Israel’s Mossad shrouded in myth, mystery
Israel’s seizure of Iran’s purported nuclear program archive and the dramatic display of the documents taken from a facility in the heart of Tehran marked a rare case of Israel going public about the operations of its top-secret Mossad spy agency.
The Mossad, long shrouded in mystery and mythology, is legendary in international intelligence circles for being behind what are believed to be some of the most daring covert operations of the past century. Only a few have come to light and often only years later. Israel is typically wary of exposing the exploits of the global arm of its vaunted intelligence community out of fear of revealing its well-cultivated sources or undermining its mystique.
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed what he said was a trove of Iranian nuclear documents collected by Israeli intelligence. Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, said the seizure was a “very impressive” coup that sent a message that Israeli intelligence can penetrate Tehran’s deepest secrets.
“The counterintelligence in Iran will work very hard to close this gap,” he said.
More often than not, the Mossad’s actions have become known only when something has gone wrong.
One of the Mossad’s first major achievements was placing one of its men inside the top echelon of Syria’s leadership. Eli Cohen managed to forge close contacts within the political and military hierarchy of Israel’s archenemy in the early 1960s, ultimately rising to become a top adviser to Syria’s defense minister. He obtained top-secret intelligence that is widely credited with helping Israel prepare for its swift victory in the 1967 Middle East war.
In 1965, Cohen was caught radioing information to Israel. He was tried and hanged in a Damascus square. His remains have yet to be returned to Israel, where he is regarded as a national hero.
The Mossad is believed to be responsible for the assassinations of a long string of Palestinian militants around the world.
Only in 2012 did Israel finally acknowledge killing Yasser Arafat’s deputy in a joint Mossad-military special operations raid in Tunisia in 1988. Khalil al-Wazir, known by his nom de guerre Abu Jihad, was the founder along with Arafat of Fatah, the dominant faction in the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He was blamed for a series of deadly attacks against Israelis.