How the Mossad Killed a Deal With Kim Il-sung

The question of how to deal with North Korea - with kid gloves or with an iron fist - was also on Israel's agenda about 15 years ago. North Korea approached Israel in secret, and and the deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry at that time, Eitan Bentzur, responded. According to Foreign Ministry documents that have reached Haaretz, contact was made through American businessmen, including Leslie Bond, who were active in South Korea and knew leaders in the North.

Bentzur's idea was that Israeli businesspeople would invest in North Korea - especially in the fuel industry, would run a gold mine at Onsan and would help it obtain a $1 billion loan. Among those who expressed willingness to participate in the Korea venture were Shaul Eisenberg, through the UDB company that he owned, which operated in China; and Nimrod Novick, formerly an aide to Shimon Peres, who had joined Yossi Meiman's Merhav company.

Novick and Meiman acted via a company called Metropolitan Investment Corporation. In return, North Korea was supposed to promise not to sell Scud missiles to Syria, Lebanon or Iran. In November 1992, a Foreign Ministry delegation headed by Bentzur and his assistant Avi Sitton visited Pyongyang and met with senior members of the regime. They discussed the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries and a visit to Pyongyang by foreign minister Shimon Peres. Two additional meetings, in June and August of 1993, were held in Beijing between Foreign Ministry officials and representatives of North Korea. In August, the leader of North Korea at the time, Kim Il-sung (the father of the present leader) proposed that his daughter, Kim Kyong-hui and her husband, who was in charge of the initiative to produce the missiles, would continue the contacts with Israeli representatives in Paris.

However, the Mossad thought otherwise. The then-head of the Tevel branch, Ephraim Halevy (later Mossad chief), and one of his officials, Dubi Shiloah, had heard about the move from the Foreign Ministry. They rushed off on a secret mission to Pyongyang in an effort to beat the Foreign Ministry delegation and to torpedo the initiative. But due to flight delays, they arrived in Pyongyang at the same time as the Foreign Ministry delegation. Embarrassingly, the two delegations encountered each other when they boarded the flight from Pyongyang to Beijing.

"The thought that in return for supplying the necessary know-how to Pyongyang it would stop supplying Scud missiles to the Middle East was ridiculous, in the best case," wrote Halevy in his new book "Man in the Shadows," adding: "The embarrassing farce was exposed in all its nakedness."

But the Foreign Ministry documents prove that Halevy and the Mossad were acting on outside interests. They worked hand in glove with the Central Intelligence Agency to torpedo the move, and all this for reasons of ego - the Foreign Ministry had dared to enter "their" province, secret contacts with countries with which Israel did not have diplomatic relations.

The Mossad convinced prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin to stop the contacts with North Korea on the grounds that the American government was opposed to them. But fate had the last laugh: At that same time the American administration was in contact with the North, and in October 1994, it reached an agreement: North Korea would stop its military nuclear program and in return it would receive fuel, aid, and in the future nuclear reactors from South Korea, Japan and the United States. This agreement is now serving as the basis for discussion in the current crisis.

Unfortunately, that agreement between the United States and North Korea does not mention an issue that ever since has been bothering Israel - the sale of the missiles and knowledge to Iran. Thus, and not for the first time, the Mossad erred and torpedoed an important diplomatic move.

"Shortsightedness, an urge to destroy the successful actions of others, and the lack of backbone in disagreements with the United States are inherent in Ephraim Halevy's falsified description of the contacts with North Korea," says Eitan Bentzur in response. "His unwanted actions harmed clear interests of Israel and the Western world." (Y.M.)