Friday, June 17, 2016

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BAD ASS

S.Lee Manning 

Mossad.


You know the name, from television and novels. It’s where the bad ass villains or heroes used to work before going to work at the FBI or retiring to restore paintings or befriending an American detective and backing him up in dangerous situations or becoming the head of an international criminal organization.

Mossad also is the favorite agency for conspiracy nuts, blamed for everything from the 9-11 attacks on America or most recently and absurdly, for a series of gruesome murders of Hindus in Bangladesh.

On a whim, I googled Mossad and John F. Kennedy, and yup, there’s people who blame Mossad for that, too.

But, apart from the stories, and apart from the conspiracy theories, what is Mossad?

Mossad or Ha Mossad Le modi’in UleTafkidim Meyuhadim, which translates as the Central Institute for Intelligence and Special Duties, is the Israeli intelligence organization, formed in 1951. The original vision was to create an intelligence agency modeled after the brand new CIA to gather information to protect the then fledgling State of Israel.

Mossad’s bad ass reputation is well deserved. It has pulled off spectacular operations that brought criminals to justice and saved lives – and it has also acted brutally to counter threats to Israel in ways that may be morally questionable.

It’s a balancing act.

War criminals brought to justice – the good.

During World War II, six million men, women, and children were gassed, shot, hanged, burned, and starved to death for the crime of being Jews.  At the end of the war, Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi in charge of implementing the Final Solution, escaped US custody and fled.  In 1960, he was spotted living under an assumed name in Argentina by a Holocaust survivor who then alerted Israeli intelligence.

Mossad went into action. Agents covertly photographed the man living under the name of Ricardo Klement and compared those photographs to those in the SS file of Eichmann. Convinced that Klement was indeed Eichmann, Mossad agents snatched him on his way home from work. The agents checked his body and found scars that confirmed their suspicions.
In a safe house in Argentina, he first denied then admitted his true identity. He was drugged, smuggled onto a commercial flight in first class, and flown back to Israel for a public trial that exposed the horrors he had orchestrated. He was hung for his crimes in 1962.


The raid on Entebbe – also the good.

One of the most spectacular Mossad operations involved the rescue of 104 hostages held by terrorists in Uganda.

On June 27, 1976, four terrorists forced an Air France jet to land in Entebbe, Uganda, where then President Idi Amin positioned soldiers to protect the terrorists. They released more than half of the passengers, but the flight crew and passengers either with Jewish names or with Israeli passports were threatened with death unless Israel released imprisoned terrorists. The hijackers set a 48-hour deadline for their demands to be met before they would begin killing the hostages. Israel entered into negotiations, and a new deadline was set. On July 4, the hostages would die.

The alternatives were to release known terrorists or to launch a rescue operation. Israel began to plan a rescue – but the elite forces assigned to carry it out needed vital information if the mission were to have any chance of success.

Mossad agents began collecting intelligence. They interviewed released passengers for details on the number of terrorists, their weapons, their location, and their descriptions. They reviewed blueprints and diagrams of the airport, but the information was old. They had no way to know what exactly was on the landing strip or around the terminal where the passengers were being held.

A Mossad pilot rented a plane in Kenya and flew to Uganda where he pretended to have engine trouble. He circled the airport, taking critical photographs of the landing strip and the terminal. The photographs were sent back to the commander of the special forces planning the rescue operation.

The team decided that approaching the terminal in a black Mercedes that resembled Idi Amin’s car could allow them to fool the terrorists, at least initially.  Mossad found a Mercedes, that would be flown in with the commandos, but it wasn’t black. So Mossad spray painted it.


On July 3, an elite commando unit, using the intelligence gathered by Mossad, launched the raid. Three Israeli aircraft flew into the Entebbe airport. Commandos drove up to the terminal in the disguised Mercedes, accompanied by Land Rovers, copying Idi Amin’s usual entourage, and then stormed the terminal. All seven of the terrorists were killed. The Israelis lost the commander of the elite unit, Yoni Netanyahu, brother to the current prime minister, and three hostages were killed by friendly fire. Dora Bloch, a 74-year-old British woman, who had been taken to a Ugandan hospital before the raid, was murdered the next day on the orders of Idi Amin.  

The Israeli team destroyed Ugandan aircraft on the runway to prevent an air pursuit and flew the
remaining passengers to Israel.

Assassinations – the bad – or not? In any event, the bad ass.

Yeah, okay, Mossad has been involved in assassinating people. Heads of terrorist organizations. Iranian nuclear scientists.  (Not John F. Kennedy.)
The most well-known series of assassinations occurred in the 1970s and has been the subject of films. It also forms the backstory to the popular novels of Daniel Silva.  In 1972, members of the Palestinian splinter organization, Black September, kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich  Olympics. During a subsequent rescue attempt by Germany, terrorists shot and incinerated the bound Israeli hostages. Three terrorists were captured by German police but were later released in exchange for a hijacked German airplane.


Mossad responded with Operation Wrath of God, tracking down Palestinians suspected of involvement in the massacre and assassinating them. Unfortunately, in the course of exacting revenge, Mossad also killed a Norwegian waiter, mistaking him for one of the leaders of Black September.

Were these assassinations good or bad, or did they fall somewhere in between? Certainly, no one can defend killing an innocent waiter. But the others? The killing of terrorists? Or of scientists working to create a weapon that could destroy Israel for a country that denies the Holocaust occurred? I see it in shades of gray and tan instead of black and white. How do you see it?







18 comments:

  1. Mossad has a rich history. I didn't know about the Uganda operation--thanks for the narrative! I heard somewhere that the Mossad weapon of choice is a silenced .22 handgun. I have to admire the accuracy of a professional who can make due with a .22 (small caliber). Limiting collateral damage is crucial, and I would think proficiency with a smaller weapon might help ensure the safety of bystanders.

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    1. If you saw the movie "The Last King Of Scotland" with Forrest Whitaker (who won an Academy Award for Best make Actor) than you should remember the events in Uganda.
      During the departing of live hostages was the Doctor of Idi Amin, who was supposed to be murdered by Amin's regime.

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  2. I understand that's true. A .22 caliber handgun is very quiet and suitable for killing up close. I doubt the reason is concern for collateral damage, more likely the assassin wants to do the job as quietly and inconspicuously as possible. I believe Daniel Silva's character, Gabriel Allon, uses a .22 and a 9mm.

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  3. I loved this blog, S. Lee. Mossad is one of my fave spy agencies, such a rich and tortured history. You captured so much of that. Thank you!

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  4. Thanks, Gayle. One of my fave spy agencies as well. One thing I thought about putting into my blog, but didn't, was how Israel and Mossad have changed the image of Jews. When my father was in the US Army just before we entered World War II, he was constantly in fights, because the rap on Jews was that they couldn't and wouldn't fight. He had to constantly prove himself. Given that history, there is something deeply satisfying in Mossad's reputation.

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  5. Wow - I certainly learned a ton in this extremely well-researched and well-written blog! Thank you so much for explaining this history! (Oh, and about the use of the .22 handgun -- turns out that is the one that John Hinkley used to shoot President Reagan, Jim Brady and the other two brave agents trying to save lives that day so many years ago.) Anyway -- I'm really glad to have the opportunity to read this information about Mossad -- great piece.

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  6. Thanks, Karna. I didn't know that Hinkley had used a .22. Thanks in turn for sharing that painful detail.

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    1. I also am an avid reader of things Mossad, especially the Kidon unit. I am interested in more recommendations outside of the Gabriel Allon series. There is anither one I lovr that ties in the Supernatural and more about World War II human experimentation.

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    2. A good movie about a Mossad agent in Israel and Germany is "Walk on Water".
      I can remember the actor's name except it was like Liev Ashkenazi.
      He is sent to find a Nazi Grandfather of a German girl. He befriends the brother acting as a tour guide while he is trying to convince his sister to come attend a birthday party for their father. The escaped Nazi Grandfather is supposed to come home to Germany for the big event. (Covertly of course).
      The Mossad agent is invited as well by the grandson/brother/son who is gay.
      (Oh SHOCKING! YES, THE Nazi grandson is gay. A minor detail except that gay men died by the Nazis during WWII).

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  8. I tweeted the link to this post to Daniel Silva's Twitter account. I've been following Gabriel Allon's world since it began. Hope he takes a look!

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    1. That is an amazing series. I always remember where he is learning to shoot while running in a flashback memory.

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  9. Francine, I've also been following Gabriel Allon since the series began. Thank you for tweeting the link to Daniel Silva. Cheryl, I haven't personally read any other series that features Mossad, but I know there are others, including novels by a former Mossad agent.. Duel in Beirut by Mishka Ben-David is on my to-read list.

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  10. Sandy, I'm fascinated by that raid in Entebbe and have studied it closely. It was a brilliantly constructed operation.

    I'm a huge fan of Daniel Silva and look forward to his next book. Thanks for the fabulous post.

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  11. Jeryl, thanks for the information. I'll check out Walk on Water.

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  12. Mossad is certainly a controversial organization. Their role in Operation Thunderbolt (the raid on Entebbe) was pretty peripheral as I recall. Their other more famous operations really do fall in the grey area at best. They have a complete lack of respect for international law and norms, and are quite happy to drag non-engaged countries into their messes (especially Canada). So if you support the rule of law in the real world you really cannot support their methods, but for fiction they make for a great subject.

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  13. When Israeli soldiers take the oath of service, they vow Never Again. Never again will Jews allow themselves to be murdered passively. Never again will they ignore anyone who threatens to kill Jews without striking back. The problem with supporting the rule of law, which sounds good in the abstract, is that Jews have so often experienced a lack of will to enforce the rule of law with regard to how they are treated - or how Israel is treated. Israel is a small country, surrounded by countries that at some point within the last 70 years had vowed to destroy it and drive the Jews into the sea, and many of the inhabitants are the descendants of people who either were forced from Arab countries ( almost a million Jews were forced out of their homes in Arab countries) or are the descendants of the survivors of the Holocaust. Given this, Israel and Mossad have often acted more aggressively than might be usual for a country that did not perceive its own existence to be under constant threat. I don't personally condone all of Israel's actions - but I understand them. So, yes, some of Mossad's actions are in violation of international law, and assassinations are certainly in the gray area. But any espionage is against another country's law and often in the gray area.

    As far as what is in the gray area and what is not:

    So does bringing Adolph Eichmann to justice fall into the gray area? Because it was a violation of international law. Argentina had welcomed former SS and Gestapo officers to settle and avoid the legal consequences of mass murder. Argentina would not have given him up.

    I understand why you might think that assassinating the Palestinians extremists who planned the Munich operation and then shot and incinerated bound and helpless people is a violation of international law. The three surviving terrorists who actually carried out the killing were freed by Germany. They were facing no penalty for their actions. Would it have been better to capture them and put them on trial? Probably. But to do so, invited yet more terrorist actions to free them. Mossad was not merely carrying out a form of justice - albeit against international norms - it was sending a message.

    I would dispute your assertion that Mossad's role in Operation Thunderbolt was peripheral. The commandos who carried out the action could not have done so without actionable intelligence.

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  14. Great blog! I didn't know about Mossad's Uganda operation. Interesting stuff.

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