By Daniella Peled
February 17, 2009
The Daily Telegraph reports that Israel is using hitmen to bump off Iranian scientists - part of a strategy to delay Iran's nuclear programme.
One of the victims is thought to be top Iranian scientist Ardeshire Hassanpour, who died mysteriously from "gas poisoning" in 2007. The Israeli plan also reportedly includes the use of double agents and front companies to supply Iran with faulty components and intelligence.
What a great yarn - and not that implausible given how seriously Israel takes the Iranian threat, and given Jerusalem's doubts over the effectiveness of Western sanctions and diplomacy.
But it's funny to think how breathless people get over a good old Mossad story. Just recall how Western journalists have salivated over Tzipi Livni's past as a Mossad agent, even though she spent her brief term of service as the caretaker of a Paris safe house, before leaving early to get married.
The truth is that a lot of the agency's work is dull, routine intelligence gathering and that its agents include more middle-aged men in pullovers than dashing young spies. Far from infallible, Mossad has embarrassed itself with bungled operations, including the attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in 1997 and the 2004 passport fraud affair in New Zealand.
Yet part of its effectiveness is the near-mythical status the Mossad has built up as the unseen and often vengeful hand of the Israeli state, eliminating enemies wherever they may be. Conspiracy theories which see the hand of Israel everywhere (9/11, anyone?) may spill over into antisemitism. But the bonus is that such paranoid fictions help keep Israel's adversaries very, very afraid.