What if you found out that the luxury hotel where you booked yourself for that surfing vacation turned out to be a spy den? It would be pretty challenging to achieve that today due to the presence of the internet and websites like Yelp, making it kind of hard to pop out a beach resort without arranging that internet presence. Fortunately for the Israeli Secret Service, the internet was not a thing yet when they had to run a fake luxury beach resort in Sudan as a front for their task of smuggling thousands of Jewish refugees into Ethiopia.

Mossad Agents on the Move

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Israeli secret service agents were tasked to smuggle thousands of Jewish refugees from Ethiopia to Israel. These Beta Israelis, as they were called, were stranded in Sudan, a Muslim-majority nation hostile to the Israel people since Sudan and Israel were enemies then. Due to the same reason, the Israeli agents, called Mossad agents, also had to keep their identities hidden. With that, they had to keep their operation covert and come up with a convincing front so their activities would not raise suspicions among the Sudanese people.

As published in the People’s Daily newspaper,

A couple of Mossad guys went down to Sudan looking for possible landing beaches. They just stumbled across this deserted village on the coast, in the middle of nowhere. For us it was a godsend. If we could get hold of this place and do it up, we could say we’re running a diving village, which would give us a reason for being in Sudan and furthermore for roaming around near the beach.

Members of the Mossad team in the Sudan desert. (Credit: Courtesy of Gad Shimron via haaretz.com)

Arous on the Red Sea

In 1972, the Sudanese International Tourist Corporation built a tourist village on Sudan’s east coast. The paradise was composed of 15 bungalows, a kitchen, and a dining room that directly opened to a beach and the Red Sea. However, the vacation place never opened because they could not provide electricity, water supply, or road toward it.

This became the perfect place for the Mossad agents who pretended to be employed by a Swiss company and managed to close an agreement to rent the village for $320,000. They were also able to arrange the electricity and water supply, have air conditioning units smuggled, and water sports gear, completing their diving resort guise.

To make things even more convincing, they created brochures showcasing the village’s “attractive, air-conditioned bungalows with fully-equipped bathrooms,” their meals, and their variety of water sports equipment available for rent.

The Mossad agents posed as managers while the others were employees. To not raise suspicions, they also hired fifteen community members as staff. None of them had a clue about the resort where they worked as a spy hub. They also accepted real visitors to the resort, like British SAS troops, Egyptian soldiers, Sudanese government officials, and foreign diplomats.

One Mossad agent who worked at the resort told BBC, “We introduced windsurfing to Sudan. The first board was brought in — I knew how to windsurf, so I taught the guests. Other Mossad agents posed as professional diving instructors.”

Gad Shimron, a Mossad agent who worked at the resort, told the BBC,

We introduced windsurfing to Sudan. The first board was brought in — I knew how to windsurf, so I taught the guests. Other Mossad agents posed as professional diving instructors… By comparison to the rest of Sudan, we offered Hilton-like standards, and it was such a beautiful place, it really looked like something out of the Arabian Nights. It was unbelievable.

Mossad agents (in the background) at Arous with boats used for guests and smuggling Jews. (RAFFI BERG/BBC)

The diving storeroom was restricted to the guests, as it contained the radios the agents used to communicate with their headquarters in Tel Aviv. Usually, the Mossad agents would conduct their rescue operations at night, with the alibi that they would be out of town for a few days. In reality, they were driving to the refugee camp where the Beta Israelis were, transporting them back to a beach near Arous. The Jewish refugees would then be transferred to the Israeli Navy special forces, who would take them to a waiting navy ship and back to the Israel territory.

End of the Fake Paradise

The end of the fake paradise was when the operations almost got busted. With that, Israel decided to send jets instead of ships to make the operation more covert. In 1985, the agents finally abandoned the resort when the Sudan government began to search the whole country for Israeli spies. They left by midnight without even bothering to devise an alibi for the local employees or the guests.

They would have woken up and found themselves alone in the desert… The local staff were there, but no-one else — the diving instructor, the lady manager and so on, all the Caucasians had disappeared.

All in all, the Mossad agents transported about 7,000 Beta Israelis to Israel. Arous Resort was now an abandoned place, a remnant of an operation it was once part of.