The Brussels Mystery: Was Shooting anti-Semitism or Part of Spy Games?

Considering how professional the shooter looked on footage, and the fact two of those killed were former Israeli civil servants, maybe the attack was actually a battle in the covert war.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Image of the shooter taken from the video of a security camera at the Jewish museum in Brussels.
Image of the shooter taken from the video of a security camera at the Jewish museum in Brussels.Credit: Reuters
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

There was no practical reason for a hostile state like Iran or an enemy organization like Hezbollah to try and harm either Emanuel or Mira Riva – both former civil servants – at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Both were accountants who were employed separately by government bodies. They had no substantive connection to the core issues of either Iran or Hezbollah; their tools were numbers and computers, not cloaks and daggers.

Emanuel Riva came to Nativ, the liaison office for Jews from the former Soviet Union, from the Finance Ministry, where he met members of the security and intelligence community and the foreign service, and was in contact with senior government officials. Afterward, Mira was also hired by a government agency. There, and also when she was stationed at one of the agency’s missions in Europe, her post was solely administrative.

She wasn’t Mata Hari, or Sylvia Raphael, or Cindy of the Mordechai Vanunu affair. Even in Golani, after all, there is a crucial difference between the commander of the reconnaissance force and the unit’s paymaster.

Still, it’s possible that the murder in Brussels was not a hate crime or an anti-Semitic attack, but a targeted assault. This possibility is strengthened by the video of the killer’s actions. He was caught by the cameras looking like a professional, as if this was a settling of scores. Not the assassination of accountants, but a battle in a covert war, though perhaps there was a misidentification of the intended victims.

After all, such things have happened to organizations far more sophisticated than Iran and Hezbollah – like the Mossad, for instance, in its mistaken killing of Moroccan waiter Ahmed Bushiki in Lillehammer, Norway in 1973. Bushiki apparently looked to those tracking him like the double of Black September leader Ali Hassan Salameh. At the time, Brussels was one of the way stations in the Mossad’s bloody campaign against the various PLO factions throughout Europe. Tzadok Ofir, who controlled several agents, was seriously wounded there in an ambush by an Arab source who betrayed him.

Israel has double representation in Brussels – its embassy for Belgium, and its embassy to the European Union and NATO. In recent years, Brussels has been one of the most important postings in the foreign service, second only to Washington, and some of Israel’s top diplomats – including Ephraim Halevy (before he was appointed Mossad head) – were posted there.

Senior Israeli representatives are closely guarded by the Belgian authorities. Even a short trip with them to the local Foreign Ministry is a whole security operation.

Brussels is both a very international city and a very Muslim one. The headquarters of NATO, with its 28 member states and more than a dozen partners and observers, is located in one of its suburbs.

In the downtown area lies one of the centers of the European Union (which migrates periodically to Strasbourg). Bus No. 12 from the airport, which passes the NATO command center, full of officials from Europe and North America, continues downtown to the EU offices through neighborhoods that are clearly dominated by North Africans and others, with veiled women seen in the streets, stores and restaurants.

It’s easy to hide in this Arabic-European capital with diplomatic mail and passports from various countries and its supportive environment, which conceals and whisks you away.

Databases compromised in recent years (see Edward Snowden) – both those that have been published and those that have not – included tens of thousands of names, some with similar and erroneous spellings. They are liable to help evildoers track targets, correct or mistaken, and attack them, either as part of a plan or on an improvised basis, because the victims met acquaintances or colleagues who were in the trackers’ sights.

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