Over the past week, the media and I have tried to ascertain the precise status of the Israeli couple murdered at the Belgian Jewish museum, Miriam and Emanuel Riva. My Israeli source initially told me that she worked for Mossad and he worked for an Israeli quasi-intelligence service, Nativ. He also added that they were accountants, which follows Israeli media reports. However, a major new development reported by Intelligence Online (IO) claims (subscription paywall) that Mr. Riva was not an accountant but a genuine spy who was a specialist in Hezbollah and other Shiite militant movements (which would include Iran). One of the justifications for the claim is that among the mourners at the Riva funeral was Internal Security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
A reading of the minister’s obituary at the funeral will tell you Riva was no mere accountant;
They [Emanuel and Miriam] were people who worked many years with great dedication and investment of themselves in service to the State, who dealt with widely varied and important fields, fulfilled varied roles and complex missions, roles filled with contributions and value.
Emanuel: your specialization in economics enabled you to successfully fill many roles in the Treasury and foreign ministries and prime minister’s office [Mossad]. Over the past two years, you worked in the Internal Security ministry in the field of your specialty…
As the security services are housed with the prime minister’s office, clearly Netanyahu would not attend the funeral. But it’s possible he sent Aharonovitch as his delegated substitute. This would tend to support the claim that the Rivas were something more than number-crunchers. IO also says that Israeli intelligence is investigating whether during his jihad activity in Syria Mehdi Nemmouche might have been recruited by Hezbollah or Iranian intelligence.
Specializing in finance, I can see the possibility that Riva was a forensic economist, someone searching through databases to understand how Iran and Hezbollah finance their operations. This would be an important function for the Mossad. As for how he would end up in the Internal Security ministry, it’s possible he’d retired from Mossad and went to work for a domestic agency. But in that case, what was he doing in Brussels? As many have said, lots of people engaged in various forms of political or commercial intrigue would travel to Brussels, the capital of the EU. Israeli tourists? Not so much.
If the IO story is true, it would contradict reports that he fought for ISIS, a Syrian rebel group formerly affiliated with (Sunni) Al Qaeda. As they say, things grow curiouser and curiouser. A professional attack on a Mossad target would remove the attack from the realm of spontaneous anti-Semitism and return us to an anti-Israel act of terror. It would also mean that the perpetrators were bringing the Israeli-Arab conflict from the Middle East to the European mainland. Though this would be far from the first time for this to happen, it does remind the world that Israel’s refusal to end the conflict will inflict a price not just on Israel, but on the rest of the world as well. As I wrote in an earlier post, it’s reminiscent of Malcolm X’s “chickens coming home to roost,” except that the flock has escaped from the Middle East and is roosting in Europe.
My inclination is always to mistrust the first report Israeli officials distribute regarding any incident that threatens to harm Israeli interests. Which was why the accountant story seemed questionable. But there is a remaining troubling aspect to the scenario suggesting Nemmouche did a “hit” for a Shiite militant group. Hezbollah and Iran maintain professional intelligence services. Though some of their operatives perform work that is less than stellar in intelligence terms (botched attacks in Thailand, India and Kenya). It’s hard to believe these groups would send an assassin and then abandon him to his fate after the murders.
Nemmouche’s escape was amateurish. He boarded a bus whose route automatically brought police searching for drugs. He had the murder weapons with him when captured. This signals someone who had only planned the killings but not the escape. And that’s not what professionals do. It’s hard to reconcile these two scenarios. If the Rivas were bona fide spies, rather than support personnel, then either it was a hit or the killer had an extraordinary stroke of good luck (from his perspective).
Oh and by the way, if this turns out to be an act of terror by Islamist groups before we go denouncing them as evil, primitive killers of all that is good, we must remember that it i Israel whose been far more proficient at killing its political opponents on European soil (and elsewhere like Dubai and Iran). Lest anyone interpret this as condoning murder of Israelis, far from it. I have opposed all killings by both sides. But the truth is that the vast majority of the killing is by Israelis against Arabs and Muslims.