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Tamilnation  > Library > Eelam Section  > By Way of Deception; The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer


Book Review by Sachi Sri Kantha

When ex Mossad officer Victor Ostrovski’s 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 agent’s book" and noted that due to Israel’s 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 Israel’s law-suit had been employed by the Mossad between December 30, 1984 and March 9, 1986, had decided to break his silence.

Ostrovski begins his book, with description about the "Operation Sphinx" of Mossad, which culminated successfully on June 7, 1981 when Israel destroyed the Iraq’s nuclear complex located in the periphery of Baghdad. This was achieved from the information obtained from the Iraq’s 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 Magal’s murder comes in the "category of an operational emergency, the sort of situation that arises during operations". Scientist Meshad’s 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 adversary’s 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 Ostrovski’s 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 Israeli politicians.

The third part (consisting of nine chapters) provides case histories related to Mossad’s engagements with the Black September rebels, Carlos Ramirez and Yasser Arafat. Also included are the events related to Israel’s 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. It’s him or you... When you do have to shoot, you fire as many bullets as possible into your target. When he’s on the ground you walk up to him, put your gun to his temple, and fire one more time. That way, you’re sure’.

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 Mossad’s main computer contained more than 1.5 million names in memory.

2) The London station of Mossad "owns more than 100 safe houses and rents another 50".

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) Arafat’s 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 periodically..."

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. Ostrovski’s 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 Mossad’s patronage.

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 Tamil Tigers.

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.

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