Legendary Mossad operative behind some of spy agency's most daring operations dies at 87

Mike Harari created the Kidon unit - where he spearheaded special operations which specialized in assassinations, and sabotage.

September 22, 2014 13:16
3 minute read.
Mike Harari

Mike Harari. (photo credit: SCREENSHOT CHANNEL ONE)


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Mike Harari, one of the Mossad’s most famous and most decorated members, died in his Tel Aviv home on Monday morning at the age of 87.

Harari, who carried out hundreds of special operations – most of which are still classified – was one of the developers of the Mossad’s elite Caesarea Department’s modes of operation.

Caesarea is the unit for undercover operations, dealing mainly with planting agents in enemy countries.

Harari was born in Tel Aviv’s Neveh Zedek neighborhood in 1927, and in 1943 deceived the Palmah’s enlistment officers, joining the fighting force when he was underage. From there, he began an impressive security career in pre-state Israel (the British arrested him several times), and took part in efforts to help Jews abroad illegally immigrate to Israel toward the end of the British Mandate period.

Following Israeli independence, he joined the Shin Bet, spent a brief period in the Foreign Ministry as a security officer and from there transferred to the Mossad where he initially served as an intelligence gathering officer.

Harari was known for his attention to detail, which he also demanded of subordinates (this included all facets of their work from how they dressed to their cover stories).

Harari started his career in the Mossad as a case officer responsible for recruiting and handling agents. He did this first in Ethiopia, where he started his career in the organization, and later in many other locations worldwide.

In 1970, he was appointed commander of the Caesarea Department, where he created the Kidon unit – where he spearheaded special operations that specialized in assassinations and sabotage. This unit was established after Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Then-Mossad chief Zvi Zamir gave Harari the mission of sabotaging PLO infrastructure in Europe, which included assassinating its representatives. This was wrongly considered – and ingrained in the public memory and legacy – as a revenge operation.

The campaign against the Palestinian terrorists that lasted 11 months culminated in a failed assassination attempt in Lillehammer, Norway, in July 1973.

There, a young Moroccan waiter named Ahmed Bouchiki was killed instead of Ali Hassan Salameh, an operative of the Black September terrorist group who was one of the planners of the Munich massacre. The failure of this operation was a black mark on Harari’s career.

As a result, in 1973, Harari and Zamir submitted their resignations to then-prime minister Golda Meir. She declined to accept them, however, and the pair remained in their positions.

Harari was involved in the rescue of hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.

In 1979, Harari rectified his previous failure, overseeing the assassination of Salameh at the order of then-Mossad chief Yitzhak Hofi, after which he retired. Norway issued an arrest warrant for Harari in 1998, but it was canceled a year later.

In his biography, Ish Hamivtza’im (The Master of Operations), written by Aaron J. Klein and published in Hebrew earlier this year, Harari discussed some of his Mossad work and tried to clear himself of blame for the failure of the Lillehammer operation, placing responsibility on his subordinates.

Harari said he had to work quickly and not everyone could undergo the proper preparation.

The second black mark on Harari’s career was connected to his involvement (at the state’s request, according to his claims) with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who was accused of being a drug trafficker by the United States.

The US invaded Panama in 1989 and Harari was forced to make an impressive escape to Israel. He was awarded the Mossad chief’s medal of distinction in 2007 during special reserve service.

Meir Dagan, who was director of the agency from 2002 to 2011 and whose main focus was Iran’s nuclear program, used to consult with Harari, as did current Mossad chief Tamir Pardo.

According to foreign reports, the Mossad was involved in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Harari was awarded the Israel Defense Prize Committee’s medal of distinction for his “wide-ranging mission” as commander of the Mossad’s Caesarea Operations Branch.

He was very well respected among Mossad members. He was known as a difficult man who did not like journalists or the media.

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