Pollard Affair As Lessons
in the Bungled Mashaal Assasination Attempt

Yatom Must Resign

October 9, 1997 - Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg - The Jerusalem Post

A stench of hypocrisy has soured the atmosphere in Israel following the bungled assassination attempt on Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas chief in Jordan. Vituperation, verging on hysteria, has been poured on the head of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by the media, in chorus with his left-wing political opponents.

This column has criticized Netanyahu for breaking the solemn electoral promises he made to those who swept him into power. Yet on this issue - the attempt to destroy Israel's enemies - we stand by him totally. For there is a total lack of logic, compounded by malicious self-interest, in blaming Netanyahu for the technical fiasco of the Mashaal operation.

The criticism leveled against Netanyahu is two-fold. First: Netanyahu urged the Mossad to avenge the Hamas suicide-bombings in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda market and Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall, despite the fierce opposition of Mossad head Danny Yatom. And secondly, it is wrong to even think about slaying a terrorist leader in a friendly country.

That it was Netanyahu who conceived the action is untrue. We are surprised that London's highly prestigious Sunday Times published such a falsehood. Even worse, Hebrew media irresponsibly quoted the Times after being warned that such publication jeopardized the lives of the Mossad agents arrested in Jordan.

The truth was that Yatom proposed the assassination of Mashaal to both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai. They approved the proposal and the full responsibility for carrying out the operation was left to Yatom.

After such a disaster whose head must roll? For roll it must.

Let us look at past precedent.

Rafi Eitan is an all-time giant of Israel's secret service. He masterminded the capture in Argentina of Adolf Eichmann, who was brought to trial in Jerusalem for his war crimes. His other exploits are secret to this day. He was the head of Lakam special intelligence agency in the US, handling agent Jonathan Pollard and responsible for the vital information thereby acquired about Israel's enemies in the Middle East.

When Pollard was caught, there was an outcry over an Israeli intelligence unit operating in the US. It was a major intelligence failure. Eitan, an honorable man, a true professional, promptly resigned. He obeyed the golden rule that if caught, one must quit. Eitan took this decision to protect his political masters who might be paralyzed in the future from taking similar actions vital for the country's defense. And thus he saved the good US-Israel relationship.

Without honor whatsoever, Israel's then political leaders, premier Shimon Peres, defense minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Yitzhak Shamir, first betrayed Pollard and then, to save their hides, claimed the operation was a "rogue elephant affair."

Rafi Eitan knew this was a lie. Two committees investigated who was responsible for the Pollard affair. So blunt were their critical findings that a veil of secrecy was clamped over the findings. However, the committee chaired by Abba Eban declared that Rabin, as defense minister, knew all about Pollard's activities and gave it his stamp of approval.

Despite this, Eitan proved himself an officer and a gentleman. He did his duty and remained silent, allowing his broad shoulders to carry the full brunt of the storm as Rabin, Peres and Shamir skulked behind his back. He knew that if Washington played really rough the government would fall. After all, Uncle Sam is a different kettle of fish than Jordan. Indeed why are the critics so upset about upsetting Jordan? Hamas chiefs have free reign there to plan and order attacks to blow up Israelis in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere.

Despite his anger, King Hussein acted with far more nobility than the US authorities in the Pollard affair. They broke promises to go easy on Pollard and later failed to free him after he had served 10 years in jail, despite their vow to do so. Hussein freed the Israeli agents promptly and kept their Canadian passports as souvenirs.

What lesson is to be learnt from all this?

It may be brutal. But is as clear as daylight.

Danny Yatom must do his duty and follow Rafi Eitan's example and resign promptly. Right now.

This former general has no experience whatsoever of secret service intelligence work. He served as the military attache to both Rabin and Peres, who parachuted him into the key job of Mossad boss just before the 1996 elections. Yatom came with no knowledge of the job. He was an amateur at the head of this vital, specialist service. Morale suffered as men who had worked there all their lives were passed over by a political appointment. Like any apprentice, he simply wasn't and isn't the man to step into the shoes of professionals who have the vast experience needed to guide them in such a highly complex operation.

The professional blunders were basic. How come the team did not know about Mashaal's bodyguard? How come there was no emergency escape plan? How come...there are a dozen more question to which even a junior intelligence operative will want to the know the answers. Is it true, as foreign sources have suggested to us, that the Jordanian intelligence service knew about the operation in advance? Was there a leak?

Mr. Yatom, do your duty as Rafi Eitan once did. The country deserves no less. Your departure will become you. It is the only way to ensure a proper cleansing out of the Mossad stables when clearly there is much disarray. A professional is needed to bring order out of chaos.

The writers are Jerusalem Post columnists.

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