When the State of Israel was declared, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, decided it was necessary to create intelligence agencies to operate on behalf of the nascent state. On June 7, 1948, he held his first meeting on this matter with intelligence officials. In July 1949, Reuven Shiloah proposed establishing the Central Institute for Coordination of the Intelligence and Security Services. The goal of the proposal was to achieve more coordination and direction of the intelligence activity.
On December 13, 1949, Ben Gurion approved the idea and appointed Shiloah to establish and head the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (HaMossad LeModi’in U’LeTafkidim Meyuchadim), more commonly known as the Mossad.
On March 2, 1951, Ben-Gurion ordered Shiloah to set up the “Directorate” to take all overseas intelligence operations under its wing.
The office was originally in the “Red House” on Yarkon Street in Tel Aviv. (There is now a small sign in a garden there commemorating the history of the location.) The headquarters later moved to the Foreign Ministry offices in Sarona where the Kirya (military headquarters) is today.
The organization’s motto is: “Where no wise direction is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11,14).
- We who serve in the Mossad share the belief that service in the organization is a national mission.
- We perform this mission identifying with the values of the nation and statehood and with the goals of the Mossad.
- We adhere to values of justice, integrity, morality and simplicity, reliability and personal responsibility, discipline and secrecy.
- We cultivate excellence, task orientation, and dedication.
- We encourage initiative, creativity, resourcefulness, and valor, and are open to varied opinions and criticism.
- Mossad employees are the source of its strength, and the organization invests in cultivating them, developing their capabilities, and instilling them with a feeling of team spirit.
- The Mossad leadership obliges its members to lead and motivate, undertake full commanding responsibility and realize this in a constructive manner, provide backup, delegate authority, lead by example and serve as a source of inspiration.
Over the years the Mossad expanded into many fields (the most prominent of which were):
- Covert intelligence gathering beyond Israel’s borders.
- Developing and maintaining special diplomatic and other covert relations with countries that avoid overt contact with Israel, such as the Mossad’s involvement in covert negotiations that preceded the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.
- Preventing the development and procurement of non-conventional weapons by hostile countries.
- Preventing terrorist acts against Israeli targets abroad.
- Bringing Jews home from countries where official Aliya agencies are not allowed to operate.
- Producing strategic, political and operational intelligence.
- Planning and carrying out special operations beyond Israel’s borders.
The agency uses both HUMINT (human intelligence) and SIGINT (signals intelligence). Some of the Mossad’s operations include:
- Pursuing Nazi war criminals, culminating in the capture of Adolf Eichmann and bringing him to justice in Israel.
- Locating and returning Yossele Shumacher to his family after the boy was kidnapped and smuggled out of Israel by his grandfather.
- Bringing home the Ethiopian Jews.
- Pursuing and killing members of Black September responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
These are only a sample of the Mossad’s activities, which include collecting information, covert operations, assassinations and liaising with other intelligence agencies.
The Mossad has also played a role in thwarting terrorist attacks in other countries. For example, the Mossad informed the FBI and CIA in August 2001 that as many as 200 terrorists were slipping into the United States and planning “a major assault on the United States.” The Israeli intelligence agency cautioned that it had picked up indications of a “large-scale target” in the United States and that Americans would be “very vulnerable.” According to a senior Israeli security official, “They had no specific information about what was being planned but linked the plot to Osama bin Laden and told the Americans that there were strong grounds for suspecting Iraqi involvement.”
In July 2018, the Mossad helped foil an Iranian-backed terror plot in Paris by providing intelligence to security officials in Germany, France, and Belgium. Three suspects, including an Iranian diplomat, were subsequently arrested for planning to bomb a rally organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. This was just months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of NATO ambassadors that Israeli intelligence helped foil dozens of major terror attacks across Europe.
Europol, Europe’s police agency, subsequently signed a cooperation agreement with Israel, its first with a non-European state, to fight crime and terrorism.
The Mossad teamed up with venture capital firm Sequoia Capital in June 2017 to launch a new technological innovation fund named Libertad. The project’s aim is to take advantage of Israel’s start-up atmosphere and ensure the Mossad and IDF retain technological superiority over their enemies.
The Mossad welcomed its first recruit from the ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish community in April 2018. Many Haredim receive exemptions from Israeli national military service, but some still choose to serve.
In 2022, the Mossad appointed a woman for the first time to head the Intelligence Directorate. A. (her name can’t be published) joins another woman, K., who is chief of Iran operations as the two most senior females in the agency. They both are deeply involved in Israel's top priority issue – preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Sources: The Mossad.
Israel's Mossad is looking for a few good startups, Jerusalem Post, (June 27, 2017).
First haredi man to serve in Israel’s Mossad agency, JNS, (April 26, 2018).
Vickiie Oliphant, “Terror Attack Foiled: Plot To Bomb Iran Rally Halted After Car With Explosives Found,” Express, (July 3, 2018).
David Gerstman, “Israel Helps the West with Its Security Needs; When will the West Allow Israel to Defend Itself?” The Tower, (July 27, 2018).
Richard A. Serrano and John-Thor Dahlburg, “Officials Told of ‘Major Assault’ Plans,” Los Angeles Times, (September 20, 2001).
David Wastell and Philip Jacobson, “Israeli security issued urgent warning to CIA of large-scale terror attacks,” Telegraph, (September 16, 2001).
Yossi Melman, “Who Are the Women Leading the Mossad’s Battle Against Iran?” Haaretz, (August 24, 2022).