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‘Inside the Mossad’ goes behind the scenes of Israel’s storied spy agency

Mossad, Israel’s legendary and widely admired intelligence agency, has had a long history of astonishing successes in international intrigue, including planting spies in enemy nations; using a former Nazi officer as a double agent and consciously burnishing its image as one of the world’s most daring and effective intelligence units. 

“Inside the Mossad,” directed by Dori Dror, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the ultra-secret agency. The film is assembled from some 17 episodes shown as a mini-series in Israel in 2017. While all of the episodes and adventures described in the film are interesting and some quite compelling, there is a slightly disjointed chronology to the film, with events relating to the 1982 Lebanon War, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War sometimes appearing out of sequence. But the unprecedented access to former directors and deputy directors of Mossad in unusually candid interviews makes up for the choppy quality of some of the sequences.

Mossad, which literally means “The Institute,” was organized on Dec. 13, 1949, a bit more than a year after Israel proclaimed its independence. The agency was formed out of the original intelligence wing of the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state military wing. Mossad is responsible for intelligence collection, covert operations and counterterrorism. The agency, headquartered in Tel Aviv, is currently directed by Yossi Cohen and employs about 1,200 staff.

The agency reports directly to the office of the prime minister.

Among those interviewed in the film is former Mossad Director Ram Ben Barak, who makes it clear that Mossad, like other espionage agencies, “plays by a different set of rules” than those of the Israel Defense Forces or the Shin Bet, which engages in internal Israeli investigations. 

Like their counterparts in the CIA and FBI, the Mossad and Shin Bet are often at odds with one another, and even have disagreed with the prime minister’s office. In one episode depicted in the film, a Mossad agent met with then-CIA director Leon Panetta, and expressed sharp disagreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to use military force against Iran. Without American support, the mission had to be interrupted.

The goals, structure and powers of the Mossad are exempt from the Basic Laws of the State of Israel. Its actions are subject to secret procedures that have never been published.

Israel’s ability to penetrate the governments of hostile neighbors includes the Mossad-led operation involving Eli Cohen, a Syrian-born Jew who posed as a businessman to infiltrate and sabotage the ultra-secret Syrian network of covert operations. Sadly, Cohen’s hidden devices were discovered by Syrian agents after which he was caught, tried and executed by hanging in the central market of Damascus. 

The various directors and other top Mossad officials interviewed for the documentary include those who feel that brutal aspects of their job are just part of what they signed up to do, while others indicate a kind of PTSD. One former director is haunted by the image of a young Arab double-agent he had recruited, and the harsh photograph of him hanging in a small interrogation room.

Mossad is famously known as the agency ordered by then-Prime Minister Golda Meir to assassinate all of the PLO Black September terrorists who murdered the 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

The agent who personally trapped and captured Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann from his hiding place in Argentina is also depicted. He told the agent, “I knew one day you would come to get me.”

That knowledge on the part of enemies of Israel is exactly why Mossad exists.


‘Inside the Mossad’

Part of the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival

WHEN:  1 p.m. Monday, June 3

WHERE:  Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema

HOW MUCH:  Opening-day single tickets are $15 (or $26 for both films)

MORE INFO:  Running time: 1:30. In Hebrew with English subtitles. The film will be introduced by Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light. For more infomation or tickets, visit stljewishfilmfestival.org or call 314-442-3179.