If one were to take a poll asking which of the world’s intelligence agencies would make the top-10 list, most, if not all respondents would include Israel’s HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuḥadim—the Israeli Mossad. Shrouded in mystery, much of what is known about the Mossad is based on speculation and the occasional news story. But every once in a while, a book comes along that sheds some light on the agency.
I recently had the chance to read Mossad, written by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal, and this book certainly helps to lift the shroud from a historical perspective. While it does little to reveal Mossad’s modern techniques and tactics (as well it shouldn’t), it is full of stories of Mossad missions, both successes and failures, from its inception through today.
The book is of a good size, totaling 339 pages plus bibliographies and sources. It also contains some photos to go with many of the stories. Published in 2012, the book’s introduction briefly touches on the November 12, 2011 destruction of a secret long-range missile base outside of Tehran, Iran. Killed in the explosion was General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the so-called “father of the infamous Shebab long-range missile.” But according to the authors, the real target was a solid-fuel rocket, able to carry a payload more than 6,000 miles.
Bar-Zohar and Mishal used extensive research and interviews to give life to the stories, and in my opinion that sets it apart from other books. In one story, the authors interviewed Ze’ev Avni. Avni was a career diplomat who claimed to want to be a Mossad agent so badly that he demanded and received a meeting with the Mossad chief at the time, Isser Harel.
During the meeting, Avni not only made a request to become an agent, but also pushed his agenda to have a Mossad station opened in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, which he had been pestering anyone who would listen about since his posting there. Harel refused, but after talking with Avni and asking him a few questions, agreed to meet with him in a few days to discuss his future with Mossad.
When he arrived at the apartment where he’d been instructed to meet Harel, Avni was escorted into a room completely bare except for two chairs and a desk. Without warning, Harel exploded in a rage, screaming in Avni’s face, “You are a Soviet spy! Admit your guilt! Confess!” Almost without hesitation, Avni muttered, “I confess…I work for the Russians.”
He was tried and sentenced to 14 years in prison (he was released after nine), but what he did not know at the time was that, had he held out for a bit, if he had denied being a mole, he could have walked away scot-free. Harel had not a shred of evidence against Avni, but had acted on pure intuition and suspicion. He had heard rumor that Avni was a communist sympathizer in his younger days, but he had no other information. He took a gamble and caught a spy.
This is just one of the many stories that “Mossad” tells, and while I am sure that there are so many that were not told, the ones provided read like something out of a movie. Many people are familiar with the story of the Mossad capture of Nazi war criminal and SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann. But most do know the details behind the capture, including the fact that Eichmann was inadvertently ratted out by his own son, who bragged to a girl that his father had served in the Wehrmacht (German Armed Forces), had done his duty to “the Fatherland,” and that the Final Solution should have been completed with the destruction of all Jews. He had no idea that the girl was in fact, Jewish.
By the end of the book, readers will have a better understanding for the history of one of the world’s premier intelligence agencies. Not everyone would agree with their methodology, but anyone who reads the book would likely agree that they are effective – Mossad is a pretty good testimony to that.
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