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Mossad, the Cult of Secrecy, and Its Israeli Victims

An Israeli journalist offered me a telling story about the damage and pain that the cult of secrecy, embraced by the Shin Bet and Mossad, can inflict on its Israeli victims. I apologize that many of these sources are in Hebrew and may be inaccessible to those who aren’t Hebrew speakers.

immanuel sonino

Immanuel Sonino, Mossad agent who died in line of duty and whose identity is well-kept secret (in Israel)

In 1993, two Israeli Mossad agents of the famed Kidon unit were following an Iranian defense ministry official who was meeting with an Israeli arms dealer, Nahum Manbar. Ronen Bergman, Israel’s leading intelligence reporter, writes in Point of No Return (Hebrew), that the Iranian had fingered the agents and told Manbar. Bergman says that Manbar made a scene and angrily told the agents to back off.

The Iranian official left the hotel where he was meeting with Manbar, headed to the Iranian embassy. One story has it that while riding on a motorcycle on a rain-slicked Vienna street and tailing the Iranian, a Viennese driver hit the motorcycle and killed Sonino and his colleague. But Bergman concedes there is a claim that they were murdered, presumably by the Iranians, though he doesn’t specify. Bergman also notes that when the two bodies reached Israel, the Mossad asked the pathologist to list the cause of death as a auto accident without performing an autopsy. The pathologist refused. This story too leads one to believe that things might not have been as the Mossad wished them to appear.

To this day, seventeen years later, no one in the Israeli media may utter the name of Immanuel Sonino without facing the censor’s wrath. The circumstances of the accident are also under a gag order.

Israel’s Channel 2 broadcast a profile of Sonino (concealing his name) and an interview with his parents, who mourned the fact that Sonino had a child who never knew his father and that their son’s death was shrouded in secrecy. You get a strong sense of the price the survivors must pay by not being allowed to mourn their lost loved one fully and properly.

What is equally sad about this case of censorship is that Channel 2 was forced to remove its profile, which had featured the wonderful work of the Manu Center, founded in Sonino’s memory, whose mission is to help troubled youth.  The news report even blurs the sign of the Center and doesn’t name it so as to protect the vital state secrets somehow imbued in this information. Would it have harmed the state so terribly to have allowed the grieving parents to promote the work of this project which is the only legacy that they have to memorialize him publicly?

Ironically, we only know about this story because an Israeli right wing news scoop site, Rotter, published it and uploaded the censored segment to YouTube, where Hebrew speakers can view it here.

A further irony of this story is that the Israeli being investigated, Nahum Manbar, was a Mossad operative (or at least freelancer) whose work was known and encouraged by the intelligence agency. The latter claims it had approved arms deals with the Iranians, but not for the chemical weapons Manbar was selling. There is speculation that the arms dealer was arrested and imprisoned in order to assuage anger at the death of their two agents and cover-up the fact that the Israeli was working for the agency at the time of the accident. It is said that the then Mossad director, Shabtai Shavit, blamed Manbar for the deaths even though he claims he had nothing to do with them himself and didn’t find out about them until after his trial ended.

So here again, as in the Anat Kamm-Uri Blau case, secrecy is used to conceal unpleasant and inconvenient screw-ups by the intelligence agencies or IDF. This is the corrosive cult of secrecy taken to ridiculous lengths.  We’re just doing our part to lift the pall and let some sunshine into the room.

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • 5 dancing shlomos April 22, 2010, 4:18 AM

    “Mossad, the Cult of Secrecy, and Its Israeli Victims”

    israeli victims? yes. honest is to say “victims of jews”

  • David April 22, 2010, 4:24 AM

    It takes really some kind of skewed sense of superiority and hubris to determine what will endanger and what will not endanger security when neither you nor Rotter know the facts.
    same thing with Anat Kam & Uri Blau.
    the pretense of reporters and wannabe reporters to know better than anyone else, has endangered and even killed soldiers in “plain” combat.
    playing the emotional card just emphasize how little you can contribute to the actual discussion.

    • Richard Silverstein April 22, 2010, 10:56 AM

      the pretense of reporters and wannabe reporters to know better than anyone else, has endangered and even killed soldiers in “plain” combat.

      This is a lie & I dare you to prove it with credible evidence. Actually, such secrecy has been used by the Shin Bet to cover up the deliberate murder of Palestinians.

      You forget that all security related stories must be approved by the IDF censor so there is no chance of that happening unless someone publishes w/o approval, which is extremely rare.

      It actually takes a “skewed sense of superiority & hubris” for the intelligence services to claim they know better than anyone else what’s good for the country & what an entire population should & shouldn’t be able to know or read. That’s why we temper such power here in our democracy & why you do as well in Australia. Too bad Israel doesn’t do the same.

  • Shraga Elam April 22, 2010, 5:48 AM

    You missed the main point and that is that there is a gag on the circumstances of the road accident. The Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman and his Paper Yedioth Achronoth were punished for breaking the gag, although the censorship authorized the publication of the article.
    This was in September 2000 and Yedioth had to cut out the article, but a large part had been already distributed and one could be purches at gas stations.
    It seems that this is a story of a Mossad flop in Vienna and the cover up.
    Manbar sold the chenicals and technical know-how to Iran with the approval or even upon the order, of the Shin Beth and the Mossad (he was a kind of free lancer working for the Shin Beth).

    • miki April 22, 2010, 6:29 AM

      More about this in Hebrew:
      link to news1.co.il

    • Richard Silverstein April 22, 2010, 4:35 PM

      That’s not quite right. I did know that Manbar was a freelancer for the Mossad. I did know that some claim Manbar’s arrest & imprisonment may be a form of vengeance or payback for the deaths of the 2 agents. But I was focussing on a slightly diff. subject which was the corrosive effect of secrecy on the Israeli family victims.

      But you’re right in that the issues you raise are important as well & I’ve added a paragraph about that. But I’m curious to know more about the details of the Vienna operation & why it was a flop & what happened.

      I didn’t know there was a gag on circumstances of the deaths in Vienna, which is interesting.

  • Israeli April 22, 2010, 10:03 AM

    what is your point?
    their are not victims – their are warriors who died during an important mission whose purpose were to defend their own country.

    its pretty obvious why the Israelis wouldn’t want their agents named to be revealed even after they dead – if a decent intelligence agency knows the real name of an agent.. they could easily find a lot of information about him, about is colugos and about his work.

    • Richard Silverstein April 22, 2010, 11:08 AM

      OK, now you know the identity of Immanuel Sonino. Tell me what other nefarious state secrets you can discover as a result of that? I dare you.

      • Airborne April 22, 2010, 12:45 PM

        Not him, but someone who can connect the dots. No need to give your enemy any free shots.

        • Richard Silverstein April 22, 2010, 4:29 PM

          Oh, so you’re not worried about the case of Sonino but you are worried about other cases so Sonino’s family and son must suffer in silence for the sake of the greater good of the Mossad and Israeli national security? What a cruel regime.

          • Airborne April 23, 2010, 12:37 AM

            I think you’re making yourself a bit too naive here. Matters of intelligence and national security from their nature are secret, or you don’t agree about that either? After all, they do cover the wellbeing of the nations assets. Yes.. everybody should know what the SECRET services are going after and who is getting targetted at home. That makes plenty of sense. Anyone signing himself up to the intelligence game in any country knows the consequences of it and does not go in blindly. It is naturally a life of secrets and lies.

          • Richard Silverstein April 23, 2010, 12:43 AM

            Matters of intelligence and national security from their nature are secret, or you don’t agree about that either?

            What intelligence agencies esp. in Israel deem to be of vital national interest and worthy of secrecy is quite different than what a judge or politician or reporter might say. So no, I generally don’t trust allowing the spooks to be the sole judge of these issues.

          • wtf? April 27, 2010, 6:31 AM

            ofcourse a DEAD man must suffer in silence (with due respect)
            if his name risks LIVING people.

            regarding the shabak murdering palis – show your proof.

          • Richard Silverstein April 28, 2010, 12:03 AM

            Bullcrap. Sonino’s name threatens no one’s life. Pls give me a single credible shred of proof that this could be so. But his death may actually threaten the reputation of the Mossad & that may be why his death is wrapped in secrecy.

            You have violated my comment rules. I refer to people by their full nationality. If you don’t, don’t bother commenting here. I don’t demean Israelis by shortening their name neither will you do that with Palestinians. Read the comment rules if you want to comment here again.

  • 5 dancing shlomos April 22, 2010, 11:16 AM

    “Tikun Olam-תקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place”

    let the sun shine into all corners of darkness

    let all jews clear their minds, face the light


    israel has no right to exist.

    • Richard Silverstein April 23, 2010, 12:46 AM

      israel has no right to exist.

      This is a violation of my comment rules. Read them and don’t violate them unless you wish to lose yr privileges here.

  • Y.Ben Yehuda September 25, 2011, 8:50 AM

    Ya,i agree with you,this Olam needs a tikun.But,more of that “tikun”,could do wonders for you.
    I am surprised no “doctor”has as yet appeared on your door step,to help you with your problem.
    We,jews,are too good hearted,to the point of stupidity.

    • Richard Silverstein September 25, 2011, 3:30 PM

      I wouldn’t call you good-hearted, but stupid–that’s sounds about right.

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