The Cult of ISIS

A nephew of the late philosopher Isaiah Berlin and the great-grandson of a famous general from Berlin met yesterday in Brussels to discuss the common threats facing Israel, Germany and the 18 other countries that are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

A nephew of the late philosopher Isaiah Berlin and the great-grandson of a famous general from Berlin met yesterday in Brussels to discuss the common threats facing Israel, Germany and the 18 other countries that are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The great-grandson is Gebhardt von Moltke, Germany's ambassador to NATO and formerly the political deputy - a position reserved for the German representative - of the alliance's secretary-general. The nephew is Efraim Halevy, the head of the Mossad, Israel's espionage agency, or as he is usually introduced in English, the chief of the ISIS (Israel secret intelligence service). SIS is the official name of MI6, the British version of the Mossad; Halevy was born in Britain and came to Israel as a youth.

The event, an intelligence briefing by Halevy and a free conversation with the ambassadors, represented the high point of a prolonged effort led by Harry Kney-Tal, Israel's ambassador to the European Union and NATO. Kney-Tal, a former adviser on Congressional affairs in the Israeli Embassy in Washington and soon to be the head of the intelligence division in the Foreign Ministry - as deputy director-general in charge of the Center for Political Research - is a student of the school of diplomatic activity on Capitol Hill. A foreign diplomat cannot forge ties or extract information and wield influence on the Hill without working the corridors and corralling elected representatives and their aides. The Israeli foreign service used to have about a dozen diplomats of this type at any given moment, but their breed is rapidly becoming extinct. Kney-Tal, along with another graduate of service in Washington, Shimon Stein, currently Israel's ambassador to Germany, is one of the rare few who still exist.

When Kney-Tal arrived in Brussels some five years ago, at the start of his tour of duty, first as ambassador to Belgium and afterward in his present position, Israel already had an ambassador accredited to the European Union who had been serving for about two years: Efraim Halevy. Before that, when he was about 45 years old or a bit more, Halevy liked to say that Mossad personnel should retire at the age of 55; but not long after reaching that age he was appointed deputy head of the Mossad, and finally retired after holding that post for about five years.

Halevy was not among the knights of the order of Oslo, but when he was given Brussels by Yitzhak Rabin, as a token of appreciation for his state service, he enjoyed the heightened involvement of the European Union in the Middle East. At the time, the secretary-general of NATO, Willy Claes, a Belgian, instituted a dialogue between the North Atlantic alliance and the countries of the Mediterranean on subjects of mutual interest to both sides, notably the growing threat posed by fanatic Islam. Following Claes's resignation (after he was implicated in a corruption scandal), the tradition was continued by his successor, Javier Solana, who is currently in charge of security and foreign affairs in the European Union.

The ties Halevy formed in his diplomatic service proved extremely useful when he suddenly found himself back in his old stomping ground, the Mossad, this time as head of the agency. Former colleagues from his Brussels days were now directors of government offices and heads of intelligence services.

This week Halevy traveled in the opposite direction again - from the Mossad to NATO - to brief the meeting of the North Atlantic Council, which consists of the ambassadors of the alliance's 19 member-states and is chaired by the secretary-general of NATO, Britain's Lord George Robertson. A former deputy defense secretary in the British government, Robertson is an affable politician who likes to pat strangers on the shoulder as though he were looking for votes in his local riding. He was accompanied by the senior staff of the NATO Secretariat: everyone was curious. It was an important audience and the questions that were asked reflected the subjects that are worrying their superiors, and the cables they will dispatch to their governments will help hammer home Israeli messages that are both catchy and authoritative.

Kney-Tal fielded a line-up of heavyweights for the occasion, including Brigadier General Eival Giladi, head of the strategic division in the General Staff Planning Branch. Giladi, armed with the Israel Defense Forces' situation appraisal and the lessons gleaned from Operation Defensive Shield, knows that contrary to the tradition in Israel, in the international community those in uniform are supporting actors in contrast to the civilians - cabinet ministers or officials - who are cast in the starring roles.

The lead actor, Halevy, was received with the esteem reserved for heads of secret services who are fully conversant with the current policy of the leaders of the government in their capitals but do not have a political label; the "Mossad" label, though, turned out to be a valuable commodity even these days.

Halevy could not have chosen more convenient timing. Since last September 11, NATO has rallied to the aid of the Americans in their war against terrorism. In the light of the presence of millions of Muslims on the continent and the proximity of fragile countries on the other side of the Mediterranean, Halevy had the rapt attention of the leaders of Europe and of their intelligence chiefs. Against the background of President George Bush's speech this week outlining U.S. Middle East policy, which adopted emphases voiced by Halevy and by Israel's chief of staff-designate, Major General Moshe Ya'alon, during recent visits to Washington, the lecture delivered by the head of the Mossad came across not as an independent stance being taken by Israel but as a draft for a joint U.S.-Israeli policy, or at least Pentagon-IDF-Mossad approach. More than an achievement for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - Bush went along with him for much of the way but departed from his policy long before the final station - it was a victory for a line that is identified, in shades of a similar albeit not identical cast - with Ya'alon, Halevy and others at the top of the Israeli intelligence and defense-security pyramid.

In his briefing to NATO on Wednesday, Halevy chose to emphasize the positive side of the unity of the goal between Israel, the Arab regimes and the member-states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: All of them are targets of terrorism and all of them should have the common goal of eradicating terrorism. Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction - Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, Libyan - in the form of missiles that have, or will have, a range enabling them to strike Europe and America. If you don't provide assistance now - assistance in the intelligence realm as well as political, legal and military help - to put a stop to the trend of suicide bombing attacks, Halevy asserted, if you don't join in a bitter war against the organizations and their sponsor states, and against the "authorities" (meaning the Palestinian Authority), you will face a tidal wave of lethal terrorism with your backs to the Muslim minorities who are multiplying and becoming more powerful in your countries.