1962: Mossad agents, Egyptian missile plots and German scientists

The following is an excerpt from Ronen Bergman’s ‘Rise and Kill First,' published by Random House.

EGYPTIAN LEADER Gamal Abdul Nasser (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
EGYPTIAN LEADER Gamal Abdul Nasser
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Harel placed the entire Mossad on emergency footing. An atmosphere of crisis swept through every corridor of the agency, reflected in the internal cables of those months. “We are interested in obtaining [intelligence] material, whatever may happen,” the HQ in Tel Aviv cabled Mossad stations in Europe in August 1962. “If a German turns up who knows something about this and is not prepared to cooperate, we are ready to take him by force and to get him to talk. Please take note of this because we must get information at any cost.”
Mossad operatives immediately began breaking into Egyptian diplomatic embassies and consulates in several European capitals to photograph documents. They were also able to recruit a Swiss employee at the Zurich office of EgyptAir – a company that occasionally served as cover for Nasser’s intelligence agencies. The Swiss employee allowed Mossad operatives to take the mailbags at night, twice a week, to a safe house. They were opened, their contents were photocopied, and then they were closed again by experts who left no sign they’d been tampered with, then returned to the airline office. After a relatively short period, the Mossad had a preliminary understanding of the Egyptian missile project and its heads.
The project had been initiated by two internationally known scientists, Dr. Eugen Sänger and Wolfgang Pilz. During the war, they had played key roles at Peenemünde Army Research Center. In 1954, they joined the Research Institute of Jet Propulsion Physics, in Stuttgart.
Sänger headed this prestigious body. Pilz and two other veteran Wehrmacht specialists, Dr. Paul Goercke and Dr. Hans Krug, were heads of departments. But this group, feeling underemployed and underutilized in postwar Germany, approached the Egyptian regime in 1959 and offered to recruit and lead a group of scientists to develop long-range surface- to-surface rockets. Nasser readily agreed and appointed one of his closest military advisers, General ’Isam alDin Mahmoud Khalil, former director of air force intelligence and the chief of the Egyptian Army’s R&D, to coordinate the program.
Khalil set up a compartmentalized system, separate from the rest of the Egyptian Army, for the German scientists, who first arrived in Egypt for a visit in April 1960. In late 1961, Sänger, Pilz, and Goercke relocated to Egypt and recruited about 35 highly experienced German scientists and technicians to join them. The facilities in Egypt contained test fields, laboratories and luxurious living quarters for the German expats, who enjoyed excellent conditions and huge salaries. Krug, however, remained in Germany, where he set up a company called Intra Commercial, which was in fact the group’s European front.
Almost as soon as the Mossad had gained a basic grasp of the situation, however, more bad news arrived. On August 16, 1962, a grave-faced Isser Harel came to see Ben-Gurion, bringing with him a document from the Egyptian intelligence mailbags that had been photocopied two days before in Zurich.
The Israelis were in shock. The document was an order written in 1962 by Pilz, to the project managers in Egypt, and it included itemization of the materials that needed to be acquired in Europe for the manufacture of nine hundred missiles. This was an enormous number.
After its interception, according to a Mossad internal report, the organization was hit by “an atmosphere of near panic.” Worse still, the document raised the fear among Israeli experts that the Egyptians’ true aim was to arm the missiles with radioactive and chemical warheads.
Ben-Gurion summoned urgent conferences at the highest level. Harel had a plan, of sorts.
The intelligence collected so far by the Mossad revealed an Achilles’ heel in the missile project: the guidance systems were lagging so far behind as to be borderline nonfunctional, which meant that the missiles could not go into mass production. As long as this was the case, Egypt would need the German scientists. Without them, the project would collapse. Harel’s plan, then, was to kidnap or to eliminate the Germans.
Toward the end of August, Harel went to Europe to put his plan into action. The weather was turning cold, heralding the coldest winter the area had known in many years. After all efforts to locate Pilz had failed, Harel decided to act against Krug.
On Monday, September 10, at 5:30 p.m., a man who introduced himself as Saleh Qaher phoned Krug’s home in Munich. He said he was speaking on behalf of Colonel Said Nadim, chief aide to General Mahmoud Khalil, and that Nadim had to meet Krug “right away, on an important matter.” Saleh added, in the friendliest of tones, that Nadim, whom Krug knew well, sent his regards and was waiting for Krug at the Ambassador Hotel in Munich. The matter at hand, Saleh said, was a deal that would make a tidy profit for Krug. It was impossible to discuss it at the Intra office because of its special nature.
Krug didn’t see this as unusual, and he accepted the invitation. Saleh was none other than an old Mossad hand, Oded. Born in Iraq, he had been active in the Zionist underground there, fleeing the country in 1949 after almost being caught. He’d gone to regular schools in Baghdad, with Muslims, and could easily pass for an Arab. For years, he served the Mossad in an operational capacity against Arab targets.
Krug met Oded in the lobby of the Ambassador Hotel. “We, Colonel Nadim and I, need you for an important job,” he said.
The next day, Oded went to the Intra offices to pick Krug up and take him to meet Nadim at a villa outside the city. “I came in a taxi, and Krug was happy to see me and introduced me to the company’s employees. He never suspected for a moment that I wasn’t who I said I was. There was good chemistry between us. In the Mercedes, on the way to the address I’d given him, I flattered Krug and told him how we, in Egyptian intelligence, appreciate his services and contribution. He spoke mainly about the new Mercedes he just bought.”
The two arrived at the house where Krug believed Nadim was waiting for him. They got out of the car. A woman opened the front door, and Krug went in. Oded was behind him, and the door closed, with Oded, as planned, remaining outside.
Three other operatives were waiting inside the room. They stunned Krug with a few blows, gagged him, and tied him up. When he came to, he was examined by a French Jewish doctor recruited by the team. He thought Krug was suffering from slight shock and therefore recommended not giving him sedation shots. A German-speaking Mossad operative told him, “You are a prisoner. Do exactly what we say or we’ll finish you off.” Krug promised to obey, and he was placed in a secret compartment built into one of the vehicles, a Volkswagen camper, and the whole squad, including Isser Harel himself, who was present throughout, set out for the French border in that car and two others. On the way they stopped in a forest, and Harel told Krug that they were about to cross the border and that www.jpost.com 39 if he made a sound, the driver of the car would activate a mechanism that would pump a lethal amount of poison gas into the compartment.
When they reached Marseille, a heavily sedated Krug was placed on an El Al plane flying Jewish North African immigrants to Israel. The Mossad handlers told the French authorities he was a sick immigrant.
At the same time, the Mossad launched a wide-ranging disinformation operation, with a man resembling Krug and carrying documents in his name traveling around South America, leaving a paper trail that indicated Krug had simply grabbed the money and run away from Egypt and his collaborators. Simultaneously, the Mossad leaked disinformation to the media saying that Krug had quarreled with General Khalil and his people and had apparently been abducted and murdered by them.
In Israel, Krug was imprisoned in a secret Mossad installation and subjected to harsh interrogation. At first he remained silent, but soon he began cooperating, and over the course of several months he “yielded much fruit,” according to a Mossad report. “The man had a good memory and he knew all of the organizational- administrative details of the missile project.” The documents that were in his briefcase were also useful. The report concluded, “This data made it possible to build up an intelligence encyclopedia.”
Krug even volunteered to go back to Munich and work as a Mossad agent there. Eventually, though, after it seemed to the interrogators that Krug had told them everything he knew, the Mossad pondered what to do with him. It was clear that complying with his offer to go back to Munich would be very dangerous – Krug could betray his new controllers, go to the police, and tell them how the Israelis had abducted a German citizen on German soil. Harel chose the easier way out. He ordered S.G., one of his men, to take Krug to a deserted spot north of Tel Aviv and shoot him. An air force plane picked the body up and dumped it into the sea.
From the book Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations by Ronen Bergman. Copyright © 2018 by Ronen Bergman. Published by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All Rights Reserved.