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israel's institute for intelligence and special tasks.

The Mossad is Israel's central intelligence agency, responsible for intelligence collection, covert action, and counterterrorism outside the borders of the state. It was founded in 1951, under orders from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, by Reuven Shiloah, a senior member of Israel's diplomatic corps. It replaced a number of organizations, including the SHAI (Sherut Yediʿot), the intelligence service of the Haganah, and the political department of the Jewish Agency, which had been created by the political leadership of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine).

Responsibilities and Leadership

The division of functions and the boundaries between the various intelligence agencies had for many years been unclear. The founding of the Mossad left all official and overt diplomatic activities to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; military intelligence, intelligence analysis, and information assessment to the Intelligence Division (Aman) of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF); counterinsurgency and counterespionage inside the country to the Security Service (Shin Bet); and counter-criminal intelligence to the police. All covert activities and espionage abroad were assigned to the Mossad.

The head of the Mossad, whose identity was for many years kept secret, was directly responsible to the prime minister and served as chairman of the coordinating committee of all heads of Israel's intelligence services. In 1952, Shiloah was replaced by Isser Harel, until then the head of the Shin Bet, who went on to serve as director of the Mossad for more than a decade.

Despite formal definitions of the respective realms of activities, it took some years and some internecine struggles among the various services for the exact boundaries to be established. Thus, for example, military intelligence continued to keep a special unit that operated agents across the borders and was responsible for the ill-advised activation, in
the summer of 1954, of its espionage ring in Egypt, which ended in a fiasco that later became known as the Lavon Affair. A public scandal erupted when it was discovered that Harel had ordered the planting of recording devices in the office of the leaders of the left-wing MAPAM Party, which followed a pro-Soviet line, under the false suspicion that MAPAM was implicated in subversive activities. On the other hand, Mossad agents managed in 1956 to obtain the full record of Nikita Khrushchev's famous speech at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, in which some of the horrors of Stalin's rule were disclosed. This was shared with a grateful CIA in Washington.

Over the years Harel gained great personal influence over some key political leaders. He was also called upon to execute some unconventional and dramatic operations abroad. One such was the discovery and rescue of a boy who had been kidnapped by his ultra-orthodox grandfather, who hid the boy in France in order to bring him up according to strict Orthodox traditions. Harel's most famous operation was the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann, the high-ranking Nazi SS commander who was responsible for organizing the extermination of many hundreds of thousands of European Jews during World War II. Eichmann was captured in his home in Buenos Aires, smuggled to Israel, tried in Jerusalem, and sentenced to death in 1962.

In 1963, Harel came under severe criticism by David Ben-Gurion for his disproportionate response to the involvement of some ex-Nazi officers in unsuccessful Egyptian attempts to develop long-range missiles and unconventional weapons. He was obliged to resign in the spring of 1963.

Many subsequent heads of the Mossad were army generals who came from the ranks of the IDF. The man who replaced Harel was general Meir Amit, previously the director of military intelligence. Amit served as Mossad's chief from 1963 to 1968. Among his noteworthy activities was a trip to Washington to secure a cautious go-ahead from the Johnson administration before Israel launched its offensive in the June 1967 ArabIsrael War. Subsequent heads of the Mossad were Zvi Zamir (19681974), Yitzhak Hofi (19741982), Nahum Admoni (19821990), Shabtai Shavit (19901996), Dani Yatom (19961998), and Ephraim Halevy (19982003).

International Relationships and Operations

During the 1960s, the Mossad developed close relations with SAVAK, the intelligence service of Iran under the shah, and supported the Kurds in their rebellion against the officers' regime of Baghdad. Over the years, the Mossad managed to capitalize on its widespread image as one of the world's most efficient intelligence agencies and created close relationships with many other national agencies, not the least important of which was that with the CIA.

After the June 1967 war, the Mossad concentrated much of its resources on countering Palestinian terrorist activities. Thus, for example, it assassinated most of the al-Fatah operatives involved in the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Mossad agents also killed Khalil alWazir (Abu Jihad), Yasir Arafat's deputy in charge of military affairs, in his home in Tunis. Over the years, the Mossad also succeeded in placing its spies in a number of high positions in Arab capitals. Some of its successes may not be revealed for many years to come, but the spies who were eventually caught prove the point. The most important such was Eli Cohen, who established himself in Damascus, developed close relations with the Syrian elite, and reported invaluable information back to Israel before he was apprehended and hanged in 1965. Two more outstanding successes added to the towering prestige of the Mossad: the landing of a MiG-21 advanced Soviet combat plane from the Iraqi air force at an Israeli airport in 1966, and the January 1969 whisking away of three missile boats from the French port of Cherbourg, where they had been built for Israel but were being detained under an embargo declared by President Charles de Gaulle after the outbreak of the June 1967 ArabIsrael War.

The Mossad has also been involved in many nonintelligence operations, in particular with regard to clandestine political relations and endangered Jewish communities. Mossad agents undertook secret negotiations with Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanese, and other Arab leaders long before the first peace treaty was concluded with Egypt in 1979. The Mossad also helped diaspora Jewish communities organize self-defense and was instrumental in the exodus of Ethiopian Jews via Sudan to Israel. It was also responsible for Israel's relations with Lebanese politicians and with Maronite militias, eventually paving the way for the IDF invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

On the eve of the October 1973 war, the Mossad gave the government an early warning of an imminent Egyptian offensive against the Bar-Lev Line, but military intelligence did not take the warning seriously. The failure of military intelligence to make the correct assessment during that war brought about changes in the mandate of Israel's various intelligence agencies. A unit for research and information assessment was added to the Mossad and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the purpose of cross-assessment and verification.

The Mossad's main functions, and apparently also its main departments, are:

  • information collection, utilizing a network of spies and other agents operating in stations around the world
  • political action and intelligence liaison
  • psychological warfare, propaganda, and dis-information
  • research and assessment
  • special operations, such as sabotage, assassination, and other activities, especially beyond Israel's borders.

A well-known example of special operations was the failed attempt to assassinate Khalid al-Mashʿal, head of the political bureau of HAMAS in Amman, Jordan. On 4 October 1997, Mossad agents injected Mashʿal with a toxic substance, but his life was saved when, in response to heavy Jordanian and U.S. pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a physician to administer an antidote to the poison. The affair caused not only a sharp deterioration in IsraeliJordanian relations but also an uproar in Israeli political circles.

In what may signal a decline in its mythical infallibility, the Mossad has been faulted for failing to anticipate the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000. On the other hand, in recent years senior Mossad officials have been intensively involved in the evolving peace process with the Palestinians. Mossad chiefs Ephraim Halevy and General Dani Yatom (along with Shin Bet's Israel Hasson) began to appear in the media in the unusual roles of unofficial peace negotiators. Since these activities exposed the head of the Mossad to public view, the government decided to make the names of past and future directors public. In 2002, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon nominated his long-time friend General Meir Dagan, who had served in the IDF under him, to replace Ephraim Halevy as Mossad's director.

see also amit, meir; aqsa intifada, al-; arabisrael war (1967); arabisrael war (1973); ben-gurion, david; haganah; hamas; harel, isser; jewish agency for palestine; lavon affair; shiloah, reuven; shin bet.


Bar-Zohar, Michael. Spies in the Promised Land: Iser Harel and the Israeli Secret Service, translated by Monroe Stearns. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972.

Black, Ian, and Morris, Benny. Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1991.

Eisenberg, Dennis; Dan, Uri; and Landau, Eli. The Mossad: Israel's Secret Intelligence Service Inside Stories. New York: Signet, 1978.

Eshed, Haggai. Reuven Shiloah: The Man behind the Mossad, translated by David and Leah Zinder. London: Frank Cass, 1997.

Raviv, Dan, and Melman, Yossi. Every Spy a Prince: The Complete History of Israel's Intelligence Community. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

mordechai bar-on

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Israel's principal agency for intelligence collection, counterterrorism, and covert action is the Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks, best known as Mossad, an abbreviation of its Hebrew name, ha-Mossad le-Modiin ule-Tafkidim Meyuhadim. In a tiny country surrounded by foes, the Mossad has been extremely active ever since its establishment in 1951. Its successes include the capture of former Nazi leaders, most notably Adolf Eichmann, as well as numerous triumphs of intelligence-gathering that contributed to Israeli victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Mossad also conducted the legendary raid at Entebbe, Uganda, in which it rescued the passengers and crew of a French jetliner hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. Yet, Mossad has often come under criticism for perceived excessive actions against Israel's many enemies.


David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, established Mossad as ha-Mossad Leteum (the Institute for Coordination) on April 1, 1951. Mossad had a checkered record in its first decade. On the positive side, it was the first intelligence agency to capture a copy of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's February 1956 "Secret Speech," in which he denounced the crimes of Josef Stalin before the 20th Party Congress. Mossad also ran several key operations in Arab lands, with Wolfgang Lotz in Egypt and Eliahu Cohen in Syria.

The Syrians eventually exposed Cohen, however, and hanged him in Damascus Square, while the Egyptians captured, tortured, and imprisoned Lotz in 1964. Meanwhile, another operative in Egypt, David Magen, turned out to be a double agent, and the work of Avraham Dar in Egypt during the mid-1950s ended in a disaster for Israeli intelligence, with numerous agents captured and imprisoned. At least one apparent success of this era turned out

to be a political failure when Ben-Gurion reversed Mossad efforts to intimidate West German scientists who were assisting the Egyptians. Eager to develop better relations with West Germany, Ben-Gurion dismissed Mossad director Isser Harel (195263), who he had once accorded the title Memuneh, "the one in charge."

1960s and 1970s. Mossad, which gained its present name as the Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks in 1963, fared much better in the 1960s. Joint operations with Shin Bet, the internal security force, led to the capture of Eichmannwho had overseen the murder of millions of Jews during the Holocaustfrom his hiding place in Argentina. Under the leadership of Meir Amit (196368), Mossad focused on intelligence-gathering, which greatly aided Israeli military efforts in 1967. During this period, Mossad also assisted the defection of an Iraqi airman who delivered to Israel a Soviet MiG-21 fighter jet in 1963. In 1968, Mossad successfully captured eight missile boats that Israel had ordered from France, but which President Charles de Gaulle had placed under embargo. That year also saw the capture of nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, who had revealed Israeli nuclear secrets to the British press.

Following the massacre of Israeli athletes by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Mossad directed an assassination effort under an action team dubbed "the Wrath of God" (WOG). Over the next two years, WOG tracked down and killed more than a dozen members of Black September, but also accidentally killed a Moroccan waiter who had no affiliation with the terrorist group.

Failure to predict Egyptian actions leading to the Yom Kippur War in 1973 forced the resignation of several top officers, including Mossad director Zvi Zamir (196874). Yet, on July 34, 1976, Mossad more than recovered its reputation with the daring raid at Entebbe, codenamed Operation Thunderbolt. After intensive intelligence-gathering at the site, the Israelis assaulted the plane, rescuing all but four of its 97 passengers and losing a single officeralong with 20 Ugandan soldiersin the process.

1980s and 1990s. During the 1980s, Mossad's intelligence-gathering against Arab countries helped pave the way for Israeli airstrikes against Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters in Tunisia, and against an Iraqi nuclear reactor. In April 1988, a Mossad assassination team infiltrated the residence of Abu Jihad, deputy to PLO chief Yassir Arafat, and killed him. Two years later, in March 1990, another hit team killed Gerald Bull, a Canadian scientist aiding the Iraqi weapons program, at his apartment in Brussels.

Among the less successful activities of Mossad during the 1980s and 1990s was its involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, when it acted as an intermediary between the United States and Iran. Embarrassment surrounding the failure of Mossad to prevent the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin by an Israeli citizen in November 1995 led to the resignation of Mossad director Shabtai Shavit in 1996. Prime Minister Shimon Peres then appointed Major General Danny Yatom, the first Mossad chief ever publicly identified. In 2000, Mossad undertook a recruitment campaign, complete with newspaper advertisements and a Web site that took applications on line.

Organization and Operations

From its headquarters in the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv, Mossad oversees a staff estimated at approximately 1,200 personnel in the mid-1990s. It is assumed to consist of eight departments, of which the largest is Collections, tasked with espionage overseas. Officers in the Collections Department operate under a variety of covers, some diplomatic. The Political Action and Liaison Department is responsible for working both with allied foreign intelligence services, and with nations that have no normal diplomatic relations with Israel.

Among the departments of Mossad is the Special Operations Division or Metsada, which is involved in assassination, paramilitary operations, sabotage, and psychological warfare. Psychological warfare is also a concern of the Lohamah Psichlogit Department, which conducts propaganda and deception activities as well. Additionally, Mossad has a Research Department, tasked with intelligence production, and a Technology Department concerned with the development of tools for Mossad activities.



Eisenberg, Dennis, Uri Dan, and Eli Landau. The Mossad Inside Stories: Israel's Secret Intelligence Service. New York: Paddington Press, 1978.

Eshed, Haggai. Reuven Shiloah: The Man Behind the Mossad: Secret Diplomacy in the Creation of Israel. Portland, OR: F. Cass, 1997.

Horesh, Joshua. An Iraqi Jew in the Mossad: Memoir of an Israeli Intelligence Officer. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1997.

Thomas, Gordon. Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Westerby, Gerald. In Hostile Territory: Business Secrets of a Mossad Combatant. New York: HarperBusiness, 1998.


Egypt, Intelligence and Security
Eichmann, Adolf: Israeli capture
Israel, Counter-terrorism Policy
Israel, Intelligence and Security
Middle East, Modern U.S. Security Policy and Interventions
Palestinian Authority, Intelligence and Security
Syria, Intelligence and Security

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