Saturday 16 December 2017

Israel’s First Secret Agent

 Isser Harel was born in 1912 in Vitebsk, Russia (now Belarus) to a large, wealthy family.

When he was 16, Isser began preparations to immigrate to Israel. During this preparatory year he worked in agriculture with the aspiration to join a kibbutz.

With the outbreak of the 1929 Hebron massacre, his friends decided to move up their immigration date in order to reinforce the Jewish settlement in Palestine. Documents were prepared for the 17-year-old Isser stating that he was 18 and eligible for a British visa. At the beginning of 1930 he immigrated to Israel. He crossed Europe from north to south to board a ship in Genoa, carrying a pistol that he concealed in a loaf of bread.

By the 1940s Harel joined the Haganah and the British auxiliary forces to fight the Nazis. He headed the intelligence branch of the Haganah in 1942. It was Harel who sank the Irgun ship the Altalena, upon orders given by David Ben-Gurion.

Harel quickly climbed the ranks of the Israeli elite, ultimately becoming the first head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. He was the Mossad director from 1952-1963, where he directed both the Shin Bet and the Mossad.

He is credited with developing a close relationship with the CIA and, together they collected information about the Soviet Union. He also created the Trident Network in which Israel, Iran, and Turkey collected intelligence about the Egyptian government.

Harel was known for his dedication to defending Israel and protecting democracy within the Jewish state. During his tenure as the Mossad chief, he led many famous operations. One of them was the capture in 1960 of Adolf Eichmann, one of the Nazi architects of the Final Solution.

Harel was also responsible for the intelligence coup that cemented the Mossad’s reputation with Western intelligence agencies. In March 1956, three years after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, his successor Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s “cult of personality” and brutal paranoia in a speech before a closed session of the Communist Party’s 20th Congress. Word spread of this event, but U.S. intelligence agencies were unable to obtain the text of the so-called “Secret Speech”.

The Soviet politburo delivered copies of the speech to a few Eastern-bloc countries; in Poland, a journalist named Viktor Grayevsky borrowed a copy from his girlfriend, who worked in the office of the First Secretary of the Polish Communist Party. Grayevsky, who was Jewish, had recently visited Israel and had decided to emigrate; he gave the speech to security officers at the Israeli embassy in Warsaw, and they in turn sent photographed copies to Harel in Tel Aviv.

Harel shared the speech with his counterparts in other Western intelligence offices, most notably counterintelligence spymaster James Jesus Angleton of the American C.I.A. 

In his historical novel Aron Shai tells a fascinating story of a twenty-five year old son – Benhazar, a Hebrew word meaning “son to a stranger” – who tries to find out about the strange secret life of his father, Jochanan. Jochanan was a man with a shadowy past, could he have been a Mossad agent?

He was killed in a mysterious fire that burned all of his records. Was he murdered by fellow Israelis or by the British? If so, why? While searching to understand his father, Benhazar discovers himself and learns some undisclosed bizarre history about his country Israel. The back cover of this historical novel states: “Many of the events in this fascinating and suspenseful novel are based on actual historical events disclosed for the first time.”

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