By Gabriel Eichler
Some say he was the man on whom the fictional character of James Bond was based.
But he was better than Bond.
Much, much better.
No gadgets, no gizmos, not a very glamorous existence.
Just risking his life for half a century – always in the shadows, protecting his beloved people.
Israel’s super-spy Mike Harari passed away in Tel-Aviv at the age of 87-just a few days before Rosh Hashanah.
He was among the last of the greatest spies in Israel’s rich history of early intelligence work: Isser Harel, Meir Amit, and Zvi Malchin. With the exception of Rafi Eitan who is turning 88 next month and Zvi Zamir, who is 89, the generation of great intelligence officers has now passed on. But their extraordinary work will never be forgotten.
Mike Harari, the legendary Mossad operative, passed quietly, the way he lived his turbulent and always dangerous, eventful life.
His death was announced by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who described Harari as “one of the great warriors for Israel’s security.”
On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon paid tribute to the legendary Mossad agent, saying that he was “a rare, revolutionary, brave, daring and creative man of missions.”
“Most of Mike’s activity for the sake of Israel’s security as a fighter and commander in the Mossad isn’t known and will never be known,” Ya’alon said.
Harari played key roles in several legendary Mossad operations, including the rescue of the hijacked Air France hostages at Entebbe.
He was born in Tel Aviv on February 18, 1927.
Harari began his intelligence work at the age of 19, facilitating illegal Jewish immigration to British-controlled Palestine immediately after World War II.
He then served in the Israeli army and later excelled as a field agent for the Shin Bet Security Service before being recruited by the Mossad in the 1960s. During his time in the Mossad he very successfully ran a considerable network of important agents in Europe, eventually advancing to the head of the Operations Branch.
The Munich massacre was an attack during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, on 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, who were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian group Black September. Shortly after the crisis began, the terrorists demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails, and the release of the founders (Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof) of the German Red Army Faction, who were held in German prisons.
The attackers were given logistical assistance by German neo-Nazis. Five of the eight members of Black September were killed by police officers during a failed rescue attempt. The three surviving attackers were captured, but later released by West Germany following the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner. Israel responded to the killers’ release with Operation “Spring of Youth” and Operation “Wrath of God,” during which the Mossad and Israeli special forces systematically tracked down and killed those suspected of involvement in the massacre.
General Zvi Zamir, who was head of the Mossad at the time of the Munich massacre, hand-picked Harari, the head of the Special Operations Unit, to assemble a special team of operatives to hunt down the terrorists behind the murder of the Israeli Olympians.
Prime Minister Golda Meir created Committee X, a small group of government officials tasked with formulating an Israeli response, with herself and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan at the head.
The committee came to the conclusion that, to deter future violent incidents against Israel, they needed to assassinate those who had supported or carried out the Munich massacre, and in dramatic fashion. Pressured by Israeli public opinion and top intelligence officials, Meir reluctantly authorized the beginning of the broad assassination campaign.
The committee’s first task for Israeli intelligence was to draw up an assassination list of all those involved in Munich. Once this was complete, Mike Harari was charged with locating the individuals and assassinating them.
But his heroics didn’t end there.
On July 4, 1976 when Israel carried out one of the most daring hostage rescue missions in history – more than 2,500 miles from Israel’s shores, Mike Harari assumed the disguise of an Italian businessman to enter and reconnoiter Uganda’s Entebbe airport. It was also not generally known that Harari, at the completion of the successful rescue mission, also helped facilitate the use of Kenyan air bases to refuel Israeli planes returning with the 102 freed hostages.
These are just a very few details of operations that became public, but it is safe to assume that they represent but a tiny fraction of the countless daring operations Mike Harari undertook during his 25 years as a brilliant Mossad leader and highly effective field operative.
After his retirement from active service, in keeping with the rules of his profession, Michael Harari seldom appeared in public.
The rare exception was in February of 2005 when he eulogized his legendary spying partner Sylvia Rafael in uncharacteristically emotional words – words that could well serve as his own eulogy: “You were an Empress of Royal blood, a remarkable clandestine combatant, a loyal emissary of the people of Israel. Your motivation to succeed was truly remarkable, and on more that one occasion, you endangered your life to perform the impossible. Sylvia, you will be sorely missed by all of us.”