Mossad in the Maghreb
By Ali Ibrahim
Part 1 – Tunisia: Stepping Up its Game
A Tunisian soldier stands guard as unseen US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, lays a wreath during ceremony at the North Africa American Cemetery where 2,841 U.S. Soldiers who were killed in WWII are buried, on 30 July 2012, in Tunis. (Photo: AFP - Mark Wilson)
For the past three months, the Arab Maghreb countries have been witnessing a growing number of controversies and scandals concerning cells linked to Israeli espionage activities.
It began when an informants network was dismantled in Mauritania early this year. Then Mossad made the headlines in Algeria and Morocco in a string of reports, rumors, and hoaxes.
Finally, a new scandal reverberated across Tunisia last week involving a wide network of Mossad operations, including espionage centers using the country as a base to spy across the Maghreb region.
Abderraouf al-Ayadi, head of the Wafa Movement which split from the Rally for the Republic (RPR), caused a huge stir last week when he revealed that Mossad has stepped up its activities in post-revolutionary Tunisia.
He said that these activities were being conducted under the “cover of European and US NGOs that claim to be charitable, humanitarian, or cultural.”
|This echoes earlier statements by the head of the Tunisian Workers Party (formerly POCT), Hamma al-Hammami, about “Israeli spy networks operating in post-revolution Tunisia that took advantage of the state of chaos and lawlessness that swept the country following president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s escape.” || |
The information revealed by Ayadi and Hammami coincided with a February report by the Yafa Center for Studies and Research focusing on Mossad activities in the Maghreb. The report said that the agency began concentrating its operations in Tunisia following the PLO’s exit from Beirut and relocation to Tunis in 1982.
Interest in the region declined after the signing of the Oslo accords, until the Tunisian revolution brought it back.
The report spoke about the post-Oslo Tunisian-Israeli rapprochement which became public with the establishment of a bureau for economic cooperation in 1996.
The relationship included a secret item about the “establishment of a system for security coordination between the Mossad and Tunisia by Shalom Cohen, a Tunisian Jew working in the North Africa section of the Israeli Mossad. In the same year, he became the director of the Israeli interest bureau in Tunisia.”
According to the report, Cohen used his diplomatic cover to build a “Mossad network” based in the capital Tunis, with branches in Sousse and Djerba.
The Yafa center information is consistent with that which Ayadi said he had received from a high-ranking Tunisian security source who reported the surveillance of a secret Mossad network “of around 300 agents” distributed over the three spying bases.
The first base was in the capital and run by a certain Nachman Jalboagh. It focused on Algeria by collecting information, monitoring targets, and recruiting agents.
|The second is in Sousse and run by Doron Pierre. Its operations were primarily inside Tunisia, especially the monitoring the remaining Palestinians in Tunisia, Salafi movements, and groups opposing peace with Israel. |
The third is in Djerba, run by Nurit Tsur, and focuses on Libya. It also acts to protect the Jewish sect in Tunisia, which is concentrated on the island, and collects information about Jewish archaeological sites and landmarks in Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya.
Tunisian authorities have remained silent despite the uproar caused by the revelations. The government has yet to take any public action concerning the issue.
Speaking to al-Maghreb newspaper, interior minister Ali al-Arid said “the statements concerning 300 Mossad spies in Tunisia, working under the cover of cultural NGOs and travel agencies, are unfounded and completely irresponsible.”
“They are intended to disturb the work of security agencies that toil night and day to protect Tunisia. Anyone who has information about the issue should contact the security agencies so they can confirm it,” he added.
Tunisian anti-normalization activists believe that the interior minister’s statements contradict information broadcast on official Israeli television in the first days of the Tunisian revolution.
Mossad had boasted about “a special operation in Tunisia, under the cover of European companies, to evacuate a group of Israelis who were visiting Djerba, the site of the oldest synagogue in the world, al-Ghariba temple.”
Tunisian activists suggest that “Mossad activities and crimes are not new in Tunisia. The most famous was the bombing of the Hammam al-Shat suburb in the autumn of 1985. It targeted the offices of late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat. The Mossad also carried out numerous assassinations in Tunisia, including that of the mastermind behind the first intifada, Abu Jihad, in 1988.”
Following the Oslo agreement, nationalist and leftist currents, as well as anti-normalization associations accused Ben Ali of “facilitating Mossad operations and activities in Tunisia.”
This was highlighted in a documentary broadcast by Tunisian television following the revolution called “The State of Corruption.” The film exposed the significant role that Ben Ali played in setting the scene for the accords.
Following Oslo, the former dictator opened an Israeli economic cooperation bureau in Tunis. The office initiated its activities by contacting several Tunisian intellectuals and journalists to lure them into normalization activities. The majority refused to be involved.
The bureau was later closed due to popular pressure following the 2002 Israeli assault on the West Bank and the consequent siege of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah.
The alarm sounded by Ayadi and Hammami is based on evidence and information corroborated by rights activist Ahmed al-Kahlawi, president of the Tunisian Association for Fighting Normalization and Supporting the Arab Resistance (TAFNSAR).
Kahlawi said that “several foreign organizations active in post-revolution Tunisia, such as Freedom House, play a major role in propagating the culture of normalization under the pretext of defending human rights.”
|He also laid bare the schemes of an organization called “AMIDEAST, which teaches English under the supervision of the US embassy. It entices students to give up their animosity towards Israel and promotes programs that claim to call for peace and dialogue between cultures, but in reality it aims to foster normalization.” || |
“With the fall of Ben Ali, Israel lost a strong strategic ally in North Africa,” Kahlawi explained. He indicated that most Zionist leaders admit this openly, including Benjamin Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom, who is of Tunisian origins (born in the city of Qabis).
Ben Ali had officially welcomed Shalom in 2005 in a meeting that was not covered by the Tunisian media, coinciding with the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis.
Kahlawi said the latest revelations about Mossad’s role in Tunisia should be further grounds for the constituent assembly to ratify chapter 27 of the proposed constitution, related to crimes of normalization and prosecuting collaboration with the Zionist state.
He added that “al-Nahda had rejected the criminalization of normalization, with a demagogic argument contending that the Tunisian constitution will last longer than the Israeli state, which will inevitably perish!”
Most Tunisian anti-normalization activists suspect the real reason behind al-Nahda eschewing the criminalization of normalization to be “pressure from the US on the ruling troika, and specifically on the movement, to prevent the ratification of chapter 27, which had been proposed by anti-normalization associations.”
Part 2 : Historic Services From Morocco
King Mohammed VI of Morocco (C) parades on horseback during the "Celebration of loyalty and allegiance", which marks the 13th anniversary of his accession to the throne, in the Mechouar square at the Royal Palace in Rabat, 21 August 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Maghreb Arabe Presse - Handout)
Casablanca - Earlier this year, Jacob Cohen, a Moroccan-French Jewish writer known for his anti-Zionist writings, posted an article on his blog which caused a sensation in Morocco. He revealed that Andre Azoulay, a veteran royal counsellor to both former King Hassan II and his son Mohamed VI, is also employed as an Israeli spy. The article said 71-year-old Azoulay, who hails from a Jewish family from the southern town of Essaouira, was a key member of the Mossad’s sayanim organization, a worldwide network of non-Israeli Jewish operatives.
The Moroccan authorities did not officially comment on this delicate matter, and Azoulay issued no denial of the accusation. But the authorities responded indirectly by cancelling a conference that Cohen was scheduled to attend to discuss the subject of Muslim-Jewish coexistence in Morocco. This was widely seen as a bid to prevent any discussion of Cohen’s charge against Azoulay, or, more generally, of his recently-published book Spring of the Sayanim.
Cohen defines the sayanim as Diaspora Jews who, for “patriotic” reasons, arrange to collaborate with the Mossad or other Zionist agencies and provide them with assistance as required in their areas of expertise. The network was established in the 1950s and was used in many Israeli intelligence and propaganda operations, including the process of uprooting Jews from their communities around the world to turn them into colonizers in Palestine.
|Recently, Israeli President Shimon Peres hosted an event to honor the Israeli agent who organized the first migrations of Jewish Moroccans to Israel. David Littman arrived in Morocco posing as a British Christian clergyman, and settled in Casablanca. He oversaw a scheme for the transfer of Moroccan Jews to Israel known as Operation Mural, which targeted mainly Moroccan Jewish children. Littman sent them to Israel under the guise of organizing summer holiday trips to Switzerland for poor children.|| |
Before and after Operation Mural, the Moroccan monarchy profited handsomely from facilitating the uprooting of Moroccan Jews, especially after Hassan II assumed power in 1961. He oversaw the deals personally.
French author Agnes Bensimon detailed in her book Hassan II and the Jews how the Mossad initiated negotiations with Hassan II four months after the death of Mohamed V. The new king demanded payment of half a million dollars to facilitate the despatch of a first batch of 50,000 Jews, and the same for a subsequent batch. This had also been exposed by Simon Levy, one of the Moroccan Jews who resisted pressure to emigrate to Israel, who was a dissident during the reign of Hassan II and died two years ago.
Payments for the transfer of the Moroccan Jews were sent from Israel to secret bank accounts in Switzerland, reportedly in the king’s own name. But the monarch’s friend Ahmed Reda Kadira, who negotiated the deals on his behalf and was later appointed one of his advisors, was not left out of pocket. The proceeds helped finance his daily newspaper Les Phares, which served as the palace’s de facto mouthpiece and specialized in denouncing the king’s critics.
Israel’s penetration of the Moroccan royal court was not only geared to uprooting Moroccan Jews. The Mossad also sought to turn Hassan II politically and thwart any rapprochement between him and Egypt’s Gamal Abdul-Nasser.
The “War of the Sands” which broke out between Morocco and Algeria in 1963 provided the Israelis with their opportunity, after Abdul-Nasser sided with newly-liberated Algeria against the Moroccan attack on its territory.
Dealings between Rabat and Tel Aviv at the time were concluded via Tehran, under the shah of Iran’s auspices. But military cooperation between the two sides persisted. Israel is thought to have played a major role in the construction of the massive 2,600-kilometer security wall in Western Sahara designed to prevent attacks by the Polisario Front, which has been fighting for the territory’s independence since 1975.
|The conflict remains unresolved despite a 1999 cease-fire. During the 6 years of fighting that preceded it, Polisario fighters often captured arms from the Moroccan army which were made in Israel or apartheid-era South Africa. |
Military cooperation soon led to intelligence cooperation, especially after Mossad chief Yitzhak Hofi arranged a secret meeting in Morocco in 1976 between Hassan II and Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin.
The king’s subsequent collaboration with Israel has been widely documented by writers and dissidents. According to Egyptian writer Muhammad Hassanein Haikal in his book Kalam fis-Siyasa (Talking Politics) Hassan II even allowed the Mossad to bug the venues where Arab summits were held in Morocco. Hassan’s best-known role, however, was helping to broker the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal. Israel acknowledged its indebtedness to him: it issued a commemorative postage stamp to honor him after his death in 1999.
In return for the services of the Moroccan king, Israel and the Mossad placed themselves at his disposal, especially in terms of protecting him from his opponents. There was a clear Mossad hand in the abduction and murder of Morocco’s most famous dissident, Mahdi Ben-Barka, who disappeared in Paris in 1965. The Israelis are also thought to have alerted the king to several coup plots and other planned moves agains his rule in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Mossad is no longer known to be particularly active in Morocco these days. The country no longer plays an important role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Besides, the emergence of “rival” collaborators in the eastern part of the Arab world gave Israeli intelligence plenty of other intelligence partners to choose from and options to pursue.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition of Al AKHBAR