The Real Mossad Vs Spielberg’s Mossad
Prabir Purkayastha Newsclick 23 Feb 2010
The Dubai assassination of a senior Hamas figure has created a diplomatic embarrassment for Israel. Curiously enough, it is not on whether targeted assassination as a part of state policy is acceptable or not. Britain, Germany and Ireland have gone public with their displeasure that the assassins used their country’s passports. Assassinations are ok, forging passports are not. Even worse for Israel, the entire sequence of events has been caught on closed circuit television forcing Dubai, which otherwise has excellent relations with Israel, to take public action: they have issued arrest warrants for Meir Dagan, the 64-year-old head of Mossad, and are also contemplating one for Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, who is reported to have personally blessed the assassination.
A mystique has been built about Mossad – about its almost omnipotent capabilities for taking revenge and going out anywhere and against anybody to “protect” Israel. In this myth making -- as we will detail here –the Mossad route is what all countries beset with “terrorism” should follow. The US has taken a leaf out of this Israeli book, adding missiles and drones to take out “terror” figures. All this we know and have come to almost accept for Israel and the US. The danger is when important journalists in India add their voice to following the Mossad route. Vir Sanghvi in his column last Sunday, not only reiterates almost verbatim this mythical Mossad but suggests we now take to the same path. In this column, there is no mention of the brutal occupation that Israel has imposed on the Palestinians, the daily regime of terror that the Israeli state has mounted against all Palestinian dissent. Instead, there is the almost stereotypical picture of the Israelis, with their recent war crimes in Gaza still on record, as suave an urbane people under siege from “thuggish” Hamas.
I am not examining here the larger issue of use of terror as a part of policy – by political groups or governments. Let me talk about this picture of the invincible Mossad and suggest that this is as much as myth as many other urban legends. Mossad's record is as poor as that of most spook agencies. In 1967, it was caught unaware of the concentration of the Egyptian army in Sinai. The Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur, 1973, completely surprised Mossad. It was caught by surprise by the first intifada, and then again by the second. It was also surprised by the Khomeini revolution, as it was by the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections.
Not that Mossad’s record is more inglorious than others. The CIA was caught off-guard by the implosion of the Soviet Union. It had also spectacularly failed to predict the Khomeni revolution. In the Second World War, the Soviet Union failed to predict Germany’s attack even though it had advance information, just as the US failed to predict Pearl Harbour, even though the major part of Japanese Navy was involved in the attack. Mossad, like many other spy agencies, has cultivated its image through excellent public relations and retains its aura in spite of its failures.
Maybe Mossad’s intelligence gathering is not so good, but what about its assassination program? Here, the major element of the Mossad’s success was its supposed elimination of those associated with the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed. The reality is quite different from the picture that has been painted in the media, including the Spielberg film. Even Spielberg’s Munich does not question the success of the Munich response but only its dubious morality and effectiveness. The reality is that apart from the Beirut killings in which Mossad took out senior Fatah leaders, Mossad essentially picked on soft targets – PLO diplomats living in Europe with little or no protection. They had no connection with the Munich operations and were taken out because they were soft and were also important in advocating the Palestinian cause in European capitals.
The first hit Mossad carried out after Munich was on Wael Zwaiter, a translator at the Libyan embassy in Rome. Friends knew him as a peaceable, left-wing writer whose work had included an Italian translation of The Arabian Nights. No bodyguards, no safety precautions and therefore a sitting duck for professional hit men. The second was equally easy -- Mahmoud Hamshiri, in Paris. Again a PLO diplomat, who had nothing to do with the September attack in Munich.
The three PLO officials were Abu Yussef (aka Yussef El-Najjar), reputedly chief operations officer of Black September; Kamal Adwan, an operations and intelligence officer of Black September; and Kamal Nasser, PLO spokesman and executive committee member. It is possible that one or two of these might have been involved with Munich. Apart from this, none of the others seem to have any connection. Apart from the 3 top PLO men in Beirut, the story of following each of the persons associated with the Munich attack is just fiction.
After about 10 or 11 operations, the Munich revenge program came unstuck in Norway. In a small town called Lillehammer, Mossad decided a Moroccan waiter was Ali Hassan Salameh, second to only Arafat in their hit list. A Mossad team pumped with 13 bullets in him. Not only they had botched up on the target, they compounded it by getting caught. The whole operation fell apart, as Mossad agents confessed to the plot and also named other names in other cities. The Mossad operations – hits in different European cities – became public leading to hasty dismantlement of the program code named X, the Munich revenge operations. Incidentally, Ali Hassan Salameh was assassinated six years later – again an important diplomatic figure with no relations to the Munich attack.
The Mossad misadventures continued with their botched attack on Khalid Mishal, a senior Hamas leader in Amman. He was sprayed in the ear with a nerve toxin designed to kill him. Unfortunately for Mossad, their agents were caught immediately; a furious King Hussein threatened to hang them if the antidote was not delivered. Israel complied and the anti-dote was delivered saving Mishal’s life.
If we look at the long list of Mossad killings, some of them have undoubtedly hurt the Palestinian resistance. It is true of the South African apartheid regimes assassination campaign as well – it did hurt the resistance movement. Did it stop such movements or did it make any difference to the larger political struggle? The answer – and this is no different in South Africa then or in Palestine now – is no. Movements rooted in their societies and its causes do not die by taking out a few people.
Back to Dubai and the current diplomatic fiasco for Israel. Let us be clear that much of the anger displayed by Britain and other countries is hypocritical. The issue is not why British passports been issued but one of targeted assassinations. In the 80’s, Britain itself was hauled to the European Court and admonished when it tried such tactics against the IRA. Perhaps times have changed, perhaps the colour of the Irish and their religion differ from that of the Palestinians. The truth remains that the Britain and the European countries have intelligence sharing with Israel and all the noises they are making will not lead to any disturbance in this cosy relationship. Neither is the US going to be upset that their citizens’ credit cards have been used in this hit, public noises to the contrary.
The fallout for Israel is not however likely to be as benign. Now any tourist to Israel must worry about his/her passport being cloned by the Israeli immigration for future hits. Victor Ostrovsky, a former colonel in Mossad, advised the Israeli residents whose identities were stolen that they are now at risk. Neither does targeted assassination in Dubai help Israel. Dubai is an ally of Israel in West Asia, much in the same league as Egypt and Jordan. An operation in Dubai, almost in total contempt of its sovereignty or opinion, will hurt Israel. It will only isolate Israel even further in West Asia.
The problem with Israel is not that it faces an existential threat. The more it is seen in public for what it is – a regional bully, in occupation of Palestinian lands and following policies of apartheid, the more difficult it will be to paint Israel to the world as a victim. The more such wars and more such assassinations, the more illegitimate it makes itself. How does Israel square a ceasefire in Gaza with Hamas while killing senior Hamas leaders abroad? Does this mean that Hamas can kill senior Israeli figures abroad as long as it maintains ceasefire in Gaza?
A last word to those who believe that Mossad is the way to go. Read up some real history – do not just watch a Spielberg movie.