Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1997, Pages 7-8, 92

Mossad: An Agency With a Licence to Kill

Bungled Amman Assassination Plot Exposes Rift Within Israeli Government Over Peace Negotiations

By Victor Ostrovsky

There is only one thing more dangerous than an intelligence agency with a license to kill, and that is such an organization in the hands of a prime minister like Binyamin Netanyahu. The latest fiasco in Jordan can attest to that.

The decision-making process used by Netanyahu can be compared to that of a drunk driver trying to maneuver a truckload of volatile explosives in an unmarked mine field. His lack of personal integrity and common sense complicate the matter. His adversaries are unaware (as he is himself) of what it is he really wants. This makes it impossible for them to compromise, even if they want to.

Netanyahu promised the Israeli public peace and security while campaigning for the May 1996 election after spending much of 1995 calling then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a traitor and standing by without protest while his own right-wing followers carried a mock coffin with Rabin's name on it. Whether or not it was deliberate incitement to murder, Rabin's assassination took place, opening the way to Netanyahu's election.

This year, after his election pledge of peace with security backfired, Netanyahu began scraping the bottom of his excuse barrel for reasons why he had not fulfilled his promise. Then, after the July 30 suicide bombing in West Jerusalem's Mehane Yehuda market, there was no doubt in Netanyahu's mind that he had to do something to bring an end to the wave of terror his miscalculations had brought on the people of Israel. He refused, however, to even consider allowing the peace process to move forward.

Although by doing so he would bring Arafat on board in the battle against terror, as was pointed out by the leadership of Israel's intelligence community, instead Netanyahu chose to plunge into the perpetual motion cycle of terror and counter-terror.

On July 30, Israel's security cabinet unanimously authorized the prime minister to take extreme measures in combatting Hamas, leaving the final details to his discretion.

Netanyahu then held a preliminary meeting with the heads of the intelligence community. These included Ami Ailon, head of the Shabak; Danny Yatom, head of the Mossad; Amnon Lifkin Shahak, commander-in-chief of the Israel Defense Forces; Gen. Moshe Lalon and Gen. Amos Gilad, head and deputy head of Aman,1 the national intelligence evaluation section; and Uzi Arad, the prime minister's personal intelligence adviser, a Mossad officer until six months ago in charge of analysis.

With the exception of the prime minister and Arad, the entire group opposed an assassination campaign. Ami Ailon pointed out that Shabak was barely capable of handling the situation as it was. Any further agitation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories would cause a rapid acceleration of terror and could ignite a total rebellion.

Amnon Shahak agreed, saying that the IDF would pay a high price if it had to fight a guerrilla war on two fronts, against Hamas in the occupied territories and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The Aman representative said that such a campaign without a move on the peace front would increase the influence of Hamas in the territories and weaken Arafat. Mossad's Yatom, one of the architects of the Oslo accords, refrained from commenting, as his opinions already were known.

The meeting ended with no conclusions reached, but the prime minister said that he would consider the opinions offered. To understand what followed, it is important to note that most of Mossad's presently serving department heads were appointed by Yatom's predecessor, Shabtai Shavit, and are right-wing in their political opinions. Yatom therefore finds himself isolated in his own agency. As a mid-level officer in the agency told me recently, "He is in control, but unaware of what is going on." Said another, "Yatom is as isolated in the new pentagon-shaped headquarters [of the Mossad] as is his private elevator."

The following day, the prime minister called Yatom to his office and instructed him to prepare a list of Hamas leaders responsible for the bloody terrorist attacks. Yatom had a list ready, but pointed out that the names on the list were of members of the secret military arm of Hamas, and are not prominent figures. Their elimination would have little impact on the organization or on public opinion. Arad then suggested that they eliminate leaders on the political side of Hamas. Ultimately they are responsible, he argued. The prime minister agreed.

Yatom acceded to the prime minister's wish but hoped, as he told some of his loyal friends in the agency, that he could postpone such acts by citing operational difficulties. The leadership of Hamas, he pointed out to Netanyahu, is dispersed among countries like Syria, Libya, Iran and Jordan. Yatom concluded that the only soft Hamas target outside the occupied territories is in Jordan, and that Jordan was out of bounds because of promises made to King Hussein in 1994 when Rabin was prime minister of Israel.

There was, however, an additional discreet weekend meeting between Netanyanu, Arad and two Mossad department heads who expected Netanyahu to shorten Yatom's term as head of Mossad and replace him with Gen. Amiram Levin, presently head of the IDF northern command. With their direct line to the prime minister, such a move would put them in the running for the positions of Mossad deputy and Mossad head of operations. It was from this meeting that Netanyahu emerged convinced that Jordan should be the scene of the assassination operation, and Khaled Meshal, the political director of Hamas, would be the target.

On Sept. 19, six members of the Israeli hit squad arrived in Amman and registered at the Amman Intercontinental Hotel. Two had come on a flight from New York and registered as Canadian tourists. The others arrived from Europe, three with Canadian passports, one under the assumed name of Guy Erez, and the fourth on a French passport. All four posed as businessmen, and also had fake Egyptian passports in their possession to be left behind in the event of an accident, to point a finger in a different direction.

The passports did not attract the attention of Jordanian officials because all passports used in such operations are replicas of the real thing, and the persons to whom the real passports belong actually reside in Israel. These persons turn in their passports willingly, and promise not to report them stolen. Unknown to them, however, they are unable to leave the country while their passports are in use by Mossad agents unless they are active, in which ase their addresses and phone numbers are used as umbilical cords for operatives in the field.

The two triggermen, using the names of Shawn Kendall, 28, and Barry Beads, 36, set out to see the city and did not associate with the other team members. They already knew details of the plan and they went over their planned escape route.

The other agents rented a Hyundai automobile and several cellular phones. By coincidence, however, on Sept. 22 there was an attack on two security officers from the Israeli Embassy in Amman. Because this raised the fear of heightened alertness in Amman, and a possibility that there had been a leak, the operation was almost called off.

Yatom, in fact, presented these possibilities to the prime minister, but Netanyahu insisted the project be continued. The prime minister's decision probably was assisted by Yatom's adversaries in the Mossad, who assured Netanyahu that the operation was simple and that Yatom was overcautious and an impediment, in their minds, to the agency's effectiveness.

Mossad Attacks

On Sept. 25, "Kendall" and "Beads" accosted Meshal as he sought to enter his office in Amman. One stepped in front of him while the other assaulted him from behind, placing a pressure-gas injector against his neck and releasing a toxin that immediately penetrated the skin without breaking it.

As they fled, one of Meshal's two bodyguards, Mohammad Abu Saif, sprinted after them. He was gaining on them until they turned a corner and jumped into the Hyundai, driven by "Guy Erez," who was waiting for them with his motor running. Abu Saif then flagged down a passing vehicle and continued the pursuit. He caught up with them when the Hyundai stopped and the two triggermen got out, as part of a prearranged plan to switch cars.

When they saw Abu Saif, however, "Kendall" and "Beads" ran across the street and then attempted to disappear into an alley while the Hyundai sped off to the Israeli Embassy. But Abu Saif overtook them, knocked one of the two to the ground, was in turn gashed in the head, and then pushed the other triggerman down a slope, plunging after him.

At this time a Jordanian security guard who was passing by came to Saif's assistance and, together, they managed to subdue the two triggermen, get them into a taxi, and deliver them to the police.

Meanwhile the other members of the Mossad hit team sought to take refuge in the Israeli Embassy in Amman. The Mossad liaison officer in the embassy contacted Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv to ask if the men were bona fide Israelis working for the government as they claimed. It took more than an hour for a positive response.

The reason was that hit squad operations are regarded as secret, even within Mossad. Therefore the Mossad officer in Amman and probably his normal contact in Mossad headquarters were outside the circle of those who "need to know."

During that time the two triggermen were unwilling to cooperate with Jordanian police, who still believed they had on their hands only two Canadians who had been involved in a scuffle, despite the insistence of the Hamas bodyguard that they were assassins who had just attacked Meshal.

When a Canadian diplomat arrived at the jail and offered a local lawyer, the two asked that their names be kept secret and said they had no need of assistance from the Canadian Embassy. This reaction finally aroused suspicion among the Jordanian police that the detainees were would-be assassins, as the Hamas bodyguard insisted.

By that time Meshal was in the hospital in critical condition. Jordanian interrogators then turned their attention to the two men in custody and, after several hours of intense interrogation, they broke down and admitted their real identity.

Soon negotiations were underway between Israel and Jordan in an attempt by the Israeli government to contain the storm. King Hussein warned that if Meshal died, Jordan would try the triggermen and have them publicly hanged for murder. He insisted that Israel could avoid this only by handing over the antidote the Mossad back-up team, now holed up in the Israeli Embassy in Jordan, must be carrying in case of an accident.

The Israelis insisted on the release of their agents and claimed the antidote the agents had been carrying had been discarded. They offered to send some antidote from Israel.

Hussein, not trusting Netanyahu and suspecting the antidote sent from Israel would be nothing more than another dose of poison, demanded to know what the poison was. Netanyahu, through emissaries, since at this point the king would not talk directly to Netanyahu, refused, stating the poison was a state secret. King Hussein asked U.S. President Bill Clinton to intervene. The frustrated president declared Netanyahu an impossible man, but finally the prime minister agreed. The poison was identified, the Jordanians applied the antidote, and Meshal's life was saved.

As quid pro quo, the Jordanian government allowed the Mossad back-up team holed up in the Israeli Embassy to leave for Israel. By this time some of the information was in the hands of the media, and events moved rapidly.

The king was ready to break off diplomatic relations with Israel in retaliation for Netanyahu's breaking of Rabin's promise that Mossad would not act on Jordanian soil. To forestall that, Netanyahu and some of his cabinet members traveled to Amman for secret negotiations with the king's brother, Crown Prince Hassan.

The crown prince pointed out that if there were even the slightest suspicion by Hamas or the Jordanian public that there was some Jordanian complicity in the affair, it could spell the end of the rule of the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan. Netanyahu suggested that if he released the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who had spent eight years in Israeli prisons, the king would be seen as the man who brought about his release, putting a different spin on the matter. (Several months earlier, Netanyahu turned down a similar American request, saying that Sheikh Yassin's release would be a direct threat to Israeli security by bolstering Hamas.)

That offer started the negotiations, and Netanyahu at first believed that he had secured the release of his two jailed agents. In fact, however, the Jordanians insisted on getting more.

Meanwhile, the news that the Mossad hit squad had used Canadian passports struck a raw nerve in Ottawa, my home. The Israeli government had promised the Canadian government not to do this after it was revealed that Canadian passports had been used in Mossad operations in Cyprus in the mid-1980s and one in Lillehamer in the 1970s, when a Mossad hit team killed a Moroccan waiter married to a Norwegian in the mistaken belief that he was a PLO member involved in the deaths of Israeli Olympic team members in Munich.

This time Canada recalled its ambassador to Israel "for consultation," and contemplated other measures. At the same time, a Canadian reporter posted in Israel found the real Shawn Kendell, an employee of a Jewish charity, in his apartment in Tel Aviv.

After the release and return of Sheikh Yassin to Gaza, the release from Israeli jails of 20 Hamas members accused of "terrorism," and a promise of 50 more releases, the Jordanians returned the two triggermen and Netanyahu hoped that the story dubbed by the Israeli media as "the Jordanian affair" would come to an end.

In a news conference following the release of the two agents, Netanyahu vowed not to resign, calling instead for an investigative committee (made up of three members appointed by him and with no real powers) to assign responsibility for the matter.

In his speech on the subject, Netanyahu also called on the world to help him fight terrorism, seemingly unaware of the irony of holding out an olive branch only hours after he had retrieved two would-be assassins he had sent to a neighboring friendly country on a mission of death.

Despite the probable cooperation of the U.S. and possibly also of the Canadian press, the consequences of the affair may be difficult to smooth over. As a Canadian, I am as appalled today as I was when I was a member of the Mossad by the misuse of Canadian passports (which I reported in my two books on my experiences in the Mossad), which endangers every traveling Canadian in the world.

Equally appalling is the effort by the Netanyahu government and by a former Canadian ambassador to Israel, Norman Spector, now the editor of the Jerusalem Post, to try to implicate Canada in this affair, in order to mitigate the outrage against Israel.

Spector suggested that there must have been some cooperation between the two countries that led to Israeli misuse of Canadian passports. By deliberately circulating this charge of Canadian government complicity, both Spector and Netanyahu turned Canada and Canadians into legitimate targets for Hamas. If his charge is untrue, as I believe it is, this former Canadian ambassador has abused the trust Canada placed in him in a treasonous manner.

In addition to the mess Netanyahu has created for his own people, there is a side to this fiasco that to date has not been touched upon by the Western press, although it should be. Netanyahu, and his predecessors, are endangering all of the Jewish communities in the diaspora by the casual use of their members by the Mossad. Convicted U.S. spy for Israel Jonathan Jay Pollard is an example of how an insecure and unstable non-Israeli Jew is exploited and then abandoned by Israel after serving her. (Netanyahu already has missed more than one opportunity to get Pollard freed.)

This is only one example of how callous the Israeli government has been in recruitingsananyim—supporters within foreign Jewish communities—to betray the countries in which they live and thus make Jewish citizens of every country in the world suspect in the eyes of their countrymen.

Middle East politics is a delicate balancing act. To participate, one must have a plan or a road map for a journey that, despite its twists and turns, will bring the leader and his people to a pre-determined destiny. In other words, a vision.

Rabin was such a leader. Netanyahu is not.

Incredibly, I believe that Netanyahu, who thinks of himself as another "comeback kid," feels that he still can come out of this disgraceful affair a winner. Right now he is seeking to pin the blame on Yatom. If he succeeds to the extent that he can get rid of his cautious Mossad director, he may regard the whole operation as a plus.

The most damaging aspect of this whole catastrophe, in my opinion, is the fact that Israel has proven once again that it does not honor its own word, and that it has no respect for the rights of others.

Its successive governments still live by the Mossad motto, "By way of deception, thou shalt do war."

1.Gilad was the officer who in 1982 warned of the massacre of Palestinians about to take place in the Sabra Shatilla camps. His communication was strangely "misplaced."

2.The real Erez was found in Toronto claiming that he had no knowledge of the fact that his passport was used, although it was strange for a Mossad agent to be using a Hebrew name as cover in an Arab country when he could have taken any name at all.


Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad case officer, has written two books about his experiences, By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer and The Other Side of Deception: A Rogue Agent Exposes the Mossad's Secret Agenda. Both are available through theAET Book Club . Mr. Ostrovsky also has written a novel based upon Mossad operations entitledLion of Judah.