foot across a vacant lot. Mr. Abu Saif said he ran them to ground and wrestled one down an embankment. People gathered, one of them a plain-clothes officer, and the Israelis were arrested. Four other members of the Mossad backup team fled to the heavily-guarded Israeli Embassy, Israeli officials have acknowledged.

The messy end of the assassination attempt, though, was only the beginning of four days of high-stakes diplomacy and arm-twisting. The initial focus was Mr. Meshal’s ever-worsening condition.

For two days, King Hussein insisted that if Mr. Meshal died — or if Israel did not identify the substance used in the attack — there would be reprisals including the closure of Israel’s embassy and a public trial for the two captured agents.

Israeli officials still stonewalled. Only after King Hussein called President Clinton for help two days after the attack did Israel agree to identify the drug it used, according to Jordanian officials. Mr. Meshal has said he began recovering on Sept. 27.

But the crisis was far from over: there was the issue of the captured Israelis and the price King Hussein would exact for their release.

The Apology: ‘Most Bizarre’

Speaking through intermediaries, King Hussein insisted angrily on Sunday, Sept. 28, that the captured agents could be put on trial unless Israel released Sheik Yassin and 60 or 70 Hamas prisoners.

”Netanyahu was categorically opposed,” said a participant in the talks. But Washington was pressing for the crisis to be defused. By late Sunday the deal began to take shape.

Sheik Yassin was flown to Jordan on Oct. 1, after serving eight years of a life sentence for conspiring to kidnap Israeli soldiers. He returned in triumph to the Gaza strip.

Under strong Jordanian and American pressure, Mr. Netanyahu also committed himself to freeing scores more Hamas adversaries. In return, Jordan allowed the Mossad operatives to leave the country.

Finally, there was the apology. At 1:30 A.M. on Sept. 29, Prime Minister Netanyahu arrived in Amman to apologize and pledge that the attempt would not be repeated, Jordanian officials and Western diplomats said. King Hussein sent his brother to meet him. ”It was one of the most bizarre things that ever happened to me,” Crown Prince Hassan said.

The New York Times

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