He was Harel was one of the founders of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, and was its director from to He was also the first director of Shin Bet, the internal security agency. One of the tasks of Mossad in its first years was to track down leaders of the Third Reich responsible for the killing of six million Jews during World War II. A prime target was Adolf Eichmann, an aide to Hitler responsible for carrying out the logistics of what the Nazis called the ''final solution'' -- the mass killing of the European Jews.
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Even within Mossad, Shin Bet and Aman the external, internal and military branches of Israeli intelligence , many colleagues rued the day that they had crossed "Little Isser", as they nervously nicknamed him.
Short and stocky, his prominent ears always alert for conspiracies, Harel ruled Mossad from until In he gained the title memunah - overall chief - of Israel's secret services. Harel did not actually create Mossad. That honour went to the brilliant Reuven Shiloah, who set up "the institute" in But Shiloah became bored with administrative detail so, in , Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, gave the job to Harel, already known as the puritanical head of Shin Bet.
His finest moment came in May , with the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann, the former SS officer who had overseen the carrying out of the "final solution", Nazi Germany's plan for the extermination of European Jews. For 15 years Eichmann had passed himself off as Ricardo Klement in Buenos Aires; for two years Harel's team of 11 had kept him under surveillance.
Then Harel, present in the Argentinian capital for the final weeks of the operation, gave the order for him to be abducted when getting off a bus. For nine days Eichmann was interrogated in one of the Israelis' safe houses, then heavily sedated and spirited away as a sick passenger on an airliner. Though the plane was flying a junior member of the Israeli cabinet, Abba Eban, home after celebrating Argentina's th anniversary celebrations, the future foreign minister knew nothing of the incident.
Once in Israel, Eichmann was tried and sentenced to death in , and hanged in after an appeal. His family fled to Lithuania in after their vinegar business was confiscated by Russian revolutionaries, prompting Isser's lifelong aversion to Marxism.
In Isser entered British Mandatory Palestine on forged papers. Disillusioned after five years working on a kibbutz that he had founded, he and his young wife, Rivka, set up a private orange-packing company. In he changed his surname to Harel "mountain of God" in Hebrew. Two years later, he became Tel Aviv head of Shai, the intelligence branch of the main Zionist underground, Haganah. Paradoxically, some of the keenest Mossad agents were former members of Irgun and Lehi the Stern Gang , whom Harel brought in from the cold and recruited in Through his friendship with its head of counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton, Harel allayed American suspicions of Israel's supposed ties with the USSR, and claimed to be the first to hand the Americans the full text of Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev's famous "secret speech" denouncing Stalin.
But derring-do came at a cost. Some said Harel was recklessly endangering Jews still trapped behind the iron curtain. He redeemed himself by exposing several Soviet agents, most notoriously Israel Beer, the debonair former anti-fascist guerrilla in the Spanish civil war, who had become a confidant to Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres. More controversially, in Harel bugged the offices of Mapam, a leftist party opposed to Ben-Gurion's ruling Mapai. He also placed a maverick journalist under administrative detention, funded a journal to undermine critical publications and whitewashed news of an Israeli intelligence debacle in Egypt.
The extent to which these were personal initiatives or the result of orders from above is not clear. S ensing a chance for peace in the region, in Harel tried to organise a meeting between Egypt's President Nasser and Ben-Gurion.
A year later, the Suez war destroyed such hopes. Undaunted, Harel formed a secret relationship with King Hassan, who allowed some 80, Moroccan Jews to leave for Israel in return for valuable security advice. Harel persevered with Shiloah's dream of a "peripheral alliance" between Israel and potential non-Arab allies in the Middle East. In he befriended Taimur Bakhtiar, first head of Iran's feared intelligence agency Savak, and later prime minister.
In return, Mossad monitored developments in the Red Sea from a vast clandestine complex in Addis Ababa. Despite his success over Eichmann, in South America Harel failed to ensnare Josef Mengele, the Nazis' "angel of death", notorious for his medical experiments on concentration camp inmates, and in Harel's agents turned their attention to operation Damocles - the hounding, and occasional murder, of German scientists who were allegedly developing Egyptian rockets and chemical weapons.
Israeli diplomats assiduously nurturing ties with West Germany found Harel's campaign, encouraged by foreign minister Golda Meir, extremely embarrassing. The final ignominy came when Egypt showed off advanced missiles in a televised military parade - weaponry that Mossad should have detected.
By March , when Harel refused to curb his anti-German hit squads, a reluctant Ben-Gurion forced his resignation as Mossad chief, and replaced him with Meir Amit, a young technocrat who headed military intelligence. Many loyal operatives resigned in protest, including future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir; the strength of the resulting controversy in the Knesset was a principal cause of Ben-Gurion's resignation the following June.
The feud between Harel and Amit lasted into the next century. Harel briefly reinvented himself as special security adviser to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol , and served one term in the Knesset , but his heyday was over. Yet Harel's reliance on "the human factor" remains an indispensable legacy of Israeli intelligence to this day. His recreations were opera and detective novels. He and his wife had a daughter. Isser Harel. The Israeli intelligence chief who brought in the Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann.
Lawrence Joffe. Published on Thu 20 Feb
Even within Mossad, Shin Bet and Aman the external, internal and military branches of Israeli intelligence , many colleagues rued the day that they had crossed "Little Isser", as they nervously nicknamed him. Short and stocky, his prominent ears always alert for conspiracies, Harel ruled Mossad from until In he gained the title memunah - overall chief - of Israel's secret services. Harel did not actually create Mossad. That honour went to the brilliant Reuven Shiloah, who set up "the institute" in But Shiloah became bored with administrative detail so, in , Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, gave the job to Harel, already known as the puritanical head of Shin Bet.
Isser Harel, 91, Israeli Who Helped Found Mossad and Led Capture of Eichmann
In he also became head of Mossad , the foreign intelligence agency. In an operation in , he found and identified Eichmann where he was living in hiding in Buenos Aires, Arg. Another campaign, against West German scientists who were helping Egypt develop weapons delivery systems at a time when the Israeli government was developing closer ties to West Germany , caused Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to require his resignation in Isser Harel. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback.
Isser Harel started out in as a young Russian immigrant to Israel on a kibbutz. He later founded his own orange company. He will be best remembered, however, as the first director of the Mossad. By the s Harel joined the Haganah and the British auxiliary forces to fight the Nazis.