Back in mid-July, Efraim Halevy, the former head of Israel’s Mossad (short for HaMossad le Modi in ule Tafkidim Meyu adim, or “Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations”) participated in a radio interview on National Public Radio. The topic of the talk was the infamous nuclear deal with Iran that has been making the news and causing such a stir.
What made this interview unique—and disturbing for some in the Israeli government—was that for the first time in the media, a high-ranking (albeit former) official has shown support for the deal. But given Israel’s historical tendency to not give a damn about world opinion and to use any means at its disposal, including the alleged use of targeted killings, to protect the nation, might they opt to use the “extreme option” to outmaneuver the Iran nuclear deal?
The Israeli government, although historically quite vocal in its pledge to defend its citizens by any means necessary, has been secretive about what those means are. One of the rumored methods that has long endured is the use of targeted killings—assassinations—to both thwart nefarious plots and to mete justice to those who have kidnapped, maimed, or killed Israeli citizens. If the allegations are true, Israel took the gloves off a long time ag0, and what is underneath those gloves hits hard, fast, and invisibly.
Obviously, much of Israel’s actions against enemies remains, as they should, under wraps. The unit that is alleged to have carried out the targeted killings has (like most clandestine units) used more than one name, in this case Caesarea and Kidon, or Bayonet, and makes extensive use of female officers. CCTV footage of the January 2010 assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai featured a woman who was allegedly part of the hit team.
The methods used in operations have ranged from makeshift bombs to snipers to air strikes (the lattermost seems to be the preferred coup de grace). The earliest recorded operations came on July 13–14, 1956 in Amman, Jordan and the Gaza Strip. In both cases, the targets were Egyptian military, and one was an Egyptian Army lieutenant colonel who had been recruiting refugees to carry out attacks on Israeli soil. The method of killing in these operations were parcel bombs, and were carried out as an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) mission.
One of Mossad’s most (in)famous operations was immortalized in the 2005 movie “Munich.” A team of intelligence and special operations personnel were dispatched by then-Prime Minister Golda Meir around the Middle East and Europe to find and kill those directly and indirectly responsible for the hostage-taking and eventual deaths of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics in the name of the Black September terror group.
The mission, code named Operation Wrath of God, was authorized in autumn 1972 by Meir, and targeted both Black September and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) operatives, and is believed to have taken place over a span of 20 years (again, no one will confirm that it actually took place, much less how long it took).
The operation began two days after the massacre at Munich with the bombing of ten PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon, and continued with teams of up to 12 operatives—divided into intelligence, logistics, and assassination squads—hunting the approximately 20-30 names (again no confirmation) on the “list.” In a macabre twist, it has been rumored that hours before the hit took place, each target’s family received flowers along with a sympathy card that simply read, “A reminder that we do not forget nor forgive.”
As noble as the mission and the reasoning behind it was, it was not without its problems and failures. Mossad was having trouble locating Ali Hassan Salameh, nicknamed the Red Prince, who was the head of Force 17 and believed by Israel to be the mastermind behind the Munich massacre. Accounts from senior Black September officials dispute this, saying that although Salameh was involved in many attacks in Europe, he was not at all connected with Munich. In 1973, almost a full year after Munich, the Israelis believed they had finally located Salameh in the small Norwegian town of Lillehammer.
In July of that year, in what would become known as the Lillehammer Affair, a team of Mossad agents mistakenly shot and killed Ahmed Bouchiki, a Moroccan waiter, after an informant mistakenly identified Bouchiki, who had no ties to the Munich massacre or Black September, as Salameh. Six Mossad agents, including two women, were arrested by local police, while others, including the team leader, Michael Harari, managed to escape back to Israel. Five of the captured were convicted of the killing and imprisoned, then eventually released and returned to Israel in 1975.
Within Amman, the IDF’s military intelligence department is Israel’s premier counterterrorism unit, Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance Unit). The unit is known for operating beyond Israel’s borders and for having had two former prime ministers as unit members. Alongside them, it is rumored that another unit exists, tasked with carrying out the targeted killing operations, given the long name of “special unit for counter-espionage and special investigations.”
One alleged facet of the unit’s operations is the extensive use of diverse citizenship, most commonly those citizens whose families are of Arabic or Persian descent. Utilizing agents and officers from these backgrounds, Israeli intelligence and special operations units have (again, allegedly) infiltrated into places like Iran using the passports—expertly forged, of course—of third countries. For a more detailed account of what makes up a Kidon unit operative, read former Mossad intelligence operations officer Mishka Ben-David’s book “Duet in Beirut.”
The Iran nuclear deal
So what does all of this mean for Israel, Iran, the United States, and the nuclear deal? Maybe nothing. Despite the initial successes in passing the deal through official channels, there is still a strong chance that it could stall and die a legislative death. (No, I am not here to debate the merits or pitfalls of the deal; others much smarter than me here at SOFREP can and will do just that.)
Or it could pass, Iran will (mostly) stick to the deal, and the world will watch them closely. It could also be that Iran pulls out of the deal or violates it completely and continues with its quest to develop nuclear weapons. And this might be where Israel decides that, once again, it is time to get ahead of the issue and take steps beyond pleading its case before Congress (as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did recently) or making the rounds of the Sunday morning talk show circuit. Israel might decide that more direct action is warranted.
That action might come in the form of a squadron of F-15I “Ra’am” or F-16C “Barak” penetrating Iranian airspace and dropping laser-guided munitions on known and suspected nuclear weapons facilities. It might come in the form of Sayeret Matkal teams hitting a facility or providing terminal guidance for the air strike. Or, it could come in the form of the mysterious death of an Iranian scientist, killed on his way to work or while on vacation—the victim of an explosion or a robbery gone wrong.
Explosion was the case in Tehran in January 2012, when the Iranian government reported that two men on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to the door of 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan’s silver sedan as he drove down a busy street close to Tehran University during the morning rush hour. The explosion killed him and a passenger who happened to be a chemical engineer. It was the fourth assassination of someone connected to Iran’s nuclear program, and the Iranians have, as expected, accused the United States and Israel of being responsible.
In mid-September, the collapse of a construction crane in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, resulted in the deaths of at least 107 and injured scores more, most of whom were making the yearly pilgrimage from Mecca to Medina as is required by Islamic law. Interestingly to some, among the eight Iranians killed was one Ahmad Hatami, a renowned member of the Iran Space Research Center.
The cause of the collapse has been attributed to the severe weather and wind that passed through the area, but I am sure that it will only be a matter of time before the whispers of an Israeli plot begin. There is no evidence that such a plot exists, but given the country’s history of not holding back in the defense of her citizens, it would not come as a surprise that her reputation for using the “extreme option”would spark such a story.
(Featured image courtesy of earth66.com)