The Israeli intelligence system since 1948

October 14, 1990|By STANLEY BLUMBERG

Every Spy a Prince: The Complete History

of Israel's Intelligence Community.

Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.

Houghton Mifflin.

466 pages. $24.95. It is an exaggeration to claim that this excellent history of Israeli Intelligence is complete. For in order to meet this description, the authors would have to write several books.

The authors use as their point of departure the creation of Israel's various intelligence agencies, foreign, domestic and military. This was after the formation of the state in 1948. Fair enough. But attention also should be paid to the Jewish Agency's information gathering activities, which greatly contributed to the establishment of the Jewish state.

The Agency's bugging of the Arab delegation's United Nation's headquarters in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and the training of young Israelis in intelligence techniques in a New York religious school are examples of pre-1948 stories that deserve our attention. Yet it is understandable why, with the massive material to be covered, the authors elected to start their saga with the declaration of the state of Israel in May 1948.

They quote from a secret CIA report released by Iran after it was discovered in the seized U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. The report concluded: "Israeli intelligence and security services are among the best in the world. Their expert personnel and sophisticated techniques have made them highly effective, and they have demonstrated outstanding ability to organize, screen and evaluate information obtained from recruited agents, Jewish communities and other sources throughout the world."

This history of Israeli intelligence generally supports this assessment. A few caveats are in order. The book recounts that on several occasions Mossad (the foreign intelligence service) committed grievous errors. In one case, an Israeli hit team set out to track down and assassinate the terrorists responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. The overall successful operation was marred when the wrong man was assassinated in Norway.

In spite of this and a few other failures, Mossad's record is perhaps unequaled by any other intelligence service in the world. The dramatic Entebbe rescue operation on July 4, 1976, is a prime example of Mossad's genius for imaginative planning and detailed operational capability.

A French jet en route to Paris from Tel Aviv was forced to land at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Eighty-three Israelis and a small number of foreign Jews were held while the other passengers were released. "On the night of July 3, 1976, the [Israeli] Air Force flew several . . . commando units well over two thousand miles to end the hijack." More than 100 hostages were rescued. Two were killed in the resulting crossfire and one Israeli officer died from sniper fire.

This and other stories have been told before, and yet upon retelling they still convey a sense of excitement.

Much in the book is new, such as Prime Minister Menachem Begin's dedicated efforts to rescue Ethiopian Jews from their poverty and oppression and arrange for their passage to the Land of Israel. It was not a simple task. The previous government had had excellent covert ties with then-Emperor Haile Selassie. The emperor, as a matter of national pride, refused to allow the Jews to emigrate.

By 1977 things began to change. Begin was prime minister and Colonel Mengistu was in control in Addis Adaba. This history details the cooperative efforts of the CIA and the Mossad in finally rescuing more than 20,000 Ethiopian Jews. Bribes were paid and covert contacts were made by the United States to the president of Sudan to ensure safe passage to the Holy Land.

Cooperation between American and Israeli intelligence dates to a meeting in May 1951 in Washington between Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, U.S. President Harry S. Truman and the director of the CIA. The relationship has proved mutually profitable. The Israelis have much to offer. Since Jews of many complexions have arrived in Israel from all corners of the world, it is not too difficult to recruit agents that can blend into any environment.

The authors contend that they have "discovered that the United States and Israel -- despite their friendly relations -- spy on each other."

Even though this history is not complete, it is the most comprehensive account of Israeli intelligence that we have encountered. The research is impressive and the writing is clear. It is an important book.

Mr. Blumberg is a writer living in Baltimore. His book "Israeli Intelligence: the Survival Factor," co-written with Gwinn Owens, is scheduled for re-release in paperback this winter.

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