By Yossi Melman
Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s crusade this week against an Israeli strike on Iran took on a new dimension with his several media interviews. His campaign also reflects the Mossad’s attitude toward journalists, something along the lines of respect them, suspect them and use them. The degree shifts from one Mossad head to the next.
Some Mossad chiefs considered appointing a spokesman for the organization and then had second thoughts; one ordered that former employees be barred from Mossad headquarters because they gave media interviews without asking his permission.
Still, former journalists have worked at the Mossad. The organization has also known how to use journalists, mostly foreign correspondents, to disseminate information – some of it false, what is known as psychological warfare. On the other hand, there were times when Israeli journalists offered their services to the Mossad and these offers were rebuffed.
Gad Shimron is a rare exception. As far as could be ascertained, he is the only journalist to have worked in both intelligence and the media at the same time. These two professions might appear contradictory, but some of their methods are similar.
Shimron joined the Mossad in the 1970s while working for Israel Radio by Y., previously a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces’ Shaked reconnaissance unit. Then, for almost two decades, Shimron moved back and forth between the media and the Mossad. He did stints for the press while doing reserve duty as a combatant in the Mossad’s operations unit.
Shimron is now releasing a Hebrew-language book entitled “The Mossad and the Myth” (Keter ), where he offers little snippets of what went on; of course, the book was reviewed by the censor and the Mossad’s chief security officer. Shimron doesn’t mention the name of the unit where he served, but sources say he was part of Neviot, which the sources say conducted break-ins abroad into “objects” such as hotels and embassies.
In the late 1970s, Shimron was Y.’s subordinate and worked for four years in Sudan pretending to be a European surfing instructor. The Mossad set up a resort on the Red Sea coast that served as a cover for clandestine operations to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The Mossad, which also established a travel agency for the operation, brought to the resort real tourists – mostly Germans and Dutch – on flights operated by Balkan Airlines, the Bulgarian national carrier.
Shimron, who was then a tan and handsome man in his 30s, almost had his cover blown when the daughter of a German diplomat staying at the resort showed too much interest in him. Shimron, who scoffs at journalists who boast that they always know everything about the Mossad (he swears he is not referring to this author ), notes that the book “will not have anything about assassinations and escapades that never happened.”
A fragile covenant with the Jews
In May 1969, I volunteered to serve in the Shaked unit, which was the Southern Command’s patrol unit. The unit’s commander was Benjamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer, but the veterans all spoke admiringly of the previous commander, Lt. Col. Amos Yarkoni. For a new recruit it was strange that the unit commander with an Arabic name – Fuad – was Jewish, while his adored predecessor, Yarkoni, was a Bedouin Arab.
Last month at Tel Aviv’s Tzavta Club, Shaked veterans, their families and friends got together to mark the 20th anniversary of Yarkoni’s death and to watch a moving film in his memory. The film, “The Legacy of a Bedouin Tracker,” was produced by the Shaked Association and the Amos Yarkoni memorial association.
Yarkoni was born in Na’ura in 1925 as Abd al-Majid Khader al-Mazarib, part of a Bedouin tribe near Nahalal in the north. He worked at the Haifa oil refinery and from an early age identified with and felt close to the Jews. “The Jews I knew were all nice,” he says in the movie, “and I decided they were a people that should be helped.”
In 1948, he enlisted in the IDF and changed his name to Yarkoni – khader is Arabic for green (yarok in Hebrew, from which Yarkoni is derived ). He was sent to work in the kitchen but didn’t peel potatoes for a single day. Instead he became a tracker and laid the groundwork for the IDF’s tracking doctrine, whose guidelines are used to this day.
In 1961 he was appointed commander of Shaked, which had been set up a few years earlier to handle day-to-day security, mainly to prevent infiltrations and attacks from the Gaza Strip and Jordan. “Everyone tried to imitate him,” said Maj. Gen. (res. ) Zvi Zamir at the gathering last month. Zamir got to know Yarkoni when Zamir served as GOC Southern Command. “Shaked under Yarkoni’s command became a unique unit, professional and a model to strive for. In its wake other reconnaissance units were set up in other commands.”
During one of the hundreds of chases he commanded, Yarkoni was injured and lost his left arm. He received the medal of valor and three distinguished service medals. In 1969 he retired from the IDF as a lieutenant colonel. But despite his contribution to the IDF, Israel took the trouble to remind him that he wasn’t equal. His son, who sought to serve in an elite unit, was refused because of his Bedouin background, and the incident shook his faith in his covenant with the Jews.
An Iranian exile’s mixed reputation
Amir Abbas Fakhravar is an Iranian exile living in the United States and presents himself as an opponent of the regime in Tehran. He was recently invited by an Israeli institute that tried to arrange meetings for him with national leaders and Iranian affairs experts. New York attorney Richard Horowitz brought his concerns about Fakhravar’s credibility to the attention of Israeli officials.
Horowitz, a former officer in the IDF, represents several former Iranian political prisoners who claim to have been harmed by alleged smear campaigns by Fakhravar. “These political prisoners,” Horowitz told Haaretz, “have doubts about who Fakhravar really serves, and I thought Israel should be warned about this and bar his visit there, where he would try to solidify his status and gain legitimacy.”
Horowitz’s efforts were successful. A few days ago, the Israeli government refused to grant him a visa. The Foreign Ministry confirmed the information. Fakhravar did not respond to an e-mail from Haaretz.