Ronen Bergman, author of Rise and Kill First, published an article in the New York Times about Israel’s “not-so-secret” weapon in the fight against COVID-19: the Mossad and its spies. Israel’s iconic intelligence agency has played a disproportionate role in helping Israel acquire the necessary medical equipment and knowledge needed to fight the virus. The director of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, has personally been instrumental in the fight. Over the past several weeks, the Mossad has imported hundreds of thousands of testing kits, often from “undisclosed locations”.
What is the Mossad?
In December of 1949, soon after the founding of the state, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion officially created Israel’s intelligence agency for operations outside the country’s borders. He named it the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, but it quickly became known as “the Institute”, or “The Mossad”. Once Ben Gurion established the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence services became the three-pronged machine that it remains today: Aman, the military intelligence arm that provides intel to the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces); the Shabak (or Shin Bet) which is responsible for internal intelligence, counter-terror, and counter-espionage; and the Mossad, which deals with activities outside of Israel’s borders.
The Mossad, Israel’s revered and often-feared spy agency, lists its main objectives as follows:
- Neutralize military threats to the state of Israel
- Bring justice to those who have harmed the Jewish people
- Gather intelligence
- Retaliate against the perpetrators of terror
- Help Jewish refugees reach the land of Israel
While there is so much about the Mossad and its operations that we don’t know (and may never find out), the missions that have been made public are mind-boggling, history-changing, and often seem like they were taken straight out of a thriller you just watched on Netflix (spoiler alert: not a joke). Watch our Unpacked video that explains the history of the Mossad, why it is so revered, the role it plays in the overall security of the Jewish state, and some of its most legendary operations.
What are some of the Mossad’s most famous operations?
- In this operation, Mossad operatives captured Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Nazis’ Final Solution, in Argentina and clandestinely brought him to Israel to face trial and execution. This event changed the way the Jewish world dealt with the trauma of the Holocaust and is depicted in the Netflix film Operation Finale (2018).
Response to the 1972 Olympics Munich Massacre (Operation Wrath of God)
- After the massacre at the 1972 Olympics, in which 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered by terrorists, Prime Minister Golda Meir instructed the Mossad to track down and assassinate all those responsible. The operation is depicted in the Steven Spielberg film Munich (2005).
The Secret Airlifting of Ethiopian Jews to Israel (Operation Brothers)
- In the early 1980s, the Mossad set up a fake diving resort along the Sudanese coast on the Red Sea. It was a cover to secretly airlift thousands of Ethiopian Jews home to Israel. The operation is depicted in the Netflix film Red Sea Diving Resort (2019).
- Israel’s most legendary spy, Eli Cohen, under the pseudonym “Kamel Amin Thaabet” successfully infiltrated the Syrian power elite in the 1960s and sent back information that was instrumental in building Israel’s military intelligence against the Syrians, specifically for the Six Day War of 1967. The tragic story is depicted in the Netflix series The Spy (2019).
As you may have noticed, we have videos on ALL of these topics. Make sure to click all the hyperlinks above to learn more!
Top 3 Mossad Operations you may have never heard of:
Although these stories may sound stranger than fiction, that’s why the Mossad is so feared throughout the world.
- The “Toothpaste” Assassination
Wadie Haddad was a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s armed wing. He was the man responsible for planning and coordinating several airplane hijackings in the 1960s and 1970s, including the infamous Air France flight that was hijacked and flown to Entebbe, Uganda (see our Operation Entebbe video). Less than two years after the raid on Entebbe, a Mossad operative who had made it into Haddad’s inner circle switched his toothpaste for a similar tube that had a deadly poison inside. Every time Haddad brushed his teeth, he would consume more of the deadly toxin, which entered his blood stream and killed him quickly. Until recently, most believed he had died of natural causes.
- The Hunt of the “Red Prince”
At the 1972 Munich Olympics, 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were savagely murdered by the Black September Palestinian terrorist group. Soon after, the Mossad began Operation Wrath of God to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Mossad had difficulties tracking the ever-elusive Ali Hassan Salameh, the chief of operations for Black September, one of the most wanted men in the world. Salameh, known as the “Red Prince,” was a key ally to Yasser Arafat (the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization), a potential successor to Arafat and living in Beirut. An Israeli Mossad agent who was assigned to the mission became friends with Salameh, gathering all of the required intelligence for the operation. Ultimately, on January 22, 1979, when leaving his home and surrounded by his bodyguards, a female British-Israeli agent detonated a bomb that killed the Red Prince and all of his guards.
- Operation “Spring of Youth”
On April 9, 1973, a group of Israeli commandos (including Israeli legends Yoni Netanyahu, Muki Betser, and Ehud Barak) left Haifa for Lebanon by boat. Their mission was to eliminate major PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) terrorist leaders who were connected to the massacre at the Munich Olympics. Upon arriving at the Lebanese shore, it took the commandos only 30 minutes to drive to their intended targets, assassinate the three top PLO leaders, drive back to the beach and board their boats for the return trip home to Israel. Operation Spring of Youth is featured in Steven Spielberg’s film Munich.
Top botched Mossad operations
But the Mossad has not always been perfect.
- The Lillehammer Affair
One of the Mossad’s most infamous moments came during Operation Wrath of God, while trying to find the elusive “Red Prince” Ali Hassan Salameh (mentioned above). In Lillehammer, Norway, an Israeli secret agent saw Salameh in a cafe, sent the intel back to Israel, and a hit squad was quickly assembled. On July 21, 1973, the hitmen jumped out of their car and fired eight shots at Salameh, killing him on the spot and jumping back into their car…the perfect hit. The only issue is that they had the wrong guy. They killed Ahmed Bouchikhi, an innocent Moroccan waiter with a pregnant wife. The botched assassination was a major blow to the Mossad’s reputation, and five of the Israeli agents served jail time in Norway.
- Failed Assassination of Khaled Mashaal
In September 1997, soon after a wave of Hamas suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that left over 20 Israelis dead and hundreds injured, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded retaliation. On September 25, Israeli Mossad agents in Amman, Jordan, attempted to assassinate Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas, living in exile. The plan was to spray Mashaal with a slow acting lethal poison that would kill him within 48 hours. After spraying Mashaal’s ear and attempting to flee, the agents were stopped and captured, leading to the most tumultuous ordeal in the Mossad’s history. Jordan threatened to tear up their peace treaty with Israel if they didn’t offer an antidote for Mashaal. Instead of killing Mashaal, Israel ultimately brought Mashaal back to life. He was dubbed “the living martyr”, Hamas was empowered, and Israel faced diplomatic humiliation.
- As the only Jewish state in the world, Israel has sometimes taken upon itself the role of “defender of the Jewish people.” Do you think that Israel is responsible for the security of Jews worldwide?
- Which of the four famous Mossad operations listed above do you think had the greatest impact on Israeli society? Explain.
- The Mossad has sometimes blurred legal and moral lines during its operations, such as kidnapping people illegally in different countries (see Eichmann). How far do you think the Mossad should be able to go to protect Israel and the Jewish people? Is there a limit?
- After the Lillehammer Affair described above, ex-Mossad chief Zvi Zamir declared, “Wrong identification of a target is not a failure. It is a mistake.” In what ways do you agree with Zamir, and in what ways do you see it as a failure?
- Watch this Unpacked video about the Mossad and utilize the attached educational resources.
- Watch the following Unpacked videos about famous Mossad operations and utilize the attached educational resources:
- Of the following objectives of the Mossad, rank them in order of importance:
- Neutralize threats to the state of Israel
- Bring justice to those who harmed the Jewish people
- Gather intelligence
- Retaliate against perpetrators of terror
- Help Jewish refugees reach the land of Israel
4. Give your students our Kahoot on the Mossad!