Jewish intelligence

There is a perception in Israel that its intelligence agencies should help protect Jews wherever they are

french police521 (photo credit: VINCENT KESSLER / REUTERS)
french police521
Acts of anti-Semitism and terrorism against Jewish targets have been on the rise across Europe and South America in recent years – except in Switzerland, where the number of incidents against Jewish institutes dropped in 2012. Elsewhere in Europe, including the relatively tranquil Scandinavian states, there were increased attacks against synagogues and Jewish community centers, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and the spraying of swastikas and Nazi symbols on Jewish property.
In several European countries, anti-Jewish ultra-national forces are on the march. In the June 2010 elections in Greece, the neo- Nazi Golden Dawn party won 21 seats in parliament; in Ukraine, the radical Svoboda (Freedom) party garnered 10 percent of the vote in the country’s November 2012 elections; and in Hungary, the relatively well-established Jobbik party is a significant political force. Hatred for Jews can still be found in the traditional roots of Christianity; and economic and social reasons, as well as politics, also play a role.
But, more and more, the hatred is also surfacing among the growing Muslim communities in various parts of the world, drawing inspiration from the al-Qaeda notion of “world Jihad” against the “Crusaders (Christians) and Jews,” as decreed by Osama Bin Laden.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the US, dozens of attempts by radical Islamists – inspired by al- Qaeda, Iranian or Hezbollah agents – to hit Jewish and Israeli targets have been foiled by Israeli intelligence or local security services in places such as Hungary, India, Turkey, Thailand, Azerbaijan and others. According to reports in early April, agents on behalf of Hezbollah and the Iranian intelligence services were spotted collecting information and taking photos of the synagogue in Sofia, Bulgaria.
No wonder that the spread of anti-Semitism and the threat of Muslim terrorism are of major concern to Jewish leaders across the world.
But not only Jewish leaders are worried. So, too, is the Israeli intelligence community. The Israeli intelligence community? What does it have to do with anti-Semitism directed at nationals of other countries? Well, apparently, it has plenty to do with it. The idea can be defined as “Jewish intelligence.”
It is based on the perception that if Israel is a Jewish (and democratic) state, then the Israeli intelligence agencies should also protect Jews wherever they are. The founding fathers of the Jewish state – and its intelligence community – believed that it was their almost mystical calling to ensure the safety of Jews around the world and to help them if they needed to emigrate to their ancient land. It was and still is a self-appointed mission. The individual communities rarely requested assistance.
Israeli envoys came to them, helped them to protect themselves against hostile neighbors, and gradually got them to emigrate if they wished so.
From the beginning, the Israeli intelligence community included two units charged with the task of carrying out such missions – one named Nativ and the other Bitzur.
Since the 1950s, Nativ, an independent unit within the Israeli intelligence community, was in charge of organizing the immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Since the collapse of communism in the late 1980s, freedom of movement is ensured in these countries and there is no longer a real need for Nativ. Consecutive Israeli governments have toyed with the idea of disbanding the unit. Yet, it is still alive, albeit small in size and with limited tasks.
Bitzur on the other hand is prospering.
Part of the Mossad, the unit was charged with organizing immigration from Arab and Muslim countries, where Jews were in distress or were not allowed to leave their countries. Bitzur agents were involved in lifting the remaining Jews from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon in the 1970s, Ethiopian Jews from Sudan in the 1980s, Yemenite Jews in the 1990s, and, throughout the years, from Iran. At the same time, Bitzur was and still is responsible for ensuring that the local Jewish communities have the knowhow and means to defend themselves and their property.
These, however, are highly sensitive missions. Jews scattered around the world are usually not Israeli citizens. Their home countries do not like the notion of foreign interference in the lives of their nationals.
The Jews receiving uninvited aid can suffer from a kind of a split personality – as well as accusations of dual loyalty hurled by the non- Jewish majorities all around them and the respective local governments.
As unique and touchy as it is, “Jewish intelligence” seemed natural. Israel calls itself the Jewish homeland and it has a Law of Return that grants automatic citizenship to any Jew who reaches its soil and asks for it. Israel has also had a powerful strategic motive. Immigration makes Israel stronger and bigger, in terms of population. More people mean improved national security.
Because of the sensitivity of the issues at stake, the intelligence chiefs very rarely talk about this hidden aspect of their tasks, and certainly not in public. Yet, when they are asked privately, they say that “it was my finest hour.” Israeli leaders, too, are reluctant to discuss it, and settle for general remarks about the “solidarity with our Jewish brethren.”
Only once was an exception recorded. It came in the wake of the August 11, 1982, terrorist attack carried out – in all likelihood by the Palestinian Abu Nidal faction – on the Jo Goldenberg restaurant on Rue des Rosiers in the Marais quarter of Paris. Six people were killed in the attack, which came after a wave of anti-Semitic and terrorist incidents against Jews and Jewish and Israeli targets in the French capital.
Then Prime Minister Menachem Begin slammed the French government and its socialist president, Francois Mitterrand. “If the French authorities will not prevent the neo-Nazi manifestation of the murder of Jews, just because they are Jews, I, as a Jew, will not hesitate to call on the youth of our people living in France to actively defend the lives of Jews and their human dignity,” Begin warned, hinting that he would order Bitzur to activate its mission with local Jews, usually members of Zionist youth movements, to defend French Jewry.
This is exactly what happened 20 years earlier in Argentina. Following the kidnapping in Buenos Aires of Adolf Eichmann and his subsequent trial and execution in Israel, a wave of anti-Semitic attacks spread across the South American nation, organized by a fascist group that had support from military and police officers. In July 1962, fascists abducted a Jewish student and tattooed a Nazi swastika on her breast. Argentine Jews were terrified, and Israeli newspapers urged their government to “send assistance to our Jewish brethren.”
The Mossad, led then by its legendary chief, Isser Harel, moved in. He ordered the activation of Misgeret (Framework), young local Jews trained to defend the local Jewish communities. The young local Jews were trained in camps in Argentina by Mossadassigned Israeli military experts in martial arts, intelligence gathering, surveillance, navigation and the use of weapons. Once they were trained, the Jewish volunteers were assigned various security tasks, which included escorting school children back home, guarding Jewish facilities and, if necessary, launching attacks against the fascist thugs.
Today, some 50 years later, the same concept, measures and modes of operations are relevant and in place. Israel nowadays understands the complex issues with regard to the defense of Jewish communities. In the era of open societies and social media, what could have been achieved in secrecy, while undermining the sovereignty of other nations, is much more difficult to accomplish. Thus, Israel understands that the task of defending Jewish communities lies in the hands of local government.
Israel provides intelligence about plots against Jewish targets and is cooperating with local authorities, especially with friendly nations. But if worse comes to worst, it will not hesitate to resort to the old tactics.
Yossi Melman, a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Report, is a journalist and writer specializing in security, intelligence and strategic issues. He is co-author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.’