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.
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.