Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 1990, Pages 66-67

Book Reviews

By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer

By Victor Ostrovsky with Claire Hoy. Stoddard (Toronto) and St. Martin's (New York), 1990. 371 pp. List: $22.95; AET: $17.00 for one, $22.95 for two.

Reviewed by Russell Warren Howe

by way of deception

This inside view of Israeli intelligence written by a disabused Mossad colonel confirms, in spades, the thesis put forward more cautiously by two journalists, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, this summer, in The Imperfect Spies (US title Every Spy a Prince). Modeled on the Tsarist Cheka, with a secret budget and a faceless director, the Mossad trains its people to play Candid Camera to the world, to lie and "disinform" with effrontery, to inflict and accept pain generously, but to have few of the intelligence and analysis skills which its myth proclaims. The three-year training course is a bizarre blend of Frankenstein, Monty Python and Marine boot camp—including being hit with wooden bullets. The career itself, Ostrovsky says, is a medley of larceny, murder and sex.

The venality includes cheating the World Bank, forging Jordanian dinars to buy dollars, arms trafficking of every stripe (including indirectly selling droptanks to the Saudi air force at exorbitant prices), drug trafficking in Thailand and South America under the nose of the DEA, and construction work all over the Third World by Solel Boneh and other Mossad "fronts," which leave remotely explodable bombs concealed in the concrete.

The rough stuff includes training the thumbscrew brigade in South Africa, Idi Amin's Uganda, Iran, South Korea, all over Latin America and in both China and Taiwan. In Sri Lanka, Ostrovsky says, his people trained both the Tamils and the Sinhalese and the Indian peacekeeping force on how to get a confession. Israeli interrogation techniques, its's confirmed, are obsessively sexual.

By Way of Deception also purports to be a hitman's cookbook. When burning a car with a previously disabled victim within, we are advised, pour vodka down his throat to make him burn better. Wouldn't gasoline be cheaper and more flammable?


Mossad life seems as sex-crazed as its interview methods. There are skinnydipping, partner-swapping orgies around the Mossad headquarters pool. In what other calling, the author asks, can you get a clerk to call your wife and say you won't be home for a few days, with the assurance that she can't ask the clerk (or you, later) why?

"Virtually everyone was tied to everyone else by sex," Ostrovsky writes. "Case officers advanced by screwing their way to the top. Most of the secretaries in the building were very pretty. That's why they were selected. But it got to the point where they were hand-me-downs; they went with the job. You had [overseas officers] who were away two, three, four years. Their case officers were the only link with their families. There was weekly contact with the wives. After a while, the contact became more than conversation—sex with the wives."

The three-year training course is a bizarre blend of Frankenstein, Monty Python and Marine boot camp.

Mossad headquarters in the Hadar Dafna building on King Saul Boulevard in Tel Aviv is known to its denizens as the "Whorehouse." To the amusement of the spooks, the late Golda Meir did in fact take her gigolo, Israel Galili, there for weekend trysts, Ostrovsky claims. He also notes that cadets augmented their incomes by snapping pictures of the prostitution scene on Tel Aviv beaches at night, noting the license tag numbers of the johns, hacking into the police computer to uncover their identities, then blackmailing them.

This inefficient but extremely dangerous organization is, in Ostrovsky's words, a "loose cannon with malice aforethought." It holds life very cheap. A kidon (Mossad killer) is taught to shoot any bystander who gets in his way.

"We had to do what was good for us, and screw everybody else," the disillusioned colonel says. "When you sit with your friend, he isn't sitting with his friend." If Mossad abuses in a country lead to retaliation against local Jews (as in France), "so much the better—this will force them to come to Israel." The Mossad is notoriously disloyal to its agents. Yasser Arafat's chauffeur, Durak Kasim, a Mossad agent since 1977, was not forewarned of the Israeli bombing of Tunisia in 1985, and lost a leg.

Why are there so many Arab agents when 60 percent of the Jews in Israel are Arabs? Apparently, the new generation of Sephardim have lost their language fluency. Israeli spies in Arab countries revert to being Europeans, or Canadians. There is, the author tells us, no Mossad station in the Soviet Union. Instead, there is a reliance on Jewish emigres—not all of whom are really Jewish, of course, and many of whom are KGB plants. Nonetheless, the Mossad sees itself as an elite. Out of "5,000 applicants" that year, Ostrovsky was one of only 13 to complete the course. Really active katsas may not be much more numerous than the 200 or so in the Palestinian "Force 17."


The number of officers is small because of heavy reliance on sayanim—resident Jews in various countries, who are informed that dual loyalty is not enough. They must be loyal only to Israel. Said Ostrovsky: "The agent is a traitor, no matter how he rationalizes it." The same point was made in Michael Saba's The Armageddon Network, on the Steven Bryen case, even before Bryen became a Reagan administration deputy assistant secretary of defense supervising technology transfers.

The author says the Mossad has about 7,000 traitors in London alone. In America, the number of sayanim is so overwhelming that the Mossad division that spies on the United States, known as Al (Hebrew for "sky," as in El Al) needs only three controllers. There are so many sayan firms that the Mossad needs far fewer proprietaries than the CIA, even proportionally. The agency has penetrated friendly intelligence services. One staffer even has an office in Danish intelligence headquarters, stealing NATO secrets.

Because it is easier to do so, Mossad stations put telephones in friendly countries, especially the US, more than those in hostile countries. Israel shamelessly revealed this abuse in the political lynching of Jimmy Carter's UN ambassador Andrew Young—the watershed in making black Americans anti-Israel. But by withholding information, Ostrovsky says, the Mossad contributed to the death of William Buckley, CIA station chief in Lebanon, and to the bomb deaths of 241 Marines and 58 French paras in Beirut.

Given the antipathy for Americans, Britons and and Frenchmen in the Middle East, correspondents from those countries have been known to pretend to be Irish or Canadian. Since few "locals" had heard of Ireland, or confused it with Iceland, the best thing to pretend to be, we thought, was Canadians. Alas, no! Ostrovsky tells us that the few hundred Mossad operatives possess about one thousand genuine Canadian passports, and that 70 percent of Mossad proprietaries are registered in Canada. New immigrants into Israel are also "asked" to give up their old passports—which is probably one reason why Soviet emigrants are deprived of citizenship and papers when they leave.

Tel Aviv's whimsical decision to make By Way of Deception a bestseller by trying to suppress it in the Canadian and US courts raises suspicions that the book is a "plant." This reviewer does not think so, and believes the brief, attention-getting injunctions reflect Raviv's Melman's and Ostrovsky's points about the Mossad's naivete. This is the best book on the agency thus far.

It is rich in anecdotes about Israel's opposition to peace in the Middle East, its murders of Palestinian peaceniks in Europe, about highly placed Mossad agents like Adnan Khashoggi of Saudi Arabia and Manoucher Ghorbanifer of Iran, senior officers like Mike Harari (who managed Manual Noriega's drug empire and bought the dictator's two Haifa villas for him) and Amiram Nir, who invented Iranscam and—Ostrovsky says—pretended to die in Mexico to avoid being subpoenaed for Ollie North's trial. He thinks Nir has had a "face job" done by Swiss surgeons—although there is not much they could do about his glass eye.

The most colorful anecdote describes how a Strela attack on an aircraft bringing Golda Meir to an audience with the Pope was foiled. Mossad musclemen hacked a captured Palestinian guerrilla to death before asking him where the missiles were. These fell into the hands of "Carlos the Jackal," who killed his own intended Mossad assassin and two French policemen in such a way that the French government was convinced the Mossad had set them up. The Mossad Paris station chief had to flee home at once, disguised as an El Al steward.

The Canadian-born Ostrovsky became an Israeli navy lieutenant-commander in three years and a Mossad colonel in the same timespan—resigning a year later, in 1986. (The outspoken figure was in the doghouse for saying that Jews killed by Hitler were only three percent of those who died to oppose the Nazi leader in World War II, and that if Jews were justified in arming themselves in countries which discriminated against them, so were Palestinians in Israel.)

There are several misspellings, and other mistakes. Ronni Moffat, murdered along with Orlando Letelier by a Mossad graduate, was not a man; Abu Nidal is not a member of the PLO; no Western hostages in Lebanon are held by Palestinians. Indeed, it was the loss of Palestinian protection for the US embassy, for the foreign correspondents in the Commodore Hotel, and so on—sequels of the Israeli invasion—which led to the slaughter of the Marines and the calvary of Terry Anderson and others.

Ostrovsky paints a portrait of an organization which is half-Sturmabteilung, half-Keystone Kops, and 100 percent in tune with its motto—the book's title. In coding and other real intelligence techniques, it is not noticeably sophisticated. It is Mutt without Jeff. The ideal candidate for the agency would seem to be a totally obedient, physically courageous, cold-blooded killer with a healthy sexual appetite and no intellectual hang-ups. A junkyard guard dog who could speak Hebrew would be perfect.

Russell Warren Howe's current novel, Flight of the Cormorants, is a love story set against a background of espionage. Pretend to be Dead, Okay?, to appear next year, is a comedy with the same background.





2018barefoot to palestine
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1983, Lebanon, U.S. Embassy bombed, 63 killed. Months later, Marine Barracks bombed, 241 killed.

1987, Cassie accepts a job teaching Shakespeare at a private academy near Princeton, to forget memories of her late husband killed at the barracks.

First day, she meets Samir, a senior whose parents were killed in the embassy attack: Cassie & Samir, forever linked.

As Cassie teaches Hamlet & Othello and rebukes advances from her unscrupulous dean, Shakespeare’s timeless themes of trust, betrayal, and hate ­become reality as the Palestinian-Israeli struggle destroys their lives. Powerful!

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