Review: Mossad

A compendium of secrets and spies


By Michael Bar-Zoharand Nissim Mishal

The Robson Press, £9.99

It is quite difficult to review, let alone write, books such as Mossad (sub-titled The Great Operations of Israel's Secret Service), as both authors and reviewers are often in the dark, confronted by a lack of information. It is an ingrained habit of all secret services to guard their information so as to conceal their modi operandi and the identity of their spies.

Having said that, by now, more than 60 years after its establishment, we do know quite a lot about Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence agency, and about its successful and less successful operations.

Co-authored by two leading Israeli writers, historian Michael Bar-Zohar and TV journalist Nissim Mishal, Mossad reads like a fast-paced thriller packed with tales of espionage. It deals with such covert operations as the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960; the work of Mossad agent Eli Cohen in Damascus, where he was caught and publicly hanged in 1965; the tracking down and assassination of those responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics; and lesser-known operations in which Mossad played a leading role, such as Israel's bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, and the elimination of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Included is my own foolish exposure of a former spy's identity

I have tried to assess the thoroughness of Bar-Zohar and Mishal's research by closely examining one particular, extraordinary tale, which they cover in their book and of which I have personal knowledge. In fact, I played a key - though controversial - role in this and am familiar with the details.

This is the story of Ashraf Marwan - son-in-law of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt - who worked for Mossad in the run-up to the Yom Kippur war, and whose identity as a Mossad spy I, very foolishly, exposed in the early 2000s.

And, indeed, the way the story is related in Mossad is very accurate and thus a good indication that Bar-Zohar and Mishal have striven to get their facts right throughout their book.

What I especially like about Mossad is that, while it covers the great successes of Mossad - and there have been many glorious moments - it also tells us about Mossad's tragic failures, most notably the mistaken assassination of an innocent waiter in Norway. This was in 1973, when Mossad agents mistook the waiter for Ali Hassan Salameh, a key operator in the terrorist organisation Black September. There was also the failed assassination attempt on Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal, in Amman in 1997, which caused Israel serious damage, particularly in its relationship with Jordan.

Mossad is a very accessible page-turner but, to enjoy it properly and understand the significance of the various operations it describes, readers need to know a little history. The book lacks a sense of context, of the political background to the various operations. It would also help to know more about the enemies against whom the Mossad fights.

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