Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Israel’s Mossad: The Politics and History

Israel’s Mossad political history indicates that it has never served as a security entity. Instead, it has always been an integral part of the deep state.

Israel’s Mossad
This picture taken from the Mount of Olives shows a crow perching on top of a flagpole carrying an Israeli flag, with houses in Jerusalem’s predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan appearing in the background. AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic.

In April 2023, classified records from the United States Department of Defense were leaked, and the contents were revealed by both the “Washington Post” and “The New York Times.”

The documents indicated that senior officials from the Israeli Mossad had encouraged the agency’s employees and citizens in Israel to participate in protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Despite Netanyahu’s office denying the information, the leaks reopened the debate surrounding the political role of the Mossad since its inception, both within Israel and beyond.

Roles transcending intelligence

Since its legal establishment in 1949, the Mossad has played a pivotal part in shaping Israel’s foreign policies, including diplomatic relations, economic decisions, and conflict involvement. The CIA has also conducted maneuvers that have influenced peace and war decisions, as well as military activities beyond Israel’s borders that have substantial long-term political consequences.

Perhaps most significantly, the Mossad has influenced internal political balances and decisions made by executive and legislative authorities, as well as the level of state interference in personal freedoms domestically.

In short, the Mossad’s political history indicates that it has never served purely as a security entity responsible for carrying out the directions of the executive authorities, as specified by the law placing it under the supervision of the prime minister.

Instead, the Mossad has always been an integral part of the deep state, with its own distinct priorities and objectives. It has often played an active role in shaping political decisions and even imposing them, rather than simply collecting information and conducting special operations as directed.

Mossad’s political role since its inception

The Mossad started operating in 1937 as an organization for illegal immigration, prior to its legal establishment. A group of officers and administrators in the Inquiries Department of the Haganah groups worked toward this goal. They aimed to collect information, establish foreign relations with Jewish communities, governments and foreign intelligence agencies, and organize the immigration of Jews to Israel.

This multifaceted job combined security and political roles, as well as tasks related to information gathering, communication and special operations abroad. As a result, Mossad evolved into a central agency for foreign intelligence.

From that stage on, it became evident that the agency’s involvement in organizing Jewish immigration extended beyond security concerns to encompass a founding strategy for the Israeli state and society, as well as its relations with the world at large.

Numerous historians specializing in this period have noted that the Mossad was founded during the era when the political department, which had operated under the guidance of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was dismantled. This enabled the Mossad to assume not only traditional intelligence roles, but also diplomatic and political responsibilities.

In 1949, Israel initiated a reorganization of its intelligence and security institutions, resulting in the legalization of the Mossad under the title of “Information and Special Missions Institution.” During this period, the agency’s primary responsibility was to collaborate with other intelligence and security service institutions, namely the Army Intelligence Directorate (AMAN) and the Internal Security Agency (Shin Bet).

According to the approved administrative arrangement, the “Aman” agency was tasked with military intelligence assignments, while the “Shin Bet” agency was responsible for internal security tasks. The Mossad’s role was to coordinate operations and information between these agencies.

The establishment of the apparatus at that time resulted in the successful implementation of the “Ezra and Nehemiah” operation in Iraq from 1950 to 1951. This involved the task of communicating with the Jewish community in Iraq and organizing the evacuation of over 125,000 Jews to Israel.

The intelligence gathering effort during that time provided detailed information about the location of Jews in Iraq. The agency also leveraged its foreign relations to secure American planes and obtain permissions from the Iraqi government for organizing immigration flights.

Moreover, the apparatus carried out several security tasks and special operations within Iraqi territory to facilitate the evacuations.

Mossad reorganization and expansion of its political role

In 1951, three years after the establishment of Israel, the Mossad underwent reorganization and became a distinct agency, no longer responsible for coordinating between the Aman and Shin Bet agencies.

Since then, Mossad has taken on the role of the primary agency responsible for collecting information and conducting operations outside of Israel. The agency now operates under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office, similar to the role of the CIA in the United States.

The Aman apparatus operated as a military intelligence agency directly linked to the army staff. Its main role was to perform intelligence tasks that supported the work of the Israeli army on the country’s borders, particularly in the context of potential conflicts with other Arab armies.

On the other hand, the Shin Bet was connected to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and focused on internal security matters. Its primary objective was to counter the operations of Palestinian factions within Israel.

To highlight the significance of Mossad’s continued involvement in political decision-making following its reorganization, one need only point to Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s eagerness to appoint his foreign affairs official and special adviser, Robin Zaslansky, as the agency’s first director post-restructuring.

During that time, Zaslansky held the position of minister of defense in Ben-Gurion’s government, highlighting the significant overlap between the Mossad’s security tasks and the political functions it carried out. Documents from that period indicate that Zaslansky was among the individuals close to Ben-Gurion who helped formulate his work program as the prime minister of the Israeli government.

Due to the confidential nature of Israel’s foreign policy and diplomatic relations during that period, the Mossad played a crucial role in establishing political relations between Israeli governments and foreign countries.

Additionally, it was involved in negotiating various military, commercial and economic agreements and deals. As time progressed, Mossad expanded its operations and created a dedicated department known as “Tefel.” This unit worked in conjunction with Israeli diplomatic missions abroad to establish relationships that combined both diplomatic and security objectives, further enhancing the Mossad’s capabilities.

For example, the Mossad’s international relations have played a crucial role in preventing several arms deals that could have potentially threatened Israel’s military dominance against its adversaries. One notable example is the missile deal between Germany and Egypt during the 1960s.

Additionally, the Mossad has been able to establish diplomatic ties with several Arab and African countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Chad, even before the official normalization of relations with Israel. These diplomatic efforts have been instrumental in reducing Israel’s isolation on the global stage over the past few decades.

Mossad versus state agencies

Given the Mossad’s expanded role beyond that of an intelligence agency, it was inevitable that it would compete with other state agencies, potentially leading to frictions and conflicts.

In 2017, the Israeli army archives documents revealed significant differences in the relationship between Mossad and Aman, the military intelligence service. These differences have existed since the agencies were established and organized in 1951.

During the October 1973 war, the conflicting and uncoordinated information and recommendations from both agencies contributed to their disagreements. Additionally, each agency attempted to sway political authority in favor of their own assessments and recommendations, resulting in crucial intelligence information being ignored. As a result of the mutual intrigues and power struggles between intelligence officers, hundreds of Israeli soldiers lost their lives.

Israel has experienced various challenges due to the competition between the Mossad and the General Security Agency (Shin Bet) regarding their roles and powers, particularly in regards to presenting recommendations for dealing with Palestinian factions in the West Bank.

This was highlighted in 2020, where a sharp conflict arose between the two agencies over plans to annex parts of the West Bank to Israel. While the army and Shin Bet leaders, who have a better understanding of the security situation in the region, warned the political authority about the potential repercussions of these schemes, the Mossad leadership pushed the Israeli government to disregard these recommendations and warnings.

At the same time, significant and dangerous conflicts arose between the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Mossad, especially when Mossad sought to assume a significant role in Israel’s diplomatic affairs with other nations.

In response to the Mossad bypassing the ministry in many instances, the ministry attempted to challenge and breach the regulations that restrict relations with foreign intelligence agencies solely to the Mossad. An example of this occurred when the ministry arranged a visit by the head of the Shin Bet to the Gulf.

Over the years, there have been reports of ongoing tension and mistrust between the leaders of Israel’s three security agencies: Mossad, Aman, and Shin Bet. This constant state of conflict has prevented Israel from developing sustainable and independent security strategies, particularly in areas such as the West Bank, where the competition for influence and power is most pronounced.

As a result, these agencies are often caught up in playing internal political games, with the Mossad’s involvement in the recent demonstrations against Netanyahu being a case in point.

Israeli law provides the Mossad with a broad mandate to conduct strategic research and evaluations, allowing it to play a significant role in national security matters. Specifically, the Mossad is tasked with collecting materials and data, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations to Israeli political and security authorities.

This mandate is not limited to a particular subject, field or nature of research and evaluation, enabling the agency to expand its work without restrictions and advocate for the implementation of its recommendations, even in areas beyond traditional intelligence or security work, such as foreign relations. This has led to a persistent tension between Israeli official institutions and the Mossad since its inception.

Fanack Water Palestine