Yesterday, I broke the story that the Rivas, an Israeli couple murdered in the Brussels Jewish museum terror attack, worked for agencies with connections to Israeli intelligence. Miriam worked for the Mossad and Emanuel for Nativ, a unit that encourages aliyah from Eastern European countries (including Russia). Thanks to reader Bluebird, who discovered that the Israeli embassy website in Germany lists Miriam Riva as an “attache” who worked there since 2007. My Israeli source informed me that they were both accountants.
Though I don’t know how diplomatic postings and cover works, I do wonder why an accountant would be classified as an attache. Admittedly, you’d want to protect anyone working for the Mossad by giving them some sort of diplomatic protection. So it might be a pro forma status. Or it could mean that her job as an accountant was yet another form of “cover.”
If we parse the thinking of whoever targeted the Rivas (presuming they were targeted, which isn’t certain), they might’ve noted their listing on the website and also discovered Miriam worked for the Mossad. From there, she would become a potentially high-value target. They needn’t even have known she was only an accountant and not an agent. Or alternatively, merely listing her name on the website as an Israeli diplomat could’ve made her a target for an enemy who wasn’t interested in distinguishing between Israel miltiary-intelligence and purely diplomatic status.
Amir Oren has also written an interesting column (Hebrew and English) in Haaretz discussing possible motives for the attack. He speculates that the killing of the Rivas could’ve been merely coincidental (wrong place, wrong time). He notes that Brussels is a center of European intrigue, filled with diplomats and politicians along with a major intelligence presence. At the same time, it is an “Arab-European” city filled with poor Arab residents who might serve as a refuge or operational base for terrorists. He also declares that based on the video footage and other factors the attack appears to have been a “professional” job rather than a disgruntled lone gunman.
His final suggestive theory is that like the Mossad assassination in Lillehammer, which was based on misidentification of the victim with the leader of Black September, the killing of the Rivas may’ve been based on such a faulty judgment. Either the killers mistook them for high-value diplomatic or intelligence targets (for example, Ephraim Halevy had a Brussels posting before he became Mossad chief and Tzipi Livni served in Europe as a Mossad agent), or they believed after discovering she worked for the Mossad, that she was an agent.
Finally, if it turns out that the the Rivas were targeted because someone believed they were Israeli government officials or even Mossad agents, no matter how heinous such murder is (and it is), in a sense Israel has only itself to blame. It is the country that sends its Kidon assassins around the world to murder Israel’s purported enemies, whether they be Hamas operatives like Mahmoud al-Mabouh, Hezbollah leaders like Imad Mugniyeh or Iranian nuclear scientists. In that sense, these killings might be “blowback” from these earlier Israeli operations. I have written this here many times before: Israel can’t expect that it will project force so far outside its borders, killing with relative impunity, and no one will take notice and attempt to return the favor. We no longer live in a time when Israeli power reigns supreme and it acts whenever and wherever it wishes.
Contrary to what some pro-Israel readers might say, this is not a justification for terror. It is a recognition that some in the Middle East believe in the principle of blood for blood (Israel certainly does). If one side sheds blood, then the other will do the same. This is a principle that, unfortunately, seems programmed into the region’s DNA. It will only stop when Israel drops the idea that it can get what it wants without paying a price; when Israel understands that it must reach a peace agreement with its neighbors and that to do so it will have to give up things that it may hold sacred (as will the other side).
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.