Mossad Takes Pride in One of Its Worst Debacles

61 years after the revelation of the Lavon Affair, the original ‘false flag’ operation, Israel’s spooks believe it was more bad luck than embarrassment, if it was embarrassing at all.

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Pinchas Lavon (right) and Golda Meir in Knesset cafeteria, November 30, 1959.Credit: Fritz Cohen

Not for the memory of Gamal Abdel Nasser, nor out of consideration for Egypt’s current president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, but rather so as not to disrupt the slumber of Israeli leaders from the country's first years, the prime minister and head of the Mossad should prevent anything like the Lavon Affair, an event of 61 years ago, from happening again.

What’s the reason for giving a special commendation to two “heroes” of this affair, Marcelle Ninio and Robert Dassa, who were both arrested and sentenced to jail in Cairo? Especially at an event to commemorate 65 years since the Mossad was founded? Even in an article almost certainly put together by the Mossad, their actions were labeled “acts of sabotage.” But the recent statement notes that the members of this team were “heroes and victims of operational failures that occurred in Egypt.”

And thus we finally learn that according to the Mossad, the Lavon Affair was not a mark of Cain on the fledgling Israel, but rather just a stroke of bad luck, the result of an operational failure. If the explosive device hadn’t gone off in the pocket of Phillip Natanson, who was on his way to set the “Rio” American movie theater in Cairo on fire, everything would have been fine. Egypt would have been embroiled with the Americans. The British, for their part, would have demanded to remain in Egypt to keep order — there’s no way the Egyptian leadership could be trusted. And Binyamin Gibli, then head of Military Intelligence, could have told his friends: “Make war by way of deception.”

Apparently the Mossad misses the good old days. The organization’s current chief, Tamir Pardo, said during a celebratory ceremony: “With us are Marcelle Ninio and Robert Dassa, fighters from unit 131 which became a central Mossad unit. Young Jews who laid the foundations of a powerful structure. Marcelle and Robert – you are examples of bravery, determination and love for Israel.”

Leaving “bravery” and “determination” aside for a minute, what does putting Egypt in conflict with the West have to do with “love for Israel?” Do those who love Israel sow conflict among the neighbors, or get their neighbors in trouble with the regional bully? What legacy was Pardo talking about? How does love for Israel mix with these young men’s betrayal of their own country? With sowing destruction and incitement in its midst?

Therefore, if the Mossad’s guidelines are drawn from those same “young Jews who laid the foundations of a powerful structure,” perhaps it would be best to look into what the Mossad is doing these days in the Arab world. If the Mossad was trying to change the world order in Egypt while it was still in diapers, what is it doing now that it’s at the height of its power? God forbid.

Today, 61 years after the Lavon Affair was made public, the current leadership believes it was more bad luck than embarrassment, if it was embarrassing at all. They say Israel went through a very tough time after this incident, and Moshe Sharett, then prime minister, did not spare his wrath from those directly or indirectly responsible. But it seems the current leadership sees things the opposite way: Next time, they’ll just warn against any operational failures.

The praises Pardo sang for these men who spent many long years in Egyptian prisons, whose friends were hung in the streets of Cairo, are a historic disgrace. If Israel had learned the appropriate lesson from the Lavon Affair, it would have honestly asked forgiveness, first from these people who were guided, in the name of patriotism, to carry out terrible acts, people who ultimately paid a heavy price. Then, Israel should have asked forgiveness from Egypt.

In the meantime, one thought won’t cease troubling me: How many operations such as these were not beset with operational failures, that then went on to shape our reality? And how many like it are still to come, and will shape our future?