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What the Mossad Cooked Up

The Mossad failed in three areas - locating Ron Arad (or, at least, authenticating his situation), attaining an accurate diagnosis of Elhanan Tennenbaum's health, and supplying a cool, professional report on the German involvement in the deal.

Dr. August Hanning, a German bureaucrat, has worked his way up in the German Chancellor's office in the last decade, moving from department head to a senior position in the country's intelligence service. In 1998, Hanning was appointed head of Germany's overseas intelligence service, the BND; he would have loved to add one letter to his organization's name to make it identical to the name of secret agent Bond, James Bond.

In interviews and lectures, Hanning covets headlines. In recent years, he has notched three successes: He published a "spies" cookbook, a collection of recipes from 22 countries, with his agents reporting on dishes of interest (BND's man in Israel reported on a spicy fish soup that "singes your taste buds for a few hours"), and for which Hanning's wife supplied an introduction; he opened a souvenir store with items (underwear, caps, diaries) that carry his organization's label; and on Friday he had himself photographed grinning with Hassan Nasrallah, his partner in the prisoner exchange deal with Israel.

The punch line in the sad joke of the deal with Nasrallah has to do with the performance of the system headed by Ariel Sharon, whose core is the Mossad and the Israeli counterpart of Hanning, Meir Dagan. Israel Defense Forces Major General (res.) Dagan, a Sharon protege and a Likud man, bolted the Mossad's door from public scrutiny, ending the period in which the organization, under Ephraim Halevy, started to open up. The Mossad's failure is the background to Sharon's decisions and negotiations handled by Ilan Biran - a bitter failure for Israel, the deal provided Sharon a week in which public attention was diverted away from the indictment that might be formulated against him.

The Mossad failed in three areas - locating Ron Arad (or, at least, authenticating his situation), attaining an accurate diagnosis of Elhanan Tennenbaum's health, and supplying a cool, professional report on the German involvement in the deal. Other cohorts in the failure included IDF Military Intelligence and the chief of staff, who rashly gave credence to the Mossad's data. Working on the deal, the IDF took interest solely in Arad and the three kidnap victims from the Lebanon border; the Tennenbaum issue was handled by Sharon's office and the Mossad, which is directly accountable to the Prime Minister's Office. The IDF General Staff would likely have opposed the Tennenbaum deal, were it not for the expectation of final, reliable information being supplied about Arad's fate. Agreement was given to defer the attainment of such information to the second stage of the deal (which might never materialize) due to the feeling of urgency about the enactment of the first stage.

Two dubious arguments were provided to justify the urgency with which Sharon pushed through the exchange deal, winning approval for it by a slim margin. The first was Tennenbaum's medical situation, the presumed risk posed to his life were his imprisonment to continue - as it turned out, the risk he faced was less than that of any passenger on a Jerusalem bus; the second was the need to complete the deal "within two or three months," before "decision makers in Germany" leave the stage. This second factor boiled down to the supposed need to sign German President Johannes Rau to an agreement to pardon Iranian murderers confined in his country, so as to obtain Arad's return (dead or alive) in exchange, before a successor to Rau is elected in May (Rau leaves his post in July, after five years in office). Rau, who has constitutional authority to pardon people convicted of terror and espionage, will cooperate with this deal, but who knows whether the proverbial deluge will come when he is replaced.

This legend about Rau, and the day after Rau, supplied by the Mossad was never reviewed by Foreign Ministry experts - and there are such experts, both in Jerusalem and in the embassy in Berlin, whose expertise in the German arena exceeds that of the Mossad. Such experts were liable to stifle the glee about expectations from Germany were they to have been asked about the subject; as things stand, the Mossad likes to rely on the Foreign Ministry only when it wants to conduct operations in far-off countries.

The shabby, adventurist character of decision-making policies entrusted to Sharon - the Defense Minister during the Lebanon War, and the Prime Minister for the Nasrallah deal - has remained constant; and in both these instances, the Mossad influenced Sharon's maneuvers. A bad odor emanates not only from Sharon's kitchen, but from the recipes provided by the Mossad.