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Israel Intelligence & Security: Report on the Mashal Affair

(February 17, 1998)

In October 1997, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a three-man committee, headed by El-Al Chairman Joseph Ciechanover to investigate the Mossad's operation in Amman in September 1997. The full report of the committee ran to 110 pages. It heard 35 witnesses and viewed hundreds of documents and exhibits. It concluded that the Prime Minister acted appropriately in the affair, while the head of the Mossad was criticized but his resignation was not asked for. Following is a summary of the report issued by the Israel Government Press Office.

Description of the Operation

On September 25, 1997, Mossad agents waited at the entrance of the Hamas offices in Amman, with the intention of assassinating Khalid Mashal. They succeeded in injuring him, using a lethal substance. However, immediately afterward, Khalid Mashal's personal chauffeur and a security guard intervened. The chauffeur, who saw what was happening, hit the agent with a newspaper on his hand. The security guard began to chase the agents and was able to note the license plate number of the car in which they had escaped and boarded a passing car in order to pursue them. The agents were unaware that they were being followed. After some 300 meters, they stopped their car and left it. The security guard chased them and, with the help of a plain-clothes policeman, managed to overpower and apprehend them. The agents were driven by the policeman and the security guard in a taxi to the nearest police station and placed under arrest. When news of the agents' arrest broke in Israel, the head of the Mossad flew to Jordan, with the Prime Minister's consent, in order to report the events to the King in person, bringing with him an antidote to treat Khalid Mashal.

Mashal was given the antidote, thus saving his life. In the negotiations subsequently conducted for the release of the agents, an agreement was reached with the Jordanian authorities whereby, in exchange for the release of Hamas's Sheikh Ahmad Yasin and a number of other prisoners held in Israel, they would release our agents and allow them to return to Israel.

Who is Khalid Mashal?

Khalid Mashal is the head of the Political Department of Hamas, based in Amman, Jordan, having succeeded Mousa Abu Marzook in this position. From his base in Jordan, Mashal, in addition to his political functions, activates various groups in Europe and Israel which initiate, encourage, and commit acts of terror and sabotage. Funds to finance these activities are channeled through his office.

The Operation in Jordan

The presence of the Hamas headquarters in Jordan and its extensive activities from this base have presented Israel with a major problem. The decision to carry out the attack in Jordan was based on the principle that no place in the world should be allowed to serve as a safe harbor for those who plan to carry out murders and acts of terror in Israel. Israel will act against those who seek to harm Jews, wherever they may be.

In this, the current Israeli government follows the policy of previous governments. The commission does not question this policy, but nevertheless proposes that the government discuss it, define its scope, and establish ground rules for its implementation.

The operation in Jordan was planned on the following assumptions: the operational plan must ensure that its successful execution does not leave any tracks that would incriminate Israel directly; in terms of the intelligence community, it must be a "silent" operation; the possibility of failure of the operation, and its implications, were hardly addressed by the Mossad planners and their superiors.

Peace between Israel and Jordan, and ways to deepen and underpin it, are a cornerstone of Israel's foreign policy. Even in the case of a mishap, the foundations of the Israel-Jordan relationship would not be fundamentally harmed. The planners of the operation assumed that the probability of failure was minuscule. They were aware that the relations that had developed following the peace treaty with Jordan were of prime importance to the authorities of both countries and firmly believed that the "silent" operation, as planned, could in no way harm the King or the Hashemite government in Jordan.

The various heads of the intelligence community, as well as the majority of witnesses who appeared before us, shared these basic assumptions, although they did not necessarily all agree with the timing of the operation.

Overall Conclusions

Several factors came together leading to the failure of the operation in Jordan, the main one being the conceptual fixation prevailing in the Mossad, at the various levels involved in planning, approving, and carrying out the operation. It was generally believed that the weapon in question and its mode of use were almost infallible. The weapon was silent and had no immediately evident effect upon the target. It was assumed that the proposed operation would be effective without anybody being immediately aware of it. Furthermore, if for any reason the attack was aborted, the weapon in the hands of the assailant, looking innocent enough (unlike, say, a handgun), would not expose the fact that an attempt had been made and would thus not lead to anybody pointing an accusing finger at Israel.

This concept of a "silent operation", with minimal chances of failure, hardly took into account the possibility that it could fail for any reason and turn into a "noisy" one. The planning, plans, and preparations did not seriously consider such a possibility, nor was this aspect sufficiently emphasized when the plan was presented to the Prime Minister. The plan should not have been formulated in this manner in the first place and should certainly not have been presented as such to the Prime Minister. The commission found flaws in the planning of the operation in Jordan, the preparations for its launch, in the theory behind the handling and application of the lethal substance and the weapon, and in the coordination of the operation between the various branches of the intelligence community.

In the course of its work, the commission identified several structural and system defects in the Mossad, which, in its view, contributed to the creation of those erroneous conceptions, with resulting faulty methods and procedures. The commission dealt with these issues at considerable length in its report, following up with many recommendations, most of which are highly classified for obvious reasons and which cannot therefore be made public.

The commission also addressed the matter of coordination between the services within the intelligence community, with particular reference to the modus operandi of the Heads of Services Committee, and has made certain recommendations.

The commission addressed the issue of the establishment of a National Security Council, concluding that it was very doubtful whether, in the present circumstances, it would be appropriate and practical to create such a body, and therefore does not recommend that such a council be established at this point.

The commission examined and made certain recommendations related to the intelligence advisory functions in the Prime Minister's Office. The commission recommends that an assistant for intelligence and security, with a rank equivalent or close to that of a major- general in the Israel Defense Forces [IDF], be appointed to serve the Prime Minister. This person should be an intelligence expert and should be responsible for dealing with the extensive flow of intelligence information to the Prime Minister's Office. The assistant would serve as a direct link between the Prime Minister and the heads of the intelligence services and would be a regular member of the Heads of Services Committee. He would be in a position to present to the Prime Minister the essence of the available intelligence information and to draw his attention to any issues as required, bearing in mind that the Prime Minister cannot be reasonably expected to handle the large flow of intelligence information effectively, without a modicum of expert assistance.

Conclusions Relating to Individuals


The head of the Mossad and the division head in charge of the combat unit tried to convince us that their conduct, as well as the plans and preparations made prior to the operation, were flawless, and that the failure of the attempt resulted directly from mistakes made by the combatants in the course of the operation. We have not overlooked the fact that such mistakes were made, but feel that the combatants should not bear the full responsibility for them. In fact, we have concluded that their mistakes in the course of the operation were in large measure due to flaws in conception and planning, in the ultimate operational plan as well as in training for the operation. We have found that the head of the Mossad and the division head bear a heavy responsibility in those matters.

When we arrived at the above conclusions, we deemed it appropriate to advise the head of the Mossad and the division head accordingly. We indicated the specifics of our conclusions to them, and where we thought they had apparently been deficient, and that they might in consequence be adversely affected by our conclusions. We requested that they address these issues. They have done so, in writing, and we have considered their responses in preparing our detailed observations and conclusions in the report.

The Prime Minister

We are unanimous in conclusions regarding the Prime Minister. In examining the conduct of the Prime Minister, bearing in mind that the head of the Mossad reports to him directly, we tried to define our own criteria, to help us analyze the process in which he examined and approved the plans for the attack against Khalid Mashal.

To assist us in our analysis, we compared the Prime Minister's handling of the case with the manner in which similar cases had been handled in the past. In doing so, we reached the conclusion that the Prime Minister had dealt with the case in a responsible manner, having considered and examined the plans presented to him from every possible aspect that might have been expected of him.

From the minutes of discussions held in the Prime Minister's Office, we learned that the Prime Minister had inquired about details of the plans as might have been expected of him. We found that he repeatedly asked that the operation be coordinated with the other heads of the intelligence community, to ensure that they be informed and coordinated as necessary, and we are aware of the fact that a number of discussions were held in the Prime Minister's Office before the plan was approved and executed.

We also inquired whether the Prime Minister's conduct in relation to the attack against Mashal was any different from that of other incumbents in similar circumstances. We therefore studied the relevant minutes regarding similar operations in the past and heard the testimonies of former prime ministers. We reached the conclusion that the Prime Minister's conduct in no way deviated from the norms and procedures customary in similar cases in the past.

The commission also examined the question of whether the Prime Minister had exerted any unreasonable pressure to carry out the operation "Quickly and at any Cost", so that it might serve as an immediate response to the terrorist attacks at the Mahane Yehuda market and the pedestrian mall in Jerusalem. We reached the conclusion that no unreasonable pressure had been exerted by the Prime Minister in this matter.

We do not therefore find any flaw in the conduct of the Prime Minister and the minister in charge of the Mossad.

The commission did not deem it appropriate to delve into the question of the Prime Minister's ministerial responsibility for the failure of the operation. This matter had already been examined in the past by various investigating commissions, which determined that the issue of political responsibility is not a matter for investigation by commissions or other courts of inquiry, but rather within the purview of relations between elected representatives and the electorate. In stating the above, we do not imply that we have found any flaw, from the political aspect, in the Prime Minister's conduct.

The Head of the Mossad

Dan Yatom was appointed to the position of head of the Mossad approximately a year and half ago. His last position prior to this appointment was military secretary to the Prime Minister, with the rank of major-general in the IDF. He has devoted his entire active life to the security of the State and to the Israel Defense Forces. Dan Yatom has served, inter alia, in numerous combat command posts at the highest level and has impressive achievements to his credit. We were impressed by Mr. Yatom's appearance before us, his openness, and the manner in which he addressed the issue.

Giving evidence, Dan Yatom addressed the question of the extent to which the head of the Mossad must delve into details of the plans of Mossad units before giving his approval. We did not wish to answer this question in a general manner, but we are certain that before approving a plan of the type in question, the head of the Mossad must indeed study it in detail.

We found that the senior ranks involved in approval of the plans within the Mossad and their presentation to the Prime Minister were among the main factors leading to failure of the operation. The commission noted a series of shortcomings and errors in the Mossad's basic approach, leading to what was planned as a "silent operation". These were evident in the planning process, in the structure and composition of the plans, and in the manner in which the particular weapon was treated in the plans.

We believe that the head of the Mossad erred in his handling of the operation and in approval of the plan. This should not have been structured as a "silent operation" without providing for contingency measures should it become a "noisy" one.

The commission believes that the head of the Mossad had enough time at his disposal to convene an additional orderly discussion with the heads of the intelligence services, prior to the operation, and that this should have been done. Nevertheless, the commission is of the opinion that the heads of the intelligence community were indeed informed by the head of the Mossad of a possible operation directed against Mashal.

The head of the Mossad has extensive experience and knowledge in the field of military operations and it might well have been expected from him that before approving the plan, he would identify and address its numerous shortcomings, which were revealed to us in the course of our examination, and would act to rectify them, rather than approve them in what was their final form. It would also have been appropriate that the head of the Mossad inform the Prime Minister in greater detail of the operational and political implications of carrying out the plan.

We should add that a significant part of the military doctrine underlying the plan is the product of concepts and practices developed and shaped in the Mossad over many years. The head of the Mossad essentially continued to apply the existing planning, handling, and execution procedures and processes previously formed and used in the Mossad.

Summary of the Majority Opinion of the Commission

We believe that in the context of our functions as a commission of inquiry, we have thoroughly covered all that was required of us concerning Dan Yatom, the head of the Mossad. We have spelled out the matters in which we believe he erred and have enumerated the reasons for these errors. We do not deem it appropriate to make any further recommendations regarding him, as we believe that this should be left to the government's discretion, after study of the facts and recommendations in our report which, we think, speak for themselves

Summary of the Minority Opinion
Rafi Pelad

Following the conclusions reached by the commission, based on the material presented to it concerning the conduct of the head of the Mossad and the measure of his responsibility in the failed operation in Jordan, one cannot refrain from making more specific recommendations. In fact, I believe it is the duty of the commission to do so. In light of the above, I recommend that Mr. Dan Yatom be relieved of his duties as head of the Mossad.

The Division Head in Charge of the Combat Unit - [Majority Opinion]

The division head in charge of the combat unit (H.) has much experience, with many successes to his credit, and belongs in the list of unknown combatants to whom the State of Israel is deeply indebted, whose numerous contributions cannot be publicly acknowledged.

He was in charge of the unit which carried out the field operation against Khalid Mashal and was therefore directly responsible for planning and approving the plans, and ordering their execution, without adequate study and without making the most of all possible sources of information to help ensure success.

This officer's main error was that he did not identify the shortcomings in the plans and approved a plan which might have perhaps been adequate for a "silent operation", not taking into account the possibility that it might rapidly turn "noisy", for various reasons. A "noisy" operation required a totally different approach, and therefore at least part of the components of such an approach should have been included as contingencies in the plan for the operation in question. H. should not have approved this flawed and inadequate plan and should have warned his superior more emphatically and indicated to him the plan's shortcomings. In the course of the commission's work, the division head announced that he had completed his intended term of service in his current position and that he was in the process of retiring from the Mossad.

The commission deems it appropriate to mention H.'s particularly impressive conduct before it and his complete cooperation when giving evidence.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry