Book Review by Sachi Sri Kantha
When ex Mossad officer Victor Ostrovskis book By Way of Deception was first
published in September 1990, it created a tremor of international proportions. The Time
magazine (Sept.24, 1990) captioned the story as, "The Spy who spilled the Beans;
Israel attempts to quash a Mossad agents book" and noted that due to
Israels unsuccessful attempt to block its publication and resultant publicity, the
publisher had to "increase the print run from 50,000 copies to 200,000, practically
guaranteeing that it will be high on the best-seller list". The Newsweek magazine
(Sept.24, 1990) rather unusually devoted two pages to divulge some important facts
included in the book.
Why did By Way of Deception attract such attention? The Newsweek report had
it in its first sentence; "In the short but eventful history of the Mossad, no
full-fledged officer had ever broken its vow of silence". But, Victor Ostrovski (son
of a Canadian father and Israeli mother), who according to Israels law-suit had been
employed by the Mossad between December 30, 1984 and March 9, 1986, had decided to break
Ostrovski begins his book, with description about the "Operation Sphinx" of
Mossad, which culminated successfully on June 7, 1981 when Israel destroyed the
Iraqs nuclear complex located in the periphery of Baghdad. This was achieved from
the information obtained from the Iraqs nuclear scientist (identified as Butrus Eben
Halim) in Paris.
Ostrovski also informs that two individuals (an Egyptian atomic engineer named Meshad,
who was close to senior Iraqi military and civilian authorities, and a French prostitute
Marie-Claude Magal who was patronised by Halim and Meshad) were murdered by Mossad in June
and July of 1980.
Then, Ostrovsky provides explanation for the two types of murders. Prostitute
Magals murder comes in the "category of an operational emergency, the sort of
situation that arises during operations". Scientist Meshads murder belongs to
the "formal execution list, and requiring the personal approval of the prime minister
of Israel". According to Ostrovski, "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".
After describing how an adversarys name is included in the execution list and the
due processes which take place within the Mossad to complete the hit, Ostrovski notes
that, "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".
If this is true, the Nobel peace prize committee has definitely blundered in making
Menachem Begin a laureate in 1978. The book is divided into three parts. The first two
parts (consisting of a total of 8 chapters) provides descriptions about Ostrovskis
experience with Mossad as a trainee and case officer from October 1982 to March 1986, when
he was dismissed as scapegoat for an operation which became an embarrassment to the
The third part (consisting of nine chapters) provides case histories related to
Mossads engagements with the Black September rebels, Carlos Ramirez and Yasser
Arafat. Also included are the events related to Israels 1982 invasion in Lebanon and
"Operation Moses" (the 1985 rescue of thousands of Black Ethiopian Jews to
Israel) and the 1985 sinking of PLO ships in Tripoli harbour. In the chapters related to
training by Mossad, Ostrovski provides details about lessons taught on self-defence,
forgery of documents (especially passports), recruitment of bodlim ("people who
operate as messengers between safehouses and the embassy, or between the various
safehouses"), evaluation and tackling of a still object or a building, importance of
liaison, sending and receiving secret communications and so forth.
On self-defense, Ostrovsky writes, "You were taught that if your brain does
(his emphasis) signal your hand to draw the weapon, you go to kill. Your head has to say
the guy in front of you is dead. Its him or you... When you do have to shoot, you
fire as many bullets as possible into your target. When hes on the ground you walk
up to him, put your gun to his temple, and fire one more time. That way, youre
Certainly Jesus and Gandhi are pariahs in the dictionary of Mossad. On passport forgery
by Mossad, Ostrovsky notes, "Mossad had a small factory and chemical laboratory in
the basement of the Academy that actually made various kinds of passport paper. Chemists
analyzed the papers of genuine passports and worked out the exact formula to produce
sheets of paper that duplicated what they needed".
Mossad also gathers genuine passports of other countries from immigrants to Israel on
the pretext of "saving the Jews". These genuine passports are studied to prepare
fake passports. Ostrovski identifies four kinds of passports used by Mossad for their
operations; "top quality, second quality, field operation and throwaway".
The low quality throwaway kind is mostly stolen from others and put in use when
"needed only to flash them". They are not used for identification, since it
cannot withstand through scrutiny. The field operation kind is "used for quick work
in a foreign country, but not used when crossing borders".
The second quality passport is a perfect one, "without no real persons
behind" the details provided in it. The top-quality passport is the perfect kind,
"which could stand up completely to any official scrutiny, including a check by the
country of origin".
The motto of Mossad in such delicate forgery is that, "no operation should be
bungled by a bad document". Other tit-bits offered by Ostrovsky relating to the
operation of Mossad are quite interesting.
1) "The Mossads main computer contained more than 1.5 million names in
2) The London station of Mossad "owns more than 100 safe houses and rents another
3) "In London alone, there are about 2,000 active sayanim (Jewish volunteer
helpers) who are active, and another 5,000 on the list".
4) Margaret Thatcher was always called inside the Mossad as "the bitch",
because "they had her tagged as anti-Semite".
5) For a long time since 1977, Mossad has hired "Durak Kasim, (Yasser)
Arafats driver and personal bodyguard" as their agent, and "he was
reporting to them almost daily, sending messages through a burst radio communications
system, receiving $2,000 a report. He also telephoned information and mailed it
Now, let me focus on the material related to Sri Lanka, which made Ostrovski a
recognizable name in the government and military circles in Colombo now. Ostrovskis
disclosures on the deals made by the military and political power-brokers of the ruling
UNP and the Mossad had been published in excerpts in the Tamil Nation of Oct.15, 1990.
What shocked the Sinhalese ruling establishment and the journalists (including the
editor of Lanka Guardian, Mervyn de Silva) was the revelation of Ostrovski that Mossad had
trained the Sinhalese military personnel and "a group of Tamil guerrilla
factions" simultaneously. Based on the meagre details provided by Ostrovski, these
power-brokers and opinion-makers had identified LTTE as the beneficiary of Mossads
To me, this sounds too premature and incorrect. Let me repeat what Ostrovski had
written on this topic. "Around 1983, a group of Tamil guerrilla factions,
collectively known as the Tamil Tigers, began an armed struggle to create a Tamil homeland
in the north called Eelam - an on-going battle that has claimed thousands of lives on both
sides". This is the only sentence in the book, where a vague reference is made to the
The time-frame Ostrovski had written about was "mid-July 1984", when he was
still a trainee at the Mossad Academy. He had not mentioned LTTE by name anywhere in the
book. At that time, all the militant groups fighting for Eelam (LTTE, TELO, EPRLF, EROS
and PLOTE) were identified as "Tamil Tigers". This point need be stressed.
The authors of Broken Palmyra also clearly state this fact in page 72 of their book;
"Up to this time (April 1985), the Tamil population had hardly differentiated between
rival groups. They were all referred to as boys and even Tigers" Again the fact is
that as reported in the Economist of August 3, 1985, in its coverage on the five Tamil
militant groups, LTTE was identified as receiving training from the PLO in Lebanon.
Ostrovski has noted that in mid-July 1984, "nearly 50" Sri Lankan army
personnel arrived for training in Israel. These training sessions were not offered free.
According to Ostrovski, "A unit of 60 trainees would cost about $300 each day (per
trainee), for a total of $18,000. For a three-month course, that would be $1.6 million.
On top of that, they would be charged $5,000 to $6,000 an hour for helicopter rental,
and as many as 15 helicopters could be used in a training exercise. Add to that the cost
of special ammunition used in training: a bazooka shell, for example, cost about $220 a
unit, while heavy mortars were about $1000 each..."
Ostrovsky should be credited for exposing the deals Sri Lankan government had with
Mossad, through the Mahaveli River Diversion Project. Apart from exposing how the Sri
Lankan authorities diverted foreign-aid funds they received from unsuspecting donors,
Ostrovski also has pricked the bloated egos of the Sri Lankan military personnel by
divulging how Mossad had fooled them.