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A section from

‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II






‘When Isser looks at you, said one of his agents, ‘you feel like you’re already in prison.’




The Mossad, like any other organisation, has had its fair share of failures and successes, nevertheless in popular culture the end result is that it is portrayed in a positive light. It has earned a reputation of a David taking on Goliath, given its daring operations and successes in the face of large obstacles. This daring and reputation for its effectiveness is grounded in the stark and often cruel realities of the world of espionage.


The second director of the Mossad - Isser Harel held the post for more than ten years, and he is often credited with paving the way to making the Mossad what it is.


Background and Early Life


Harel’s family hailed from the Russian town of Vitebsk and from there moved to Latvia before settling in Israel. Showing aptitude for espionage from an early age, a four foot eight inch, seventeen year old Isser smuggled a revolver though unsuspecting custom officers. After leaving the Kibbutz for Tel Aviv with his wife Rivkah, Isser joined the underground Jewish army and found himself in intelligence operations shortly thereafter.


Promotion to the top of intelligence units came rapidly. Isser was capable, proud and ambitious, and he doggedly pursued his desire to head the entire Israeli intelligence service. His loyalty to Ben-Gurion was unwavering and unquestionable.


Isser’s Obsession with Secrecy


He was always aloof, always the lone operator. In all the years that she knew him, even his wife Rivkah never dared to ask what operation he was busy with, when something was clearly troubling him. Only once, worried about his unexplained absence, did she ask the Prime Minister: “Tell me what will happen to my husband. Where is he?” On that occasion, however, not even Ben-Gurion could give her an answer: he did not have the faintest idea where his secretive intelligence chief was.

- The Mossad: Eisenberg, Dan & Landau (1978)


Isser’s obsession with secrecy is seen from the time he was given his earliest commands at the Shai. Already by then he had gathered a large amount of information related to his vocation that he knew would be of use to him in the future. Afraid that this vast data may be confiscated by the British, he built a false wall in his apartment which withstood several searches by the British. Finding the false wall inadequate, Isser recruited a construction worker from an active site to construct a room in the basement of the apartment being built. The entire arrangement stayed between the construction worker and Isser, with the architect and builder remaining out of the loop, and it was here  that Isser hid his database of information till he was able to secure an appropriate office after the British left.


Even the manner in which he spent Mossad’s budget was not divulged to government officials and ministers. But never did any hint of scandal ever touch the man, who lived modestly within his means throughout his career.




Isser Harel held his agents to high moral and professional standards. Any mistakes on the part of an agent subjected the poor fellow to brutal cross-examination at the hands of Isser, and any immoral behavior that left a trace of scandal was replied to with instant dismissal. Nevertheless Isser had an eye for the best people who he remained close to professionally and personally.


Being a born-spy Isser often found it hard to resist being in the field to personally supervise an operation; also, he went against the accepted norms of abandoning an agent who was in enemy hands. Any of Isser’s agents whose operations went bad and found themselves in the hands of the enemy knew that their boss was doing whatever it would take to secure their release. Isser didn’t consider any of his agents expendable.


Isser Harel was responsible for bringing the Nazi leader - Adolf Eichmann, to justice in Israel.


Espionage and Spies at

Sun Tzu: The Art of War & Espionage




AVENGER: Frederick Forsyth (including The Eichmann Rendition)



-The Mossad - Eisenberg, Dan & Landau (1978)




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