Munich, 1972. The summer Olympics are in full swing. Nations from all around the world are present. Germany is conscious of the circumstances surrounding its previous hosting of the games, and is determined to portray itself to the world as a peaceful nation. Security is lax. At 4:30am on the 5th of September, 8 members of the Palestinian terrorist group ‘Black September’ storm the quarters of the Israeli team. Two athletes are killed, nine are taken hostage. The Germans do not have Special Forces to attempt a rescue. The hijackers demand a plane to take them and their hostages to Cairo – the Germans agree. Helicopters fly the hostages and terrorists to a nearby airbase, where a Boeing sits on the runway. However, the Germans have no intention of letting the kidnappers actually get away, and a gunfight erupts between the terrorists and the police. All nine hostages are killed. Three gunmen survived and were arrested, but they were later released during another hostage situation, in which the hijackers of a Lufthansa plane demanded their release. Fearing another tragedy, the Germans let them go. But one by one, the attackers were killed. In fact, nearly 110 people linked to the planning and organisation of this attack had been killed under violent and mysterious circumstances by the end of the century. It is believed that the organisation responsible was the Israeli Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, more commonly known by the Hebrew word for Institute: Mossad.
Founded in 1949, Mossad’s primary purpose is the defence of Israel and Jews around the world. It is split into several units, each specialising in a different area – research, technology, sabotage, communications and espionage, as well as one other unit which very little is known about. The Kidon – Mossad’s assassination unit. It was this unit which was tasked with hunting down and killing those responsible for the Munich attack. They compiled a list of approximately 35 names, and set about meticulously eliminating them. Operation Wrath of God, as it was codenamed, peaked in between 1972 and 1973, but deaths attributed to this operation would continue for the next 20 to 30 years. Of the original list of 35, it is believed that approximately 110 would die, some just for standing in between Mossad and their targets, or simply just killed in the crossfire. This organisation is fascinating – for the latter half of the 20th Century, they moved around the world defending Israeli interests using methods that might be seen in an action movie. One minute they may work with a Western intelligence agency, such as MI5, whom they assisted in tracking down al-Qaeda operatives responsible for planning the 7/7 bombings; next, they destroy the same nation’s spy rings if it suits their interest, as they did to MI6 in Kenya. Despite their relationship with the USA, there have been several instances where the CIA had discovered the existence of high level, deep cover Israeli agents within the government, yet were unable to pinpoint exactly who they were. They are meticulous, calculating, and utterly ruthless. Their operations are fascinating in their complexity – they may watch a target for months before striking. But the principle question we should consider is this. Can we trust them? Are they friend, or foe?
The answer, unfortunately and perhaps rather predictably, is perhaps not quite that simple. Lord Palmerston, an English Statesmen who lived from 1784-1865 said this “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Mossad’s allegiance lies first and foremost with Israel. Can we consider Israel a friendly nation? Mostly, yes, although anyone who has studied the Arab-Israeli Conflict will tell you that this is an incredibly complex issue. However, this has not stopped them spying on the UK – industrial espionage, which involves the theft of scientific and technical data, being one of the main examples of this. They also have a somewhat unfortunate habit of using British passports during missions – as recently as 2010, Mossad were caught using them during the assassination of a prominent HAMAS member in Dubai. But this isn’t necessarily a case of the UK being targeted, per se. Mossad also wrecked a French spy network in Zaire, and exposed a German spy ring in Tanzania. In fact, Mossad was at the time of the Kenyan incident engaged in a vicious battle with the Chinese Secret Intelligence Service, as both sides fought for control in the intelligence world of Africa – the treatment of MI6 was a friendly one compared to the fate of the Chinese. They destroyed every intelligence asset the Chinese had in Kenya. They killed Chinese agents all over the continent. They orchestrated an uprising that overthrew Kwame Nkrumah, the pro-Beijing leader of Ghana. When China captured a Mossad agent in the Congo, they fed him to crocodiles and sent the footage to the local Mossad station chief. He responded by personally firing a rocket into the building where the Chinese operated from in the country, killing three. However, the fighting stopped when the two sides found a common threat to their interests – Russia began to expand its influence, especially in Sub Saharan Africa (Angola being the primary example of this). And despite all the previous violence, Mossad and the Chinese Intelligence Service began to cooperate. No permanent allies, no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.
They have a fractured relationship with the majority of the world’s intelligence agencies – there are few that have not at some point had a “run in” with Mossad. They have cooperated with many unpleasant entities, from assisting the Bureau of State Security, which was the intelligence agency of the apartheid South African government and bore striking resemblance to the Israeli agency, to purchasing plutonium and other nuclear materials from the Russian Mafia, ostensibly to ensure it didn’t fall into the wrong hands. But they have also cooperated and provided great assistance to the West when in their interests to do so, from assisting MI5 in unmasking the bomb maker behind 7/7, to assisting the CIA in many exploits across the globe, most of which were to say the least decidedly dodgy. However, they have on numerous occasions stopped arms deals between North Korea and other likeminded nations, some of which involved weapons of mass destruction. To that end, a massive explosion occurred in 2004 in Ryongchon, North Korea. It is believed to have occurred when a train carrying ammonium nitrate, an explosive, contacted a live electrical wire. Though it was considered an accident at the time, or possibly a botched assassination attempt by an unknown perpetrator, it later transpired that Mossad had allegedly learned of the presence of dozens of Syrian nuclear scientists (working on Syria and Iran’s nuclear weapons programs) in a compartment on board this train. All of the technicians were killed in the train explosion, and nuclear material is believed to have been destroyed in the blast.
So do we consider them a friend, or an enemy? The answer to this lies in Mossad’s aims – they serve Israeli interests, so as long as UK and Israeli interests are mutual, they can be considered friendly. If not, all bets are off. As Ari Ben-Menash, a man with links to the service, said “the world should think of Mossad as a dose of preventative medicine – to protect against an illness that could be fatal. You only take the medicine when the illness is threatening. You don’t take it all the time.”