Obituary: Yoram Hessel

Israel's "James Bond" - the agent who preferred dialogue to violence


Israeli hero Yoram Hessel, who was also former Deputy Head of Mossad and Chief of Global Operations, has died in Tel Aviv aged 72, following complications from lung surgery.

Few men get to play a real part in the making of history; Yoram Hessel did. Born in Israel, the third child of Toni and Yosef Hessel, he was wounded in hand to hand combat during the liberation of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War and was one of the paratroopers on the walls of Jerusalem with Moshe Dayan.

Yoram was a great Anglophile, and had enormous respect for his counterparts at SIS – (Secret Intelligence Service, MI6). He spoke faultless English, dressed as an Englishman, smoked a pipe and had a great love and affection for all things British. He lived and worked in London during the 1970s, having studied International Relations at the LSE. He married his wife of 47 years, Shalva Schwartzman at the Dean Street Synagogue in London’s Soho.

It was during the Yom Kippur war that his work for Mossad truly started. In a career that saw him live around the world in both friendly and hostile countries, sometimes under an alias, he was involved both in front and behind the scenes resolving issues with friends and foes alike.

Like so many men who have seen and participated in real combat, one would never hear hatred or enmity ever coming from his lips. Such was the humanity of the man that when he saw the Israeli prison guards manhandling the Jordanian prisoners he had helped capture during the liberation of Jerusalem, he turned his gun on them, saying: “I fought them, you didn’t. I respect them and you will handle them with dignity”.

A modest man, who never sought personal glory, he had a brilliant, analytical mind. His opinions on any subject were always thoughtful, considered and evidence-based. He never engaged in emotional ranting or fear-mongering. He understood power and force in a real sense, and when it was needed, but always favoured dialogue to resolve problems rather than violence.

His funeral, at Shalva’s family home at Moshav Hibat Zion, was attended by many hundreds. Moving eulogies were given by close friends and family, as well as senior politicians and leading secret service people. The former head of anti-terrorism at the FBI, who had been Yoram’s opposite number and later a close friend, told the mourners that the USA owed him a great debt of gratitude for the enormous help he provided them in their joint fight against terrorism.

In many ways he was a real, live James Bond, but smarter, more successful and better looking, with his beautiful wife Shalva at his side.

Both Israel and the Jewish people have lost a guardian and friend, and the world is an emptier and less safe place without him. He is survived by Shalva, their sons Roy and Michael, daughters –in-law Katia and Lucia and grandchildren Isaiah, Liam, Eliya, Issac, Daniella and Talia.



Yoram Hessel: Born May 4, 1946. Died December 21, 2018

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