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The Mossad’s Top 10 Operations

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The Mossad, Israel’s famed spy agency, is one of the most effective tools that the Jewish state has in its defensive arsenal.

Since its founding, the State of Israel has continuously been under existential threat, surrounded by enemy nations who actively seek its destruction, targeted by international terrorist organizations, and threatened by other non-governmental actors who aim to harm the Jewish state.

Since its founding in 1949, Mossad has undertaken numerous operations around the world to protect the Jewish state from those seeking its destruction.

Known for both its daring and operational success, here are the top 10 intelligence operations undertaken by the Mossad (in chronological order):

Operation Finale: The Mossad’s Hunt for Adolf Eichmann (1960)

In 1957, Dr. Fritz Bauer, a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor who was serving as the prosecutor-general for the state of Hesse in West Germany, approached the Mossad with information that Adolf Eichmann was alive and well in Argentina.

As the SS officer in charge of the Gestapo’s Jewish department, Eichmann had been one of the key architects of the Final Solution, responsible for facilitating the transportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of European Jews during the Holocaust.

Following Germany’s surrender, Eichmann was captured three times by Allied forces but was able to escape each time.

In 1950, Eichmann was able to escape Germany with the aid of members of the Catholic Church and former Nazis and set sail for a new life in Argentina. 

Bauer’s information concerning Eichmann’s whereabouts was based on the testimony of a German-Jewish man living in Argentina, whose daughter had entered into a romantic relationship with one of Eichmann’s sons. 

Although Israeli intelligence initially dismissed his claims, Bauer persisted and finally prevailed upon Israel’s leadership to take the information seriously.

At the end of 1959, Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion ordered Isser Harel, the head of the Mossad, to capture Eichmann and bring him back to Israel for trial.

The Mossad initially sent the chief investigator for Israel’s internal security agency, Zvi Aharoni, to Buenos Aires to track down Eichmann.

Although Bauer’s information was dated, Aharoni was able to find Eichmann, and a 30-person Mossad team (including Harel, the head of Mossad) was soon put together to bring him back to Israel. Many of the team members were Holocaust survivors who had lost family and friends at the hands of the Nazis.

After more reconnaissance, the team devised a plan to kidnap Eichmann.

After the war, Eichmann escaped prison and, after moving from Europe to the Middle East, eventually settled in Argentina where he lived under the assumed name Ricardo Klement until the Mossad captured him. pic.twitter.com/yzXFu3QGLa

— On This Day in Jewish History (@dailyjewish) December 15, 2021

On the night of May 11, 1960, as Eichmann got off a public bus on his way home from work, he was overpowered, bundled into a waiting car and driven to a safe house.

After nine days in the safe house, members of the Mossad team and Eichmann, dressed like a flight crew, boarded a chartered El Al flight that took them back to Israel (the plane had initially brought an Israeli delegation to Argentina to attend its 150 year independence celebrations). 

After landing in Israel, Eichmann was taken to be identified by people who had met him before the Holocaust.

Two days after his arrival in Israel, David Ben Gurion publicly announced Eichmann’s capture.

Eichmann was subsequently tried in Jerusalem, found guilty of 15 charges, and ultimately executed by hanging.

Related Reading: Holocaust Remembrance Day: Israel Marks Yom HaShoah (VIDEO)

Rescuing Moroccan Jewry: Operations Mural and Yachin (1961-1964)

When Morocco declared independence from France in 1956, the new North African state granted its Jewish population full citizenship and recognition. However, Moroccan Jews were forbidden from emigrating to other countries. 

Even though the ban on emigration was lifted in 1961, many Moroccan Jews were concerned over their precarious status and wished to emigrate to Israel and other countries. 

Although foreign organizations were banned from helping people to emigrate from Morocco, the Mossad devised a plan whereby over 600 Jewish children would surreptitiously immigrate to Israel (with promises to their families that they would have priority in adult emigration operations).

The operation, dubbed Operation Mural, was carried out by David Littman, a 28-year-old British Jew living in Switzerland.

Littman, unaware that he was actually working for the Mossad, portrayed himself as the head of a children’s charity that wished to take a group of Moroccan children for a holiday in Switzerland. 

However, following their stay in Switzerland, the children would then continue on to their new lives in Israel.

The plan was for 630 children to leave Morocco in groups that would travel to France, then to Switzerland and finally to Israel.

However, when the first groups arrived in France, the Mossad emissary there decided that it was unnecessary to waste money by having the children visit Switzerland and sent them straight to Israel.

Rumors of their arrival in Israel began to spread and even made their way onto local radio programs. This imperiled those involved with the operation in Morocco and it was forced to come to a premature end, with only 530 of the children able to successfully leave Morocco and immigrate to Israel.

Soon after the end of Operation Mural, the Mossad launched Operation Yachin.

Named for one of the pillars of King Solomon’s Temple, Operation Yachin facilitated the emigration of almost 100,000 Jews from Morocco between 1961 and 1964. 

While most went to Israel, some moved to other countries, such as France, Canada and the United States.

One of the key components of Operation Yachin was a negotiated settlement whereby Israel would pay millions of dollars to Morocco for the economic loss that would be caused by the emigration of so many people. 

Related Reading: When Israel Rescues Jews: Operations Moses & Yachin

The Mossad’s Fight Against Nazi Scientists: Operation Damocles (1962)

In July 1962, Israelis were shocked when Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt, announced that the Egyptian military had conducted four successful tests of missiles that were capable of hitting any target throughout the Jewish state.

Soon after the announcement, Israeli officials discovered that these rockets were secretly being developed in the Egyptian desert by a team of German scientists, the same ones who had developed the V1 and V2 rockets that Nazi Germany had launched at Britain during World War Two. 

In response to this revelation, Prime Minister Ben Gurion tasked the Mossad with putting an end to Egypt’s missile program. The result was Operation Damocles.

There were a number of components to Operation Damocles: When possible, the Mossad would intimidate or threaten the German scientists and those bankrolling the missile project into ceasing their cooperation with Nasser’s Egypt.

In certain cases, the Mossad informed the West German government as to who was participating in the missile program. In response, the West German government offered jobs to these scientists who then mostly returned to Germany.

July 21, 1962 – President Gamal Abdel Nasser watched the armed forces of the United Arab Republic fire four rockets from the desert west of Cairo today. He indicated that Israel was within range of the rockets. #history #1960s #podcast #politics #OTD #arab #egypt pic.twitter.com/9WN71WFo9W

— Tweets from the 1960s (@RealTime1960s) July 21, 2022

When it was not possible to intimidate or pay off those involved with the project, the Mossad was forced to resort to violence.

In one notorious incident, the Mossad was involved in the disappearance and assassination of Heinz Krug, who headed a shell company that was helping to finance the Egyptian missile program.

In this instance, the person who killed Krug was a former SS officer named Otto Skorzeny.

Skorzeny, who was an associate of many of the German scientists, was turned by the Mossad into an asset in exchange for his name being taken off famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s list of wanted Nazis (Wiesenthal ultimately refused to do so). 

Even though Operation Damocles ultimately came to a close after a number of Mossad agents were arrested in Switzerland and a number of non-scientists were injured, the Operation was successful in thwarting the Egyptian threat.

Related Reading: Not a Moment of Peace: Israel’s 1956 Sinai Campaign

The Mossad’s Man in Damascus: Eli Cohen (1962-1965)

In the 1960s, one of the greatest threats to Israel was from its northern neighbor, Syria. Syrian guns along the Golan Heights threatened Israel’s northern communities while its alliances with Israel’s Arab neighbors imperiled the Jewish state from all sides. 

Israel needed an agent inside Syria to report on the latest diplomatic and military developments, and in Eli Cohen, they found the man for the job.

Eli Cohen was born in Egypt to Syrian Jewish parents. Cohen was a Zionist activist in Egypt who had worked on behalf of the Jewish state before being expelled to Israel in 1957.

Although he initially twice tried to join Israeli intelligence, he was rebuffed both times.

However, in 1960, the Mossad took a second look at him and decided to recruit Eli Cohen as a spy.

After training and the assumption of a new identity, Kamal Amin Ta’abet, Cohen was dispatched to Argentina to create his cover as a successful businessman born to Syrian parents. There, he enveloped himself in the social circles of Syrian emigrants, befriending diplomats, politicians and military officials (one of his closest friends, the Syrian military attaché, would later become the president of Syria).

In 1962, with the rise of the Ba’ath party, Cohen moved to Syria and, using the contacts he had made in Argentina, entered the upper echelons of Syrian society and became a confidante of a variety of important officials. At one point, he was even considered to be a candidate for deputy minister of defense.

During his three years as a spy in Syria, Eli Cohen was able to relay intelligence that was vital to Israel’s security and wellbeing.

In 1964, Cohen alerted Israeli authorities that Syria was planning to divert water away from Israel by building a channel by the headwaters of the Jordan River, essentially depriving Israel of one of its main water sources. With this information, the Israeli Air Force was able to successfully bomb the equipment used to divert the water and put an end to Syria’s machinations.

One of Eli Cohen’s major coups was getting a top-secret tour of Syrian defenses along the Golan Heights. In addition to seeing the defenses firsthand, Cohen recommended that the Syrian military plant trees to provide shade for the Syrian soldiers there. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel was able to pinpoint Syria’s fortifications along the Golan Heights due to the information that Eli Cohen provided and the positioning of the trees.

In 1965, Eli Cohen was caught by Syrian and Soviet officials using super-sensitive detection equipment as he was transmitting one of his messages to Israel.

After being tortured and put on a show trial, Eli Cohen was sentenced to death. He was allowed to write a letter to his wife and receive a visit from a local rabbi before being taken to the center of Damascus and publicly hanged in front of 10,000 people. 

To this day, the location of Eli Cohen’s grave is unknown despite Israeli attempts to find it and bring his body back home.

This is an image of the last transmission received by Israel from legendary spy Eli Cohen on January 19, 1965, the same day he was captured in Syria.

It describes a meeting of the Syrian General Staff attended by then Syrian President Amin al-Hafiz. pic.twitter.com/0qIkirjR8X

— Tobias Siegal (@SiegalTobias) December 12, 2022

Related Reading: Six Day War Comprehensive Timeline

The Mossad Steals a Fighter Jet: Operation Diamond (1966)

The 1960s was the height of the Cold War, when the world was divided between those countries aligned with the United States and those aligned with the Soviet Union.

Many Arab states were clients of the USSR, which gave them access to the latest Soviet military technology, including the then state of the art MIG-21 fighter jet.

Israel and the US desperately wanted to get their hands on a MIG-21 to understand its technology and battlefield prowess.

This is where the Mossad came in with Operation Diamond

Beginning in 1963, the Mossad twice attempted to procure a MIG-21 by reaching out to pilots in the Egypt and Iraqi air forces. However, both attempts failed.

Operation Diamond, Israel’s plan to obtain a Russian-made MiG-21 fighter jet, succeeds when Iraqi pilot Munir Redfa lands at Hatzor Air Force Base for a $1 million bounty and other benefits.https://t.co/9sRCUrYx1G pic.twitter.com/irlyI7A0J1

— Center for Israel Education (@israeleddotorg) August 16, 2022

Then, in 1964, the Mossad was tipped off by an Iraqi Jew that there was a Maronite Christian pilot in the Iraqi air force who might be amenable to their plans.

The pilot, Munir Redfa, was allegedly disenchanted with his treatment by Iraqi air force, which included being based far from his Baghdad home, only being allowed to fly with small fuel tanks, being passed over for squadron leader, and forced to bomb Iraqi Kurds.

After being lured to Europe, Redfa entered into negotiations with Mossad emissaries and agreed to fly his jet to Israel in exchange for citizenship for himself and his family, a hefty sum of money, and employment for life.

Before returning to Iraq, Redfa visited Israel in order to go over the plan with Israeli officials and to visit the Hatzor airbase, where he would be landing his jet.

On August 16 1966, Redfa was able to convince the ground crew to fill up his fuel tanks to the top (against regulations) and then took off, flying 900 km from Iraq to Israel in a zigzag pattern in order to avoid Iraqi and Jordanian radars.

At the same time, Mossad teams inside Iraq bundled Redfa’s family members into vans (some had previously left Iraq under false pretenses), drove them to the Iranian border, had them smuggled into Iran by Kurdish guerillas, and then flown to Israel. 

A couple months after Redfa landed his MIG-21 in Israel, it was lent to the United States for analysis before being returned. In Israel, it was given the new number “007,” a homage to famed movie spy James Bond.

For a video of the plane after it landed in Israel, click here.

Related Reading: The Farhud: The Massacre that Ended Iraq’s 2,600-Year-Old Jewish Community?

Connecting With Jews Behind The Iron Curtain (1970s and 1980s)

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Mossad worked to connect Jews living in the Soviet Union and its satellite states with the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

The Mossad worked alongside the Nativ program (which had been part of the Mossad until 1955) in strengthening Soviet Jewry’s religious identity by helping to smuggle in ritual objects. 

In addition, the Mossad helped maintain contact with Refuseniks (Soviet Jews who were refused the right to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel), supplied them with contraband that they could sell on the black market in order to support themselves, and helped facilitate the Aliyah plans of those few who were granted permission to leave for Israel.

Related Reading: The Jewish Agency, Israel & Russia: A Primer

Avenging the Munich Massacre: Operation Wrath of God (1972)

On September 5-6, 1972, 11 Israeli athletes were killed during the Munich Olympics by terrorists belonging to the Black September terror group. 

In response, the Israeli government tasked the Mossad with finding people both directly and indirectly responsible for the Munich Massacre and assassinating them.

Every person targeted by the Mossad during Operation Wrath of God was okayed by a secret committee headed by the Israeli prime minister and defense minister. 

The Mossad team, code-named Bayonet, targeted high-profile members of Black September, Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization based in Europe.

In addition, as part of Operation Wrath of God, the Mossad teamed up with the Israeli navy and special forces to take part in Operation Spring of Youth, which targeted Palestinian terrorists in Beirut. 

Operation Wrath of God was suspended in 1973 when the Mossad team accidentally killed a waiter in Norway, mistaking him for one of their targets.

The operation was reactivated in 1979, when the Mossad assassinated Ali Hassan Salameh in Beirut. Nicknamed the “Red Prince,” Salameh was the chief of operations for Black September. 

Related Reading: 50 Years Later: How the Media Reported on the 1972 Munich Massacre (VIDEO)

The Mossad Thwarts the Nuclear Threat (1979-Present)

One of the biggest threats facing Israel over the past 50 years is the acquisition of a nuclear weapon by one of its enemies.

From the 1970s on, there have been a number of enemy states that have attempted to develop a nuclear weapon, essentially holding Israel hostage and threatening its very existence. However, each time, the Mossad has played an integral role in thwarting the development of nuclear arms. 

After Israel discovered in the late 1970s that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was developing a nuclear reactor in cooperation with France, the Israeli government viewed it as a legitimate threat to the state’s wellbeing. 

Before the Israeli Air Force ultimately destroyed the reactor by bombing it in 1981, the Mossad was involved in a collaborative effort to thwart the reactor’s development. This included intimidating French scientists involved in the project, surreptitiously gaining up-to-date intelligence on the reactor, and sabotaging parts being sent from France to Iraq.

In one daring operation, Mossad agents in France successfully blew up two cores that were waiting to be shipped to Iraq. While this did delay the development of the reactor, the Israeli government ultimately decided that a military operation was the only way to permanently disable the reactor and protect Israeli civilians from the threat of nuclear destruction.

Related Reading: From Condemnation To Praise: Why Israel’s Bombing of Iraq’s Osirak Nuclear Reactor Stands Test of Time

Twenty-six years after Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, Israel once again destroyed a nuclear reactor — this time it was being developed in Syria with the assistance of North Korean scientists.

While the operation was conducted by the Israeli Air Force, the Mossad is credited for the initial discovery of the existence of the nuclear site. 

Before 2004, there were suspicions that Syria was developing a nuclear reactor but no concrete evidence. Israeli intelligence concluded that if anyone would know about its existence, it would be Ibrahim Othman, the director of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. 

While Othman was visiting Vienna for a meeting with the IAEA, Mossad agents broke into his hotel room and found a treasure trove of data on his laptop.

Once it was decrypted, Israel had in its possession images of Othman alongside North Korean nuclear scientists as well as photos of the interior of the facility, confirming that it was a nuclear site designated for plutonium enrichment.

15 years ago on September 6, 2007, IDF fighter jets carried out Operation Orchard, and destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria that threatened the whole Middle East.

The IDF takes any threat against Israelis very seriously, and will operate against any threat to our civilians. pic.twitter.com/QATqbYkDka

— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) September 6, 2022

Today, Iran is the biggest nuclear threat facing Israel. Throughout the existence of the Iranian nuclear program, the Mossad has undertaken a number of secret operations to stymie the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.

Two notable operations are the 2018 appropriation of Iranian nuclear secrets from a Tehran warehouse, and the sabotage of the Natanz facility in 2021.

In 2018, less than two dozen people working on behalf of the Mossad (mostly local Iranians) broke into a warehouse in central Tehran that contained thousands of files on the Iranian nuclear program. The files had come from all across Iran and were concentrated in the warehouse following the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal that allowed for more international oversight of the Iranian program.

After a year of intense surveillance, the Mossad agents knew everything about the warehouse to the smallest detail and were able to break in undetected. In approximately six hours, 50,000 pages and 163 CDs of information had been removed from the site and ferried out of the country. 

The files proved to be damning evidence that Iran was intent on resuming bomb production and deceiving the international community (including using IAEA documents in order to provide convincing cover stories). 

In 2021, the uranium enrichment program at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran was set back by at least nine months after a concentrated explosion caused a power outage at the site, disrupting the centrifuges that enrich the uranium.

The power outage is assumed to be the work of the Mossad even though the organization took no official responsibility.  

Related Reading: Russia, Iran & China’s New Axis of Evil: A Global Threat?

Rescuing Ethiopian Jewry: Operation Moses (1984-1985)

In the early 1980s, the Jewish community in Ethiopia underwent a crisis as it was subjected to a government that had recently banned the practice of Judaism, arrested Jews on the trumped up charge of being “Zionist spies,” and drafted children as young as 12 into the military.

In addition, a severe famine had driven thousands of Ethiopian Jews to refugee camps in Sudan, where they were subject to particularly horrible treatment.

Sensing the urgency of the situation, the Mossad began to ramp up its evacuation of the Ethiopian Jewish community in the early 1980s. 

The Mossad found an abandoned Red Sea resort in Sudan, turned it into a successful diving and surfing resort, and used it as a cover for ferrying Ethiopian Jews to Israel via boat.

In March 1982, after the operation was almost revealed, the Mossad switched to airlifts from desert fields.

After the famine intensified in 1984, the Mossad decided that a larger operation was necessary to evacuate more Ethiopian Jews. This operation, known as Operation Moses, was conducted in partnership with the CIA and with the tacit approval of the Sudanese regime.

Between November 1984 and January 1985, between 6,000 to 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum to Belgium and then immediately on to Israel. 

After the operation was confirmed by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in January 1985, it was forced to come to a stop as the Sudanese government was pressured by its Arab allies not to allow any more flights. In response, the Mossad had to quickly close up its Red Sea resort operation and evacuate the country.

In 1985, the United States conducted Operation Joshua, which brought between 500 to 800 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Between Operation Moses and Operation Joshua, one-third of the Jewish population of Ethiopia was rescued and successfully brought to the Jewish state.

Related Reading: Operation Moses: The Rescue of Ethiopian Jews

Fighting International Terrorism: The Mossad’s Assassination of Imad Mugniyeh (2008)

In his lifetime, Imad Mugniyeh was one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, second only to Osama Bin Laden. 

The international operations chief for Hezbollah, Mugniyeh had been responsible for a wide variety of terror attacks, including the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, the 1983 bombing of the US Marines barracks in Beirut, the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in the same city. In addition, Mugniyeh was known for smuggling arms to Palestinian terror groups and coordinating the training of Iran-backed insurgents in Iraq.

A threat to both Israel and the US, the Mossad and CIA worked together on an operation to put an end to Mugniyeh’s terror activities.

Israel reportedly built a personal bomb that would only harm Mugniyeh, shipped it to Syria via Jordan and then waited for Mugniyeh to visit Damascus where he felt safe and was thus more vulnerable.

With both the Mossad and CIA tracking Mugniyeh’s movements, the opportunity to assassinate him presented itself on the night of February 12 2008. 

Late at night, after hosting Qassem Soleimani (the head of the Iranian Quds force) and Muhammad Suleiman (the Syrian nuclear coordinator), Mugniyeh was killed by a nearby car bomb after entering his personal vehicle.

With that, the Mossad helped put an end to one of the most dangerous international terrorists, whose existence threatened the lives of civilians in Israel and around the world.

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