Reviewed by Andrew I. Killgore
Mossad case officer Victor Ostrovsky was in Larnaca, Cyprus in 1980 on an operation involving cooperation with Belgian authorities to halt shipments of arms by leftist Belgians to Palestinians. One night in the hotel he decided, on his own, to strike up an acquaintance with a Palestinian businessman from Amman who had just arrived from Libya.
To Ostrovsky's surprise, the Palestinian described to him a Mossad scheme to force down a plane flying top Palestine Liberation Organization leaders from Tripoli, Libya, to Lebanon. The Israeli intelligence agency's plan to capture PLO leaders would fail, the Palestinian businessman told Ostrovsky, because the PLO was aware of the Mossad's plan. Ostrovsky tried to warn his superiors that the Palestinians had knowledge of the plan, but failed to reach them in time to halt it.
The Palestinian, as it turned out, was right. When Israeli aircraft forced the small plane to land in Israel, the PLO leaders were not aboard, and the Israeli act of aerial piracy over international waters caused it great embarrassment.
Somehow the blame for that embarrassment fell on Ostrovsky, however, because he had broken Mossad rules in cultivating the Palestinian. His superiors chose to believe that his conversation with the Palestinian was the reason for their failure.
From that day forward, Ostrovsky was a marked man within the Mossad. At that point in his plummeting career as an Israeli spy, according to Ostrovsky's own account, he agreed to work with higher ranking Mossad officers (whether they were still in or outside the agency is hazy) to thwart hard-liners within Mossad who were planning, among other things, to arrange the assassination in southern Lebanon in 1982 of a relatively moderate Mossad director-designate to prevent his taking office.
That's how Ostrovsky, whose first book about life within the Mossad was By Way of Deception, begins his second book, The Other Side of Deception.
The author and his co-conspirators set out to discredit the Mossad-as-is by revealing its dirty tricks to the intelligence services of other nations, and to replace it with something less repulsive. They walk a fine line between hurting Mossad without harming Israel. In fact the conspirators seem dedicated to Israel, although the Canadian-born author eventually describes Israel, where he was raised by his grandparents, as "a nightmare of prejudice, wallowing in racism and waving the white and blue flag of oppression."
The Israeli government inadvertently boosted sales of Ostrovsky's first book by attempting, in vain, to suppress its publication in Canada, to which Ostrovsky had fled and where he had gone into hiding. The grisly picture of Mossad dirty tricks painted in his second book by Ostrovsky's almost novelistic writing style, plus a human reluctance to accept that anybody could be that bad, may leave the reader wondering, "Can all this really be true?"
For this reviewer the answer was supplied by Ostrovsky's account of Mossad's assassination of a German politician named Uwe Barschel. The account in his book, completed early in 1994, was confirmed in chilling detail in a January 1995 Washington Post article datelined Berlin and based upon German, Spanish and Swiss police investigations of the murder, and the possible motives for it.
According to Ostrovsky, Barschel, the premier of the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein, adamantly refused in 1987, during the Iran-Iraq war, to allow Israeli arms for Iran to be shipped from Schleswig-Holstein ports. Subsequently, he was accused, falsely it now appears, by one of his press aides of authorizing dirty tricks against his political rivals. Although Barschel asserted his innocence, he was forced to resign, leaving his career in ruins. Barschel, who had a wife and four children, then traveled to the Canary Islands (shades of publisher Robert Maxwell, who also ran afoul of Mossad, according to Ostrovsky, and came to an untimely end there).
In the case of Barschel, according to both Ostrovsky and the subsequent Washington Post account, the disgraced politician was lured to Geneva by a telephone call he received in the Canary Islands from a Robert Roloff (according to Barschel's widow, who insists that her husband was murdered) or Robert Oleff (according to Ostrovsky) who promised to provide Barschel information that could clear his name. Immediately after his arrival in Switzerland, however, Barschel was found dead and fully clothed in his Geneva hotel bathtub. His death was ruled a suicide at the time.
But the Post article reports that the case has been re-opened as a murder investigation because of evidence that "a third party" may have been involved and that the overdose of sedatives found in Barschel's stomach may actually have been forced through a tube inserted down his throat after he was dead. Just who the third party who went to such lengths to make a murder look like a suicide might be is unclear. The Israeli government, however, has issued a "formal denial" that it was involved. But in a Middle East where the "opposite test" rule is often applied, a denial, especially if it is "formal," is widely accepted as confirmation that the opposite is true.
In addition to his insider's account of how deaths such as Barschel's occur, Ostrovsky's assessments of the Palestinian, British, Soviet, Jordanian and other intelligence services make exciting reading: A personal touch is added by the fact that Ostrovsky constantly looks over his shoulder for "hit men." As others have corroborated, Mossad may not be very good overall at assembling and assessing intelligence, but it excels at assassination.
Among other kinds of dirty tricks in which Mossad also specializes, Ostrovsky asserts that it doctored the file of then-U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim to implicate him in Nazi crimes. The doctored file subsequently was "discovered" by then-Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Benyamin Netanyahu to smear Waldheim.
The reason? Israel was unhappy with Waldheim's criticism of Israeli activities in southern Lebanon. (This is chillingly reminiscent of the great Hannah Arendt's memorable rumination on the "banality of evil" in her monumental Eichmann in Jerusalem.)
Ostrovsky also charges that Mossad framed Libya in the April 5, 1986 bombing of the West Berlin discothèque in which two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish woman were fatally injured. The background was that by planting an unmanned radio of its own in Libya, Mossad broadcast fraudulent orders for terrorist attacks to Libyan embassies around the world. Although the orders were rejected as false by the Spanish and French intelligence services, they were picked up and accepted as real by U.S. intelligence. As a consequence Libya was blamed by the U.S. for the La Belle discothèque attack. Ironically, according to Ostrovsky, even Mossad had no clue as to whom the real culprits were.
The tragic implication of the U.S. acceptance at face value of the intercepted radio signals rejected by the French and Spaniards is that American intelligence has been "conditioned" to accept as true anything that Israel claims. The subsequent American aerial attack on Tripoli, in which an adopted daughter of Muammar Qaddafi and American airmen were killed, seems to be one of the most obvious and extreme cases of the Israeli tail wagging the American dog.
Particularly shocking to American readers is Ostrovsky's claim that a right-wing clique within Mossad decided, unbeknownst to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, to assassinate President George Bush when the president was in Madrid at the end of October 1991 for the opening of Arab-Israeli peace talks. Evidence was to be manufactured implicating the Palestinians. The clique believed that Shamir would have ordered the assassination himself if he hadn't been gagged by "politics" because the American president had frozen U.S. loan guarantees to Israel.
Three named Palestinian extremists were "taken" from Beirut to Israel's Negev desert and held incommunicado, according to Ostrovsky. Meanwhile Mossad-generated threats on the president's life, seemingly from Palestinians, were leaked. These were designed to throw suspicion on the organization of rogue Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal. Names and descriptions of the three terrorists were leaked to Spanish police so that, if the plot was successful, blame would automatically fall on them.
Eventually, however, the assassination plot was called off, for reasons Ostrovsky does not explain. In a grisly conclusion to the story, however, the three Palestinian prisoners met the fate that had been decreed for them from the time the plot was hatched. In the Negev hideout where they were being held they were "terminated," to employ Ostrovsky's chilling word.
Ostrovsky also charges that Mossad murdered British press magnate Robert Maxwell, whose body was recovered from the seas around the Canary Islands. (At the time Maxwell had overextended his media empire by entering the successful bid, for which he couldn't come up with the cash, to buy The New York Daily News.)
And, as has been widely speculated in the press, Mossad murdered Gerald Bull in Brussels when the Canadian engineer rejected Israeli demands that he cease work for Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war on a super long-range gun.
Author Ostrovsky is not kind to his fellow North American Jews. He says Mossad divides them into three categories. First are the sayanim , volunteer spies for Israel. Second is the Israel lobby, which follows Mossad's guidance. And third is B'nai B'rith, which can be relied upon to "tarnish as anti-Semites whomever they can't sway to the Israeli cause." (The recent statement by Israeli journalist and ex-Mossad agent Josef Lapid on Canadian television that Mossad shouldn't have to assassinate Ostrovsky since some Canadian Jew surely could be found to do the job lends credence to this classification.)
The Other Side of Deceptionis a fast-paced, exciting book. On one level it can be read simply as a first-person adventure tale of one man dodging and running for his life from a bunch of killers justifiably famed for their competence at their trade. But what makes the narration totally absorbing is the realization that The Other Side of Deception is not a novel, but essentially true.
At a more cerebral level, the book also depicts Israeli officials and their American partisans as neither idealistic nor boring collectivist automatons, as depicted by the American media, but rather as fascinating, but dangerously misguided, individuals who are a menace to themselves and to all who choose to identify with them.
The Other Side of Deception is far more than information excitingly packaged. It is an insider's probing exposé of some Middle East realities that have been hidden too long from all but Israeli eyes.
The Other Side of Deception by Victor Ostrovsky. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. (New York) 1994, 315 pp.
Andrew I. Killgore is the publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.