When it comes to covert operations, no group – not the CIA or MI6 – strikes more fear into enemies of the state like Israeli’s Mossad. Highly skilled and ruthless toward their evil-wishers, the Mossad has been associated with a number of public, failed operations over the years, as the CIA has been. But, as many may have suspected, there have been far more operations carried out by Mossad successfully, meaning that the general public has little to no inkling of Israeli special forces participation in countless global ‘events’. That’s exactly how Mossad wants it.
Now, an Israeli investigative journalist is about to publish a book that relies on former members of Mossad and other knowledgeable officials to reveal some of the association’s most startling plans. While some came to fruition and others did not, certain plots are often startling in the extent to which Mossad values the elimination of a high-value target over consideration of collateral damage.
Excerpts from Ronen Bergman’s soon-to-be-released book, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations which were published in the New York Times reveal secrets of Mossad that will startle even those who have researched the many rumored operations of the most effective, offensive-minded covert agency on the planet.
Mossad’s government home page cannot even be accessed, as those who try find only Hebrew text for what can be assumed to mean, essentially, ‘no comment’. Short for HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuḥadim, Mossad is essentially a far more militarily capable version of the CIA. Over the years, it’s been clear that untimely, unnatural deaths of certain individuals who were perceived or assured of being threats to the state of Israel have been logically tied to one agency: Mossad. The list in deaths to which the public has assumed Israeli involvement is not short.
‘The murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh at an upmarket Dubai hotel in 2010; the killing of Gerald Bull, a Canadian scientist, on his doorstep in Brussels in 1990; the honeytrap set for Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu in Rome in 1986; the death of Ben Zygier in Israel’s most secure prison two years ago. The connection between all these cases is that they are thought to have involved Mossad, Israel’s secret service, which is charged with protecting Jews the world over.’ (The Independent)
But, it’s also thought that over the years they have become increasingly skilled at covering their tracks. Though many connections seem so overt as to lead right to Mossad, there are countless others that have gone unnoticed. The fact that anti-Israeli leaders primarily in the Middle East blame the nation’s ‘Zionists’ for virtually every untimely death that befalls their leadership makes it hard to separate erroneous accusations from credible ones.
Which is why the book from Ronen Bergman is already a hot seller despite having not been released. These are confirmed accounts of Mossad plans, both fulfilled and unfulfilled, many of which were provided by former agents, some brave enough to put their names on them. The NYT excerpt alone leaves an indelible impression: Mossad puts more weight on preemptively acting in Israel’s interest than the potential negative fallout of those actions. This has meant straddling, and sometimes crossing, the lines that many define as the laws of war.
One of the most breathtaking accounts contained in the excerpt: that in 1982, future PM and then-Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon ordered Mossad to shoot down a transport aircraft carrying the man that would go on to become the staunchly anti-Israel leader of Palestine, Yasir Arafat. At the time was chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. What Sharon didn’t know, was that the man they were targeting wasn’t Yasir Arafat at all.
‘The radar on the F-15s picked up the blip of the transport plane, a DHC-5 Buffalo, 370 miles into Mediterranean airspace. The fighters closed rapidly. They read the tail number, saw the blue-and-brown markings. They were positive they’d found the right plane.
The lead pilot keyed his radio. “Do we have permission to engage?”
All eyes were on the commanding officer. Everyone expected an order to open fire…
The go-ahead to shoot down the plane and the passenger it was carrying had come from the minister of defense, Ariel Sharon. Their job — Ivry’s job — was to eliminate targets, not select them.’
But it was Gen. David Ivry whose conscious got the best of him, and I mean best in the very literal sense, who stopped the near-certain deaths of what was likely 43 other people on that DHC-5 Buffalo, a vessel which has a capacity of 41 ‘troops’, two pilots and a crew chief. Now, the chance that these other passengers had some ties to the anti-Israeli P.L.O. would have been high considering that they were thought to be riding alongside Arafat. However, there is also a very good chance that most of them had wives and children, something that cannot be minimized.
That is, if Yasir Arafat were even on that plane.
“Negative,” [Ivry] told the pilot. “I repeat: Negative on opening fire.” (NYT via Bergman)
The excerpt is meant to show the Mossad’s singular focus even in light of significant collateral damage, but also details the caution with which men like Gen. Ivry operated, vetting pilots thoroughly and emphasizing never to take action without his explicit order, an order that would be based upon absolute certainty that the target being eliminated was the intended one.
The passage also goes on to illustrate the fallibility of Mossad intelligence.
As it would turn out, Ivry’s caution was warranted. He saw no reason for Arafat to be flying to Cairo, especially on a slow transport plane not fit for a man of Arafat’s position. As it turns out, it was Arafat’s younger brother, a pediatrician, who was the man that Mossad agents had mistaken for the chairman of the P.L.O. Also inside the plane were 30 wounded Palestinian children, who Fathi Arafat was accompanying to Cairo for medical treatment.
This story is both an endorsement of Mossad’s higher leadership and an indictment of its general tactics, which – should they go awry – can result in completely unjustifiable disaster that would be qualified by most as a slaughter.
Though we can’t judge any military operatives by civilian standards, this is especially true for Mossad. They are particularly aggressive in their tactics for understandable reasons. Perpetually vilified and under attack as the ethnic outlier in the region, any sense of paranoia that may be gleaned from Mossad’s offensive tactics is understandable, even if one does not warrant them justifiable in every instance.
Mossad tactics are epitomized by one quote which Israelis attribute to the Babylonian Talmud: “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.”
The covert military decisions that have led to targeted strikes are largely based on this principle, but it is also an at-times divisive principle that can lead to crises of conscience. These moral conflicts are what led many of Bergman’s sources to speak to him about their time in or associated with Mossad.
The story surrounding the DHC-5 Buffalo that Arafat turned out not to be in illustrates Mossad’s dedication to striking at the heart of their enemies before they have the chance to strike first. They were never able to kill Arafat before his death from natural causes in 2004, but it was not for lack of trying. Fortunately, that trying did not include shooting down an airplane full of wounded children, but it is this strike-first mentality that Israel must operate upon, in their minds, to survive as a nation.
And that means that sometimes, things are going to get ugly.