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By Way of Deception
Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy
St. Martin’s Press
AUTHOR’S FORWARD vii
PROLOGUE: OPERATION SPHINX 1
PART I CADET 16
1 Recruitment 31
2 School Days 51
3 Freshmen 66
4 Sophomores 84
5 Rookies 99
PART II INSIDE AND OUT
6 The Belgian Table 117
7 Hairpiece 137
8 Hail and Farewell 153
PART III BY WAY OF DECEPTION
9 Strella 177
10 Carlos 197
11 Exocet 217
12 Checkmate 230
13 Helping Arafat 246
14 Only in America 267
15 Operation Moses 287
16 Harbor Insurance 302
17 Beirut 310
GLOSSARY of TERMS 357
BUTRUS EBEN HALIM could be forgiven for noticing the woman. After all, she was a sultry blonde, given to wearing tight pants and low-cut blouses, revealing just enough of herself to pique any man’s desire for more.
She’d been showing up at his regular bus stop in Villejuif on the southern outskirts of Paris every day for the past week. With just two buses using that stop — one local and one RATP into Paris — and usually only a few other regular passengers standing around, it was impossible to miss her. Although Halim didn’t know it, that was the point.
It was August 1978. Her routine, like his, seemed constant. She was there when Halim arrived to catch his bus. Moments later, a light-skinned, blue-eyed, sharply dressed man would race up in a red Ferrari BB512 two-seater, pull in to pick up the blonde, then speed off to heaven knew where.
Halim, an Iraqi, whose wife, Samira, could no longer’stand either him or their dreary life in Paris, would spend much of his lonely trip to work thinking about the woman. He certainly had the time. Halim was not inclined to speak to anyone along the way, and Iraqi security had instructed him to take a circular route to work, changing it frequently. His only constants were the bus stop near his home in Villejuif and Gare Saint-Lazare Metro station. There, Halim caught the train to Sarcelles, just north of the city, where he worked on a top-secret project that involved building a nuclear reactor for Iraq.
One day, the second bus arrived before the Ferrari. The woman first glanced down the street searching for the car, then shrugged and boarded the bus. Halim’s bus had been temporarily delayed by a minor “accident” two blocks away when a Peugeot pulled out in front of it.
Moments later, the Ferrari arrived. The driver looked around for the girl, and Halim, realizing what had happened, shouted to him in French that she had taken the bus. The man, looking perplexed, replied in English, at which point Halim repeated the story for him in English.
Grateful, the man asked Halim where he was headed. Halim told him the Madeleine station, within walking distance of Saint- Lazare, and the driver, Ran S. — whom Halim would know only as Englishman Jack Donovan — said he, too, was headed that way, and offered him a lift.
Why not, Halim thought, hopping into the car and settling in for the drive.
The fish had swallowed the hook. And as luck would have it, it would prove to be a prize catch for the Mossad.
Operation Sphinx ended spectacularly on June 7, 1981, when U.S.- made Israeli fighter-bombers destroyed the Iraqi nuclear complex Tamuze 17 (or Osirak) at Tuwaitha, just outside Baghdad, in a daring raid over hostile territory. But that came only after years of international intrigue, diplomacy, sabotage, and assassinations orchestrated by the Mossad had delayed construction of the plant, though ultimately failing to stop it.
Israeli concern for the project had been high ever since France had signed an agreement to provide Iraq, then its second-largest oil supplier, with a nuclear research center in the wake of the 1973 energy crisis. The crisis had escalated interest in nuclear power as an alternative energy source, and countries that manufactured systems were drastically stepping up their international sales operations. At the time, France wanted to sell Iraq a 700-megawatt commercial nuclear reactor.
Iraq always insisted the nuclear research center was designed for peaceful purposes, basically to provide energy for Baghdad. Israel, with considerable cause, feared it would be used to manufacture nuclear bombs for use against her.
The French had agreed to supply 93-percent-enriched uranium for two reactors provided by its military enrichment plant at Pierrelatte. France agreed to sell Iraq four charges of fuel: a total of 150 pounds of enriched uranium, enough to make about four nuclear weapons. Then U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, had made opposition to nuclear proliferation his main foreign policy effort, and U.S. diplomats were actively lobbying both the French and the Iraqis to change their plans.
Even the French became wary of Iraq’s intentions when that country flatly refused their offer to substitute the enriched uranium with another less potent form of fuel called “caramel,” a substance that can produce nuclear energy, but not nuclear bombs.
Iraq was adamant. A deal was a deal. At a July 1980 news conference in Baghdad, Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein mocked Israeli concerns, saying that years earlier, “Zionist circles in Europe derided the Arabs who, they said, were an uncivilized and backward people, good only for riding camels in the desert.
See how today these same circles say without batting an eyelid that Iraq is on the point of producing an atomic bomb.” The fact that Iraq was fast approaching that point in the late 1970s prompted AMAN, Israel’s military intelligence unit, to send a memo (labeled “black” for top secret) to Tsvy Zamir, the tall, slender, balding ex-army general who was then the Mossad head. AMAN wanted more precise inside information on the stages of development of the Iraqi project, so David Biran, head of Tsomet, Mossad’s recruiting department, was summoned to meet with Zamir. Biran, a chubby, round-faced career Mossad man, and a noted dandy, subsequently met his department heads and ordered them to find an immediate Iraqi tie-in to the manufacturing plant at Sarcelles, France.
An exhaustive two-day search of personnel files came up empty, so Biran called the head of the Paris station, David Arbel, a white-haired multilingual career Mossad officer, giving him the necessary details for the assignment. Like all such stations, the one in Paris is located in the heavily reinforced underground of the Israeli embassy. Arbel, as head of the station, outranked even the ambassador. Mossad personnel control the diplomatic pouch (the “dip”), and all mail in and out of the embassies goes through them. They are also in charge of maintaining safe houses, known as “operational apartments”; the London station alone, for example, owns more than 100 such flats and rents another 50.
Paris also had its share of sayanim, Jewish volunteer helpers from all walks of life, and one of them, code-named Jacques Marcel, worked in personnel at the Sarcelles nuclear plant. Had the project been less urgent, he would not have been asked to procure an actual document. Normally, he would pass along information verbally, or even copy it onto paper. Taking a document involves the risk of getting caught and puts the sayan in danger. But in this case, they decided they needed the actual document, primarily because Arabic names are often confusing (they frequently use different names in different situations). And so, to be certain, Marcel was asked for the list of all Iraqi personnel working there.
Since he was scheduled to come into Paris for a meeting the next week anyway, Marcel was instructed to put the personnel list in the trunk of his car along with others he was legitimately bringing to the meeting. The night before, a Mossad katsa (gathering officer) met him, got a duplicate trunk key, and gave the man his instructions. Marcel was to make one round of a side street near the Ecole Militaire at the appointed time: there he would see a red Peugeot with a particular sticker on the back window. The car would have been rented and left all night in front of a cafê to guarantee a parking spot, always a prime commodity in Paris. Marcel was told to circle the block, and when he came back, the Peugeot would be pulling out, allowing him to take that parking spot. Then he was simply told to go off to his meeting, leaving the personnel file in the trunk.
Because employees in sensitive industries are subjected to random security checks, Marcel was tailed by the Mossad, without his knowledge, on the way to his rendezvous. After again making sure there was no surveillance, a two-man Mossad squad took the file from the trunk and walked into the café. While one man ordered, the other walked into the washroom. There he produced a camera with an attached set of four small, aluminum fold-back legs, called a “clamper.” This device saves setup time, since it is already in focus and uses special snap-on cartridges manufactured by the Mossad photography department that take up to 500 exposures on a single roll of film. Once the legs are shoved down, the photographer can slide the documents quickly in and out underneath it, using a rubber attachment held between his teeth to click the shutter each time. After photographing the three pages in this way, the men put the file back in Marcel’s trunk and left.
The names were immediately sent by computer to the Paris desk in Tel Aviv, using the standard Mossad double coding system.
Each phonetic sound has a number. If the name is Abdul, for example, then “Ab” might be assigned number seven and “dul” 21.
To further complicate matters, each number has a regular code a letter or another number — and this “sleeve” coding is changed once a week. Even then, each message tells only half the story, so that one would contain the code of the code for “Ab,” while another the code of the code for “dul.” Even if this transmission was intercepted, it would mean nothing to the person trying to decode it. In this way, the entire personnel list was sent to headquarters in two separate computer transmissions.
As soon as the names and positions were decoded in Tel Aviv, they were sent to the Mossad research department and to AMAN, but again, because the Iraqi personnel at Sarcelles were scientists, not previously regarded as threatening, the Mossad had little on file about them.
Word came back from the Tsomet chief to “hit it at convenience” — that is, find the easiest target. And quickly. Which is how they chanced upon Butrus Eben Halim. It would prove to be a lucky strike, but at the time, he was chosen because he was the only Iraqi scientist who had given a home address. That meant the others were either more security- minded, or lived at military quarters near the plant. Halim was also married — only half of them were — but had no children. For a 42-year-old Iraqi to have no children was unusual, not the mark of a normal, happy marriage.
Now that they had their target, the next problem was how to “recruit” him, particularly since word from Tel Aviv was that this was considered an ain efes, or “no miss” a strong term in Hebrew.
To complete this task, two teams were called in. The first, yarid, a team in charge of European security, would figure out Halim’s schedule and that of his wife, Samira, see if he was under Iraqi or French surveillance, and arrange for a nearby apartment through a “real estate” sayan (one of the Paris sayanim in real estate and trusted to find an apartment in the requested neighborhood, no questions asked).
The second, neviot, was the team that would do any necessary break-ins, casing the target’s apartment and installing listening devices — a “wood” if it had to be fitted into a table or baseboard, for example; a “glass” if it involved a telephone.
The yarid branch of the security department consists of three teams of seven to nine people each, with two teams working abroad and one backup in Israel. Calling in one of the teams for an operation usually involves considerable haggling, since everyone regards their particular operation as vital.
The neviot branch also consists of three teams of experts trained in the art of obtaining information from still objects, which means breaking in, or photographing such things as documents, entering and leaving rooms and buildings to install surveillance equipment without leaving a trace or coming into contact with anyone.
Among their collection of implements, these teams have master keys for most of the major hotels in Europe and are constantly devising new methods of opening doors equipped with locks opened by card keys, code keys, and various other means. Some hotels, for example, even have locks that open using the thumbprint of the room guest.
Once the listening devices, or “bugs,” were placed and operational in Halim’s apartment, a Shicklut (listening department) employee would listen and record the conversation. The tape from the first day would be sent back to Tel Aviv headquarters, where the particular dialect would be determined and a marats, or listener, who best understood that dialect would be sent in from Israel as soon as possible to continue the electronic surveillance and provide immediate translations for the Paris station.
At this point in the operation, all they had was a name and an address. They did not even have a photo of the Iraqi and certainly no guarantee that he would be useful. The yarid team began by watching his apartment building from the street and spying from the nearby apartment to see just what Halim and his wife looked like.
The first actual contact was made two days later, when a young, attractive woman with short-cropped hair, introducing herself as Jacqueline, knocked on Halim’s door. This was Dina, a yarid worker, whose job was simply to get a good look at the wife and identify her to the team so that surveillance could begin in earnest. Dina’s cover was selling perfume, which she’d obtained in large quantities. Complete with an attaché case and printed order forms, Dina had gone from door to door offering her wares at all the other apartments in the three-story walk-up to avoid suspicion. She had made sure to arrive at Halim’s apartment before he got home from work.
Samira was thrilled with the perfume offer. So were most of the women in the building. And no wonder, since the prices were much lower than in the retail stores. Customers were asked to pay half up front and the other half on delivery, with the promise of a “free gift” when the order was delivered.
Better still, Samira invited “Jacqueline” in and poured her heart out to her about how unhappy she was, how her husband had no drive to succeed, how she had come from an affluent family and was tired of having to use her own money to live on, and — bingo — how she was going home to Iraq in two weeks because her mother was having major surgery. This would leave her husband alone and even more vulnerable.
“Jacqueline,” posing as a student from a good family in southern France and selling perfume to earn extra spending money, was extremely sympathetic to Samira’s plight. Although her initial task was simply to identify the woman, this particular success was indisputable. In surveillance, each minute detail is reported after each stage back to the safe house, where the team digests the information and plans the next step. This usually means hours of interrogation, of going over and over each detail, tempers often rising as various people debate the significance of a particular action or phrase. Team members chain-smoke and main-line coffee, and the atmosphere inside a safe house grows more tense as each hour passes.
And so it was decided that since Dina (Jacqueline) had struck a chord with Samira, this happy turn of events could be used to expedite matters. Her next task would be to get the woman out of the apartment twice — once so that the team could determine the best place for a listening device, the second time to install it. That meant coming in and taking photos, measurements, paint chips, everything needed to guarantee that an exact replica of an item could be produced, but with a bug implanted in it. Like all things the Mossad does, the criterion is always to minimize risk.
During the original visit, Samira had complained about her problems with finding a good local hairdresser to do something about the color of her hair. When Jacqueline returned with the merchandise two days later (this time shortly before Halim was due home, so that she could see what he looked like) she told Samira about her own fashionable Left Bank hairdresser.
“I told Andrê about you, and he said he’d love to work on your hair,” said Jacqueline. “It will take a couple of visits. He’s so particular. But I’d love to take you along with me.” Samira jumped at the chance. She and her husband had no real friends in the area, little social life, and the opportunity for a couple of afternoons in town, away from the endless drudgery of her apartment, was welcome.
As Samira’s special gift for buying perfume, Jacqueline brought a fancy keyholder, complete with a little tab for each key. “Here,” she said. “Give me your apartment key, and I’ll show you how this works.” What Samira didn’t see when she handed over the key was Jacqueline’s slipping it into a hinged, two-inch box, wrapped to look like just another gift, but filled with talcum-sprinkled plasticine to prevent its sticking to the key. When the key was slipped in and the box closed tight, it left a perfect impression in the plasticine from which a duplicate could be made.
The neviot could have broken in without a key, but why take added risks of detection if you can arrange simply to walk through the front door as if you really belonged there? Once inside, they would always lock the door, then wedge a bar between the inside doorknob and the floor. That way, if anyone did manage to walk past the outside surveillance and try to unlock the door, they would probably think the lock was broken and go for assistance, giving those inside more time to get away unobserved.
Once Halim had been identified, the yarid set about the practice of “motionless following,” a method to determine an individual’s schedule while avoiding any chance of detection. It means watching him in stages, not actually tagging along behind him, but having a man stationed nearby to watch where he goes. After a few days of that, another man stationed at the next block would watch, and so on. In Halim’s case, this was extremely easy since he went to the same bus stop every day.
Through the listening device, the team learned exactly when Samira was flying home to Iraq. They also heard Halim tell her he had to go to the Iraqi embassy for a security check, alerting the Mossad to be even more careful. But they still hadn’t figured out how to recruit him, and with the top priority of this case they didn’t have much time to determine whether Halim would be cooperative or not. The use of an oter, an Arab paid to contact other Arabs, was ruled out by operational security as too risky in this case. This was a one-shot deal and they didn’t want to mess it up. Early hopes that Dina as Jacqueline could get at Halim through his wife were soon discarded. After the second hair appointment, Samira wanted no more to do with Jacqueline. “I saw how you looked at that girl,” Samira told Halim during one of her carping sessions. “Don’t you get any ideas just because I’m going away. I know what you are.” Which is how they hit upon the idea of the girl at the bus stop, with katsa Ran S. as the flamboyant Englishman, Jack Donovan.
They would let the rented Ferrari and Donovan’s other illusory trappings of wealth do the rest.
On the first ride in the Ferrari, Halim gave nothing away about his job, claiming to be a student — a rather old one, Ran thought to himself. He did mention that his wife was going away and that he liked to eat well, but being a Muslim didn’t drink.
Donovan, keeping his occupation vague to allow the greatest possible flexibility, said he dealt in international trade and suggested that maybe someday Halim would like to visit his villa in the country or join him for dinner while his wife was away.
Halim did not commit himself to anything at that point.
The next morning, the blonde was back and Donovan picked her up. A day later, Donovan showed up but the girl didn’t, and he again offered Halim a ride into town, this time suggesting they stop first at a local café for coffee. As for the beautiful companion, Donovan explained, “Oh, she’s just some floozy I met. She was starting to make too many demands, so I ditched her. Pity in a way — she was very good, if you know what I mean. But there’s never any shortage of that, old boy.” Halim did not mention his new friend to Samira. This was something he wanted to keep to himself.
After Samira left for Iraq, Donovan, who’d been picking Halim up regularly and becoming quite chummy, said he had to go to Holland on business for about 10 days. He gave Halim his business card — a front, of course, but nonetheless an actual office, complete with a sign and secretary should Halim call or come looking, at an impressive address in a renovated building near the top of the Champs Elysèes.
During all this time, Ran (Donovan) was actually staying at the safe house where, after each encounter with Halim, he would meet with the head of the station or the second-incommand to plan the next move, write his reports, read the transcripts from the bugs, and go over each and every possible scenario.
Ran would do a route first to make sure he hadn’t been followed.
At the safe house, he’d exchange his documentation, leaving his British passport behind. Of the two reports he’d write each time, the first was an information report containing specific details of what was said at the meeting.
The second report, an operations report, would contain the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. It listed everything that happened during the meeting. This second report would be put into another folder and given to a bodel, or courier, who conveys messages between the safe houses and the embassy.
Operational and information reports are sent to Israel separately, either through computers or dips. An operational report is further broken up to avoid detection. The first might say, “I met with subject at (see separately),” and another report would contain the location, and so on. Each person has two code names, although they don’t know their own codes: one information code and one operational code.
The Mossad’s biggest concern is always in communications.
Because they know what they can do, they figure other countries can do it, too.
With Samira gone, Halim broke from any routine, stopping off in town after work to eat alone in a restaurant or take in a movie. One day he telephoned his friend Donovan and left a message. Three days later, Donovan called back. Halim wanted to go out, so Donovan took him to an expensive cabaret for dinner and a show. He insisted on paying for everything.
Halirn was drinking now, and over the course of the long evening, Donovan outlined a deal he was working on to sell old cargo containers to African countries to use as housing units.
“They’re so bloody desperate in some of these places. They just cut holes in these things for windows and a door and they live in them,” said Donovan. “I’ve got a line on some in Toulon that I can buy for next to nothing. I’m going down there this weekend. Why don’t you come along?” “I’d probably just get in the way,” said Halim. “I don’t know anything about business.” “Nonsense. It’s a long drive there and back, and I’d love to have the company. We’ll stay over and come back Sunday. Anyway, what else are you doing this weekend?” The plan almost failed when a local sayan got cold feet at the last moment; instead, a katsa filled in as the “businessman” selling the containers to Donovan.
As the two haggled over the price, Halim noticed that one container, which had been lifted up on a crane, had rust on the bottom (they all did — and they were hoping Halim would notice).
He took Donovan aside to tell him, enabling his friend to negotiate a discount on some 1,200 containers.
That night at dinner, Donovan gave Halim $1,000 (U.S.) cash. “Go ahead. Take it,” he said. “You saved me a lot more than that by spotting that rust. Not that it will matter at the other end, of course, but that bloke selling them didn’t know that.” For the first time, Halim began to realize that, in addition to offering him a good time, his new-found friendship could be profitable. For the Mossad, who know that money, sex, and some type of psychological motivation — individually or in combination can buy almost anything, their man was now really hooked. It was time to get down to some real business, or tachless, with Halim.
Now that he knew Halim had complete confidence in his cover story, Donovan invited the Iraqi to his luxurious hotel suite in the Sofitel-Bourbon at 32 run Saint-Dominique. He’d also invited a young hooker, Marie-Claude Magal. After ordering dinner, Donovan told his guest he had to go out on urgent business, leaving a phony telex message behind on a table for Halim to read as confirmation.
“Listen, I’m sorry about this,” he said. “But you enjoy yourself, and I’ll be in touch.” So Halim and the hooker did enjoy themselves. The episode was filmed, not necessarily for blackmail purposes, but just to see what was going on, what Halim would say and do. An Israeli psychiatrist was already poring over every detail of the reports on Halim for clues to the most effective approach to the man. An Israeli nuclear physicist was also on standby should his services be needed. Before too long, they would be.
Two days later, Donovan returned and called Halim. Over coffee, Halim could plainly see that his friend was upset about something.
“I’ve got the chance of a superb deal from a German company on some special pneumatic tubes for shipping radioactive material for medical purposes,” said Donovan. “It’s all very technical. There’s big money involved, but I don’t know the first thing about it.
They’ve put me on to an English scientist who’s agreed to inspect the tubes. The problem is he wants too much money and I’m not sure I trust him, in any case. I think he’s tied in with the Germans.” “Maybe I could help,” said Halim.
“Thanks, but I need a scientist to examine these tubes.” “I am a scientist,” said Halim.
Donovan, looking surprised, said, “What do you mean? I thought you were a student.” “I had to tell you that at first. But I’m a scientist sent here by Iraq on a special project. I’m sure I could help.” Ran was to say later that when Halim finally admitted his occupation it was as if somebody had drained all of Ran’s blood and pumped in ice, then drained that out and pumped in boiling water. They had him! But Ran couldn’t let his excitement show.
He had to be calm.
“Listen, I’m supposed to meet this lot in Amsterdam this weekend.
I must go a day or two early, but how be if I send my jet for you on Saturday morning?” Halim agreed.
“You won’t regret this,” said Donvoan. “There’s a packet of money to be made if these things are legitimate.” The jet, temporarily painted with Donovan’s company logo, was a Learjet flown in from Israel for the occasion. The Amsterdam office belonged to a wealthy Jewish contractor. Ran didn’t want to cross the border with Halim since he’d not be using his phony British passport but his real papers, always the preferred route to avoid possible detection at borders.
When Halim arrived at the Amsterdam office in the limousine that met him at the airport, the others were already there. The two businessmen were Itsik E., a Mossad katsa, and Benjamin Goldstein, an Israeli nuclear scientist carrying a German passport.
He’d brought along one of the pneumatic tubes as the display model for Halim to examine.
After some initial discussions, Ran and Itsik left the room, supposedly to work out the financial details, leaving the two scientists together to discuss technical matters. With their common interest and expertise, the two men sensed an instant camaraderie and Goldstein asked Halim how he knew so much about the nuclear industry. It was a shot in the dark, but Halim, his defenses dropped completely, told him about his job.
Later, when Goldstein told Itsik about Halim’s admission, they decided to take the unsuspecting Iraqi to dinner. Ran was to make an excuse for being unable to attend.
Over dinner, the two men outlined a plan they said they had been working on: trying to sell nuclear power plants to Third World countries — for peaceful purposes, of course.
“Your plant project would make a perfect model for us to sell to these people,” said Itsik. “If you could just get us some details, the plans, that sort of thing, we would all stand to make a fortune from this.
“But it has to be kept between us. We don’t want Donovan to know about this or he’d want a piece of the action. We’ve got the contacts and you’ve got the expertise. We don’t really need him.” “Well, I’m not so sure,” said Halim. “Donovan has been good to me.
And isn’t it, well, you know, kind of dangerous?” “No. There’s no danger,” said Itsik. “You must have regular access to these things. We just want to use it as a model, that’s all. We’d pay you well and nobody would ever know. How could they? This sort of thing is done all the time.” “I suppose so,” said Halim, still hesitating, but intrigued by the prospect of big money. “But what about Donovan? I hate to go behind his back.” “Do you think he lets you in on all his deals? Come now He won’t ever know about it. You can still be friends with Donovan and do business with us. We’d certainly never tell him, because he’d want a cut.” Now they really had him. The promise of untold riches was just too much. Anyway, he felt good about Goldstein, and it wasn’t as if he was helping them design a bomb. And there was no need for Donovan to ever know. So why not? he thought.
Halim had been officially recruited. And like so many recruits, he wasn’t even aware of it.
Donovan paid Halim $8,000 (U.S.) for his help with the tubes, and the next day, after celebrating with an expensive brunch and a hooker in his room, the happy Iraqi was flown back to Paris on the private jet.
At this point, Donovan was supposed to get out of the picture altogether, to relieve Halim of the embarrassing position of having to hide things from him. For a time, he did disappear, although he left a London phone number with Halim just in case he wanted to get in touch. Donovan said he had a business deal in England and he wasn’t sure how long he’d be gone.
Two days later, Halim met with his new business associates in Paris. Itsik, much pushier than Donovan, wanted a layout of the Iraqi plant along with details on its location, capacity, and precise construction timetable.
Halim at first complied, with no apparent problems. The two Israelis taught him how to photocopy using a “paper paper,” a special paper that is simply placed on top of a document to be copied, with a book or other object left sitting on it for several hours. The image is transferred to the paper, which still looks like ordinary paper, but when it is processed, a reverse image of the copied document is obtained.
As Itsik pushed Halim for more information, paying him handsomely at each stage, the Iraqi began to show signs of what is called the “spy reaction”: hot and cold flashes, rising temperatures, inability to sleep or settle down — real physical symptoms brought on by the fear of being caught. The more you do, the more you fear the consequences of your actions.
What to do? The only thing Halim could think of was to call his friend Donovan. He’d know. He knew people in high and mysterious places.
“You’ve got to help me,” Halim pleaded, when Donovan returned his call. “I have a problem, but I can’t talk about it on the telephone. I’m in trouble. I need your help.” “That’s what friends are for,” Donovan assured him, telling Halim he’d be flying in from London in two days and would meet him at the Sofitel suite.
“I’ve been tricked,” Halim cried, confessing the whole “secret” deal he had made with the German company in Amsterdam. “I’m sorry.
You’ve been such a good friend. But I was taken in by the money.
My wife always wants me to earn more, to better myself. I saw the chance. I was so selfish and so stupid. Please forgive me. I need your help.” Donovan was magnanimous about it all, telling Halim, “That’s business.” But he went on to suggest that the Germans might, in reality, be U.S. CIA men. Halim was stunned.
“I’ve given them everything I have,” he said, much to Ran’s delight.
“Still, they push me for more.” “Let me think about this,” said Donovan. “I know some people. Anyway, you’re hardly the first bloke who ever got taken in by money. Let’s just relax and have a good time. These things are seldom as bad as they seem once you get right down to it.” That night, Donovan and Halim went out for dinner and rinks.
Later, Donovan bought him another hooker. “She’ll soothe your nerves,” he laughed.
Indeed, she would. Only about five months had elapsed since the operation began, a fast pace for this sort of business. But with such high stakes, speed was considered essential. Still, caution was the watchword at this stage. And with Halim so tense and frightened, he’d have to be brought along gently.
After another long heated session in the safe house, the decision was made for Ran to go back to Halim and tell him it was a CIA operation after all.
“They’ll hang me,” Halim cried. “They’ll hang me.” “No, they won’t,” said Donovan. “It’s not as if you were working for the Israelis. It’s not that bad. Anyway, who will know? I’ve made a deal with them. They just want one more piece of information, then they’ll leave you alone.” “What? What more can I give them?” “Well, it doesn’t mean anything to me, but I suppose you know about it,” said Donovan, pulling a paper out of his pocket. “Oh yes, here it is. They want to know how Iraq will respond when France offers to substitute the enriched stuff with, what is it called, caramel? Tell them that and they’ll never bother you again. They’re not interested in harming you. They just want the information.” Halim told him Iraq wanted the enriched uranium, but in any event, Yahia El Meshad, an Egyptian-born physicist, would be arriving in a few days to inspect the project and decide these matters on behalf of Iraq.
“Will you be meeting him?” asked Donovan.
“Yes, yes. He’ll be meeting all of us from the project.” “Good. Then maybe you’ll be able to get that information, and your troubles will be over.” Halim, looking somewhat relieved, was suddenly in a hurry to leave. Since he now had money, he’d been hiring a hooker on his own, a friend of Marie-Claude Magal, a woman who thought she was passing information along to the local police, but in fact was tipping off the Mossad for easy money. Indeed, when Halim had told Magal he wanted to become a regular client, she had given him the name of her friend at Donovan’s suggestion.
Now Donovan insisted that Halim set up a dinner meeting with the visiting Meshad at a bistro, where he would “happen” to drop in.
On the appointed evening, acting surprised, Halim introduced his friend Donovan to Meshad. The cautious Meshad, however, simply offered a polite hello and suggested Halim return to their table when he had finished chatting with his friend. Halim was far too nervous even to broach the subject of the caramel with Meshad, and the scientist showed absolutely no interest in Halim’s explanation that his friend Donovan was capable of buying almost anything and might be useful to them someday.
Later that night, Halim called Donovan to tell him he’d failed to get anything out of Meshad. The next night, meeting in the suite, Donovan persuaded Halim that if he got the timetable of shipments from the Sarcelles plant to Iraq, that would satisfy the CIA and get them off his case.
By this time, the Mossad had learned from a “white” agent who worked in finance for the French government that Iraq was not receptive to the substitution of caramel for enriched uranium.
Still, Meshad, as the man in charge of the entire project for Iraq, could be a valuable recruit. If only there was a way to get to him.
Samira returned from Iraq to find a changed Halim. Claiming a promotion and a raise, he was suddenly more romantic and he also began taking her out to restaurants. They even contemplated buying a car.
While Halim was a brilliant scientist, he was not wise in a worldly sense. One night, shortly after his wife’s return, he proceeded to tell her about his friend Donovan and his problems with the CIA.
She was furious. Twice during her rant against him, she said they were probably Israeli security, not the CIA.
“Why would the Americans care?” she screamed. “Who else except the Israelis and my mother’s stupid daughter would even bother to talk to you?” She wasn’t so stupid after all.
The drivers of the other two trucks carrying engines from the Dassault Brequet plant for Mirage fighters to a hangar in the French Riviera town of La Seyne-sur-Mer near Toulon on April 5, 1979, thought nothing of it when a third truck joined them along the route.
In a modern-day twist on the Trojan Horse, the Israelis had hidden a team of five neviot saboteurs and a nuclear physicist, all dressed in regular street clothes, inside a large metal container, slipping them into the security area as part of the three-truck convoy, based on information obtained from Halim. They knew that guards were always more careful about goods being removed than about deliveries. They would probably do little more than wave the convoy on through. At least, the Israelis were banking on that. The nuclear physicist with them had been flown in from Israel to determine precisely where to plant charges on the stored nuclear-reactor cores, three years in the making, to achieve maximum damage.
One of the guards on duty was a new man, just a few days on the job, but he’d come with such impeccable credentials that no one suspected him of having taken the key to open the storage bay where the Iraqi-bound equipment was waiting to be shipped in a few more days.
On the expert advice of the physicist, the Israeli team planted five charges of plastic explosives, strategically positioned on the reactor cores.
As the guards stood at the plant gates, their attention was suddenly captured by a commotion outside on the street where it seemed a pedestrian, an attractive young woman, had been brushed by a car. She didn’t appear to be badly hurt. Certainly her vocal cords weren’t injured, as she screamed obscenities at the embarrassed driver.
By this time, a small crowd had gathered to watch the action, including the saboteurs, who had scaled a back fence, then walked around to the front. First checking the crowd to verify that all the French guards were out of harm’s way, one of them calmly and surreptitiously detonated a sophisticated fuse with a hand- held device, destroying 60 percent of the reactor components, causing $23 million in damages, setting back Iraq’s plans for several months, but amazingly, doing no harm to other equipment stored in the hangar.
When the guards heard the dull thunk behind them, they rushed immediately into the targeted hangar. As they did, the car in the “accident” drove away, while the saboteurs and the injured pedestrian, well schooled in this sort of thing, quietly disappeared down various side streets.
The mission had been a complete success, seriously delaying Iraq’s plans, and embarrassing leader Saddam Hussein in the process.
An environmental organization named Groupe des ëcologistes francais, unheard of before this incident, claimed credit for the blast, although French police dismissed the claim. But a police blackout on news of the investigation into the sabotage led other newspapers to print speculative stories on who was responsible.
France Soir, for example, said the police suspected “extreme leftists” had done it, while Le Matin said it had been done by Palestinians working on behalf of Libya; the news weekly, Le Point, fingered the FBI. Others accused the Mossad, but an Israeli government official dismissed the accusation as “anti-Semitism.”
Halim and Samira arrived home well after midnight, following a leisurely dinner in a Left Bank bistro. He turned on the radio, hoping to hear some music and wind down a bit before going to bed. What he heard instead was news of the explosion. Halim panicked.
He began running around the apartment, tossing things at random, screaming a lot of nonsense.
“What’s the matter with you?” Samira shouted over the din. “Have you gone mad?”
“They’ve blown up the reactor!” he cried. “They’ve blown it up! Now they’ll blow me up, too!” He phoned Donovan.
Within the hour, his friend called back. “Don’t do anything foolish,” he said. “Keep calm. No one can connect you to any of this. Meet me at the suite tomorrow night.” Halim was still shaking when he arrived for their meeting. He hadn’t slept or shaved. He looked dreadful.
“Now the Iraqis are going to hang me,” he moaned. “Then they’ll give me to the French and they’ll guillotine me.” “This had nothing to do with you,” said Donovan. “Think about it.
No one has any reason to blame you.” “This is terrible. Terrible. Is it possible the Israelis are behind this? Samira thinks it’s them. Could it be?” “Come on, man, get a grip on yourself. What are you talking about? The people I’m dealing with wouldn’t do anything like that.
It’s probably some sort of industrial espionage. There’s a lot of competition in the field. You’ve told me that yourself.” Halim said he was going back to Iraq. His wife wanted to go anyway, and he’d served enough time in Paris. He wanted to get away from these people. They wouldn’t follow him to Baghdad.
Donovan, hoping to dismiss the notion of any Israeli involvement, pushed his theory of the industrial sabotage and told Halim that if he really wanted a new life, he could approach the Israelis. He had two reasons for suggesting this: first, to further distance himself from the Israelis; and second, to attempt a head-on recruitment.
“They’ll pay. They’ll give you a new identity and protect you. They’d love to know what you know about the plant.” “No, I can’t,” said Halim. “Not with them. I’m going home.” And he did.
Meshad was still a problem. With his stature as one of the few Arab scientists with authority in the nuclear field, and one close to senior Iraqi military and civilian authorities, the Mossad still hoped it could recruit him. Yet despite Halim’s unwitting help, several key questions remained unanswered.
On June 7, 1980, Meshad made another of his frequent trips to Paris, this time to announce some final decisions about the deal.
During a visit to the Sarcelles plant, he told French scientists, “We are making a change in the face of Arab world history,” which is precisely what Israel was worried about. The Israelis had intercepted French telexes detailing Meshad’s travel schedule and where he would stay (Room 9041 at the Meridien Hotel), making it easier to bug his room before he got there.
Meshad was born in Banham, Egypt, on January 11, 1932. He was a serious, brilliant scientist, and his thick black hair was beginning to recede noticeably. His passport listed his occupation as a lecturer in the department of atomic engineering, University of Alexandria.
In interviews later with an Egyptian newspaper, his wife, Zamuba, said the couple and their three children (two girls and a boy) had been about to leave for a Cairo vacation. In fact, she said Meshad had already bought the plane tickets when he was phoned by an official from the Sarcelles plant. She heard him say, “Why me? I can send an expert.” She said that from that moment on, he was very nervous and angry and that she believed there was an Israeli agent in the French government who had set a trap for him.
“There was danger, of course. He used to tell me he would continue the assignment of creating the bomb even if he had to pay for it with his life.” The official news story, released to the media by the French authorities, is that Meshad was accosted by a hooker in the elevator as he was returning to his ninth-floor room at about 7 p.m. on a stormy June 13, 1980. The Mossad already knew Meshad was heavily into kinky sex, S&M actually, and a hooker whose nickname was Marie Express had been entertaining him regularly. She was slated to show up at about 7:30 p.m. Her real name was Marie-Claude Magal, whom Ran had initially sent to Halim. Although she did considerable work for the Mossad, she never was told exactly who her employers were. And as long as they paid, she didn’t care.
They also knew Meshad was a tough cookie, not as gullible as Halim. And since he would be staying only a few more days, the decision was taken to approach him directly. “If he agrees, he’s recruited,” explained Arbel. “If he doesn’t, he’s dead.” He didn’t.
Yehuda Gil, an Arabic-speaking katsa, was sent to Meshad’s door shortly before Magal arrived. Opening the door just enough to peek out, but leaving it chained, Meshad snapped, “Who are you? What do you want?” “I’m from a power that will pay a lot of money for answers,” Gil said.
“Get lost, you dog, or I’ll call the police,” Meshad replied. So Gil left. In fact, he flew back to Israel immediately, so that he could never be connected to Meshad’s destiny. As for Meshad, he met a different fate.
The Mossad doesn’t execute people unless they have blood on their hands. This man would have had the blood of Israel’s children on his hands if he’d completed his project. So why wait? Israel intelligence did at least wait until after Magal had entertained Meshad and left a couple of hours later. Might as well die happy, was the reasoning.
As Meshad slept, two men slipped quietly into the suite with a passkey and slit his throat. His blood-soaked body was found by a chambermaid the next morning. She’d come by a few times but the Do Not Disturb sign had discouraged her. Finally, she had knocked on the door and when there was no answer, walked in.
French police said at the time that it was a professional job.
Nothing was taken. No money. No documents. But a towel stained with lipstick was found on the bathroom floor.
Magal was shocked to hear about the murder. After all, Meshad been alive when she left him. Partly to protect herself, and partly because she was suspicious, she went to the police and reported that Meshad had been angry when she arrived, ranting about some man approaching him earlier and wanting to buy information.
Magal confided her actions to her friend, Halim’s former “regular,” who in turn unknowingly passed the information on to a Mossad contact.
Late on the night of July 12, 1980, Magal was working the Boulevard St-Germain when a man in a black Mercedes pulled up to the curb and motioned for her to come around to the driver’s side.
There was nothing unusual about that, but as she began talking to her potential customer, another black Mercedes pulled out from the curb and proceeded at high speed down the avenue. Just at the right moment, the driver in the parked car gave Magal a heavy shove, sending her flying backward into the path of the oncoming car. She was killed instantly. Both cars sped off into the Paris night.
While both Magal and Meshad were assassinated by the Mossad, of course the internal machinations leading up to their deaths were dramatically different.
First, Magal. Concerns about her would have become acute on the desk in Tel Aviv headquarters as the various reports from the field were received, decoded, and analyzed, and it became clear that she had gone to the police and could create serious difficulties.
These concerns would have been passed up the administrative ladder, eventually landing on the desk of the head of the Mossad, where the final decision to “take her out” would be made.
Her assassination was in the category of an operational emergency, the sort of situation that arises during operations, where decisions have to be made relatively quickly based on the precise circumstances of the case.
The decision to execute Meshad, however, emanated from an ultra-secret internal system involving a formal “execution list,” and requiring the personal approval of the prime minister of Israel.
The number of names on that list varies considerably, from just one or two up to 100 or so, depending upon the extent of anti-Israeli terrorist activities.
A request to place someone on the execution list is made by the head of the Mossad to the prime minister’s office. Let’s say, for example, there was a terrorist attack on an Israeli target — which doesn’t necessarily mean Jewish, incidentally. It could be a bomb attack on an El Al office in Rome, for instance, that killed some Italian citizens. But that would constitute an attack on Israel, since it was designed to discourage people from using El Al, an Israeli airline.
Let’s say the Mossad knew for certain that Ahmed Gibril was the culprit who ordered and/or organized the attack. At that point, it would recommend Gibril’s name to the PMO, and the prime minister in turn would send it to a special judicial committee, so secret that the Israeli supreme court doesn’t even know it exists.
The committee, which sits as a military court and tries accused terrorists in absentia, consists of intelligence personnel, military people, and officials from the justice department. Hearings, in a court-like setting, are held at various locations, often at someone’s private residence. Both the personnel on the committee and the location of the trial are changed for each case.
Two lawyers are assigned to the case, one representing the state, or the prosecution, the other the defense, even though the accused is unaware of the whole process. The court then decides on the basis of the evidence presented whether this man — in this case, Gibril — is guilty as charged. If he is found guilty, and at this stage the accused usually are, two things can be ordered by the “court”: either bring him to Israel for trial in a regular court; or, if that is too dangerous or simply impossible, execute him at the first possible opportunity.
But before the hit is carried out, the prime minister must sign the execution order. The practice differs, depending upon the prime minister. Some sign the document in advance. Others insist on first determining whether the hit would create any political difficulties at a given time.
In any event, one of the first duties of any new Israeli prime minister is to read the execution list and decide whether or not to initial each name on it.
It was on June 7, 1981, at 4 p.m. on a bright, sunny Sunday, that a group of two dozen U.S.-built F-15s and F-16s took off from Beersheba (not from Elat, as widely reported, since that is adjacent to Jordanian radar), on a treacherous 90- minute, 650- mile journey across hostile countries to Tuwaitha, just outside Baghdad, intent on blasting the Iraqi nuclear plant to kingdom come.
Accompanying them was what looked like an Aer Lingus commercial carrier (the Irish lease their planes to Arab countries, so it wouldn’t seem out of place), but in truth was an Israeli Boeing 707 refueling aircraft. The fighters kept in close formation, with the Boeing flying directly underneath, to make it appear as if there was only one aircraft, a civilian plane on a civilian route. The fighters were flying on “silent,” meaning they transmitted no messages, but they did accept them from a backup Electronic Warfare & Communications plane, which also served to jam other signals, including hostile radar.
About halfway there, over Iraqi territory, the Boeing refueled the fighter aircraft. (The return flight to Israel was too long to accomplish without refueling, and they couldn’t risk trying it after the attack since they might be pursued; hence the brazen refueling directly over Iraq.) The refueling complete, the Boeing peeled off from the formation, accompanied by two of the fighter aircraft for protection, cutting northwest through Syria, eventually landing in Cyprus, as if on a regular commercial route. The two fighters stayed with the Boeing only until it left hostile territory, returning to their base at Beersheba.
In the meantime, the rest of the fighters continued on their way, armed with Sidewinder missiles, iron bombs, and 2,000- pound “laser-riding” bombs (which ride a beam directly to the target).
Thanks to information originally obtained from Halim, the Israelis knew exactly where to strike to inflict the most dam- age. The key was bringing down the dome at the heart of the plant. An Israeli combatant was also in the area with a beacon, sending out a strong signal in short beeps on a predetermined frequency to guide the fighters to their target.
There are essentially two ways to find a target. First, you can see it with your eye. But to do that at speeds greater than 900 miles an hour you have to know the area well, especially for a relatively small target. You go by the landscape, but you have to know the terrain, recognize particular landmarks, and obviously the Israelis had not had the opportunity to practice their maneuvers over Baghdad. They had practiced over their own territory, however, on a model of the plant, before heading off to attack the real thing.
The other method of finding a target is to have a beacon, a homing device, as a guide. They had one outside the plant, but to make absolutely sure, Damien Chassepied, a French technician who had been recruited by the Mossad, was asked to deposit a briefcase containing a homing device inside the building. For reasons unknown, Chassepied lingered inside and became the only human casualty of the extraordinary assault.
At 6:30 p.m. in Iraq, the planes climbed from deck level, where they’d been flying so low (to avoid radar) that they could see the farmers in the surrounding fields, attaining a height of about 2,000 feet just before reaching the target.
So fast was their climb that it baffled the defenders’ radar, and the sun setting behind the raiders blinded the Iraqis manning a ring of anti-aircraft guns. The fighters then swooped down so swiftly, one after the other, that all the Iraqis had time to do was fire some of their anti-aircraft guns harmlessly into the air. But no SAM missiles were fired, and no Iraqi aircraft were sent in pursuit as the raiders turned and headed back to Israel, flying at a higher altitude and taking a shorter route back directly over Jordan, leaving Saddam Hussein’s dreams of turning Iraq into a nuclear power in tatters.
As for the plant itself, it was devastated. The huge dome cover on the reactor building was knocked clean off its foundation and the building’s heavily reinforced walls were blasted apart. Two other major buildings, both vital to the plant, were badly damaged. Videotape recorded by Israeli pilots and later shown to an Israeli parliamentary committee, captured the reactor core bursting apart and tumbling into the cooling pool.
Begin had originally scheduled the strike for late April on intelligence from the Mossad that the reactor would be operating by July 1. He postponed the strike after newspaper stories saying that former defense minister Ezer Weizman told friends that Begin was “preparing an adventurous pre-election operation.” Another target date, May 10, just seven weeks before Israel’s June 30 election, was also abandoned when Labor Party leader Shimon Peres sent Begin a “personal” and “top secret” note saying he should “desist” from the attack because the Mossad intelligence was “not realistic.” Peres predicted the attack could isolate Israel “like a tree in the desert.” Just three hours after they’d taken off, the fighter planes arrived safely back in Israel. For two hours, Prime Minister Menachem Begin had been waiting for news in his home on Smolenskin Street, with his entire cabinet in attendance.
Shortly before 7 p.m., General Rafael Eitan, commander-inchief of the Israeli army, phoned Begin to say the mission had been accomplished (this final stage was called Operation Babylon) and all hands were safe.
Begin is reported to have said “Baruch hashem,” Hebrew for “Blessed be God.” Saddam Hussein’s immediate reaction was never publicly recorded.