Mossad and the Irish connection
Published 19/02/2012 | 06:00
The Mossad is cold, calculated and ruthless when it comes to killing, but the world's most feared national intelligence agency is rarely reckless.
Two years ago, however, the Israeli spying network did slip up in a mission that still haunts its clandestine chiefs.
And new evidence, revealed this week, reminded us all how their covert operations were forced out of the shadows after agents were caught using Irish, British, Canadian and German passports when carrying out the assassination of senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010.
Suspected agents were also caught on CCTV and one, Uri Brodsky, was even arrested when travelling in Germany for his alleged involvement in the hit. However, once he was deported to Israel he, like the other suspects involved, vanished behind the veil of secrecy that shrouds all Mossad operatives.
However, while the Irish passports used in Dubai were forged without their owners' knowledge, the new evidence suggests some new emigrants to Israel willingly hand over their passports, in some cases for over a year.
A number of new recruits to the Israeli armed forces claim to have passed over their passports after being approached by agents, with one, a British citizen, only receiving his back after completing his military service 18 months later.
But while the illegal use of passports emerged in 2010, Israel's elite spy network has being engaging in this practice for decades.
It was forced to apologise to Britain's government when forged British passports were discovered in a phone booth in Germany in 1979, apparently for Mossad use in an illicit arms deal with China. Then after a botched attempt to kill a Palestinian leader in 1997, Israel also had to apologise to Canada after two agents were caught carrying stolen Canadian passports.
"Needless to say, Mossad, like all intelligence agencies, does its best work in the shadows," George Jonas, author of Vengeance, which details the lengths the Mossad went to tracking down PLO terrorists, told the Irish Independent.
"I'd say Western media awareness (of its existence) dates back to the 1960 capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires," Jonas said.
Indeed, Israel's intelligence agency has for the first time lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding its notorious Eichmann operation, displaying publicly the documents, equipment and artefacts relating to the capture, abduction and trial of the Nazi almost 50 years ago.
The exhibition in Tel Aviv, 'Operation Finale', includes espionage equipment, such as a briefcase concealing a hidden camera, and equipment used to forge documents and number plates.
The complex operation involved about a dozen agents who surreptitiously tracked and photographed Eichmann in Buenos Aires. This continued until the identity of the man Hitler had charged with implementing the 'Final Solution' was confirmed.
Eichmann was then kidnapped, held in a safe-house and eventually dressed in an airline uniform, passed off as a sick employee and heavily sedated before being placed in a first-class seat to be flown back to stand trial in Israel.
All of this happened without once alerting the attention of the Argentinean authorities.
"Agents could operate more freely 50 years ago than today," says Jonas, "but not decisively so. Security tends to hinder the least dangerous most, not surprisingly. For the pros, added security is just an escalation in the difficulty level of a computer game they do for a living."
Indeed, the recent spate of assassinations targeting several key scientists behind the Iranian nuclear programme underlines just how lethal Mossad still is today.
But while its use of Irish passports to aid operations was revealed in 2010, the agency's involvement in Irish affairs dates back much further.
Mossad's legendary director of operations, Raphael Eitan, who masterminded the Eichmann operation, revealed that soon after Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, he travelled to London for secret briefings at the Home Office.
He was invited to SAS headquarters to explain in detail how his hitmen had found and killed every member of the Black September death squad, which massacred Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The SAS appeared very eager to engage the services of the Mossad to help in the battle against the IRA.
Eitan was brought to the Lisburn Army base in Co Antrim and to the RUC's headquarters just outside Belfast and was then taken on a helicopter tour of the Republican stronghold of South Armagh, described to him as "bandit country".
It was during this visit that he let the British spooks know he was less than impressed with their security forces.
"It was more like a police than an intelligence service," he said in the Channel 4 documentary, The Man From Mossad, broadcast back in 1998.
While Eitan has declared that none of his agents had crossed over the border into the Republic, senior Irish intelligence officials have treated this claim with some scepticism.
However, regardless of any harsh words from Dail Eireann, it will continue to use any means possible, including Irish passports, to achieve its aim.
And by the time anyone points the finger of blame, the Mossad will once again have slipped back into the shadows.