Israeli defense source: ‘Recruiting allies as spies would cross red line’

The Israeli spy agency's effort to turn agents reportedly came during a joint operation against Syria's chemical weapons program.

By
March 27, 2017 09:53
4 minute read.
Mossad

Mossad recruitment video campaign. (photo credit: screenshot)

“Recruiting allies as spies would cross a red line,” a top former Israeli defense source told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, responding to a story late Sunday in the French daily Le Monde alleging that the Mossad in 2010-11 had attempted to turn some French intelligence personnel into Israeli double agents to obtain information about Syria’s chemical weapons.

The source, who insisted on anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, said he did not know whether the report was true, while implying that it should not be accepted as such simply because it has been reported.

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Pressed about Israel and the US’s past electronic spying on each other, the source said that there was a clear line between electronic spying and trying to co-opt allied intelligence agents.

While trying to turn spies of enemy countries is a favored past time, he said that this was never done during his era and that it was known as something that was completely off limits.

There was no official government response and the Post was unable to independently check the factual claims or the interpretations given to some of the events viewed as suspicious by France.

Le Monde has supported its claims by including in its report excerpts it had obtained from an internal report it said was written by French intelligence. According to the report, the Mossad had tried to develop relationships with French spies “to the point of crossing the line of turning them into double agents.”

The alleged attempt by the Mossad to turn French spies reportedly took place between 2010 and 2011, when French secret services and the Israeli agency collaborated to combat the Syrian regime’s plans of developing chemical weapons, said Le Monde.



During the joint operation, which was dubbed “Ratafia,” the French counterintelligence agency and the Mossad tried to recruit a senior Syrian engineer with the intention of luring him into coming to France to gain additional training and help recruit other engineers.

However, as Le Monde claims, the Israeli agents had taken advantage of their proximity to their French counterparts to try and persuade a number of them to become regular intelligence sources for Israel.

Le Monde’s report claimed that Operation Ratafia was considered a significant success by the Mossad, as it enabled Israel to prove that the cooperation between the EU and Syria was utilized to bolster Syrian President Bashar Assad’s notorious chemical weapons program.

The French daily also said that the Mossad was successful in recruiting the aforementioned Syrian engineer and extracting information from him regarding the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal.

Though it did not provide unequivocal proof, Le Monde noted several incidents it characterized as suspicious that the French intelligence report had highlighted, such as an instance when one of the French agents attended a Shabbat dinner at the house of the Mossad’s Paris bureau chief.

The same agent later allegedly reported that he was going on vacation to Dubai when in fact he traveled to Israel, where he spent time with Mossad agents without reporting that he had done so.

None of the above actions in and of themselves would necessarily prove the allegations of recruiting allies as spies, but they would at least provoke suspicion and be violations of protocol.

Another alleged example the report included was a recording of what were characterized as suspicious sums that were deposited in bank accounts of French agents who were part of the Ratafia operation.

Le Monde reported that several agents also allegedly received large sums of cash and presents from their Israeli colleagues. As a result, it said the French agents were transferred to less prestigious roles and their security clearances were frozen.

The French publication claimed that the purported ties between the Mossad agents and the French spies were first uncovered by another French espionage agency in charge of information security, which had kept tabs on the agents and documented their meetings with Mossad agents.

All Mossad agents involved in the case were identified by their real names, Le Monde reported. France has filed a formal complaint against them, and in the six years that have lapsed since, Mossad’s Paris chief has returned to Israel. Two Israeli agents who are suspected of involvement in the case have left their positions and, according to the report, are now residing in Tel Aviv, where they both work as businessmen.

Nonetheless, the report said that the former agents have recently tried to reach out to a counterintelligence official they had previously worked with in Paris. Le Monde reported that in 2016 the French intelligence official, named Squarcini, told French investigators that he met the two “totally by chance.”

His alleged interaction with the two retired Mossad agents could be noteworthy as Squarcini himself launched his own internal investigation into the allegations against the Mossad agents. However, the agents Squarcini had put under surveillance were not involved in the Ratafia operation, despite the fact that the former was allegedly well aware of the connection that was formed between the Mossad agents and the French agents who collaborated on the case.

Le Monde
is expected to release two additional reports on the controversial revelation.


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