Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Israel’s First Spy

While religious Jews acknowledge that the creation and continued existence of the State of Israel is a Divine gift, God appoints his messengers to facilitate His work, including diplomats, generals, politicians, and everyone who has contributed to the welfare of the State over the past seven decades. 

One of the most critical tools to Israel’s survival has been its intelligence services. The father of Israel’s spies is Isser Harel.

Isser Halperin was born in 1912 in Vitebsk, Russia (current day Belarus) to a wealthy family. Isser was five when the Russian Revolution broke out and the Soviet regime confiscated his family’s property. In 1922, the family moved to Daugavpils, Latvia, which was not yet under the Soviet orbit. Isser was educated in Daugavpils and joined a Zionist youth organization, and hoped to soon immigrate to British mandatory Palestine. In 1930, he boarded a ship in Genoa, Italy, with fake papers, claiming that he was 18 years old and eligible for a British visa. He brought a pistol that he concealed in a loaf of bread.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, Harel founded and served as the first director of Israel’s internal security agency, the “Shin Bet.” In 1951, Israel’s famed external security agency, “the Mossad,” was founded and Harel became its leader a year later, in 1952.

In 1959, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion received intelligence reports that the infamous Nazi killer, Adolph Eichmann, was living in Argentina under the pseudonym “Ricardo Klement.” Ben Gurion knew diplomatic maneuverings would not succeed to extradite Eichmann to Israel, so he asked Harel to devise a strategy to kidnap Eichmann and secretly bring him to Israel to stand trial for his war crimes. In April, 1960, Israeli agents, including Harel, arrived in Buenos Aires, knowing that Klement was living in the San Fernando neighborhood. On May 11, 1960, Eichmann was seized as he walked from a bus stop to his home. He was drugged, disguised as a crewmember and placed on an Israeli diplomatic airplane, which delivered him to Tel Aviv. Harel’s account of the operation was detailed in his book, “The House on Garibaldi Street.”

In March, 1963, Ben Gurion demanded Harel’s resignation due to the unintended injury of individuals in an operation intended to dissuade German rocket scientists from working for Egyptian president Nasser.

Harel entered politics in 1969 as a Knesset member in David ben Gurion’s newly created party. Ben Gurion soon resigned from the party, which led to its collapse. Harel lost his seat in the 1973 Knesset elections.

Isser Harel died on February 18, 2003, leaving a wife, daughter, two grandsons and one granddaughter. He very likely took many heroic acts and state secrets with him to the grave.

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