Mike Harari is one of the most admired and mysterious figures in Israel's intelligence community. But over the last quarter century, his numerous clashes with journalists and photographers have supplied ample evidence of his attitude toward the media: He is not a big fan. Except for one interview with Channel 1 television in 1989, given in order to clear his name, he always adamantly refused to be interviewed.
Harari headed the Mossad's Caesarea operations department during the dramatic years of the fight against Palestinian terrorism in the 1970s. His otherwise successful career in the agency was tarnished in July 1973, when a team from the Mossad's Kidon unit killed Ahmed Bouchiki, an innocent Moroccan waiter, in Lillehammer, Norway after mistaking him for the real target: Hassan Ali Salameh, a senior member of the Black September organization, who was involved in planning the kidnap and murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Several Mossad agents were caught and served time in jail, but Harari and then Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, who supervised the operation on the ground, managed to get out of Norway.
Harari continued in the Mossad for another two years and then went into business. He served as Panama's honorary consul in Israel and as an adviser to Panama's former president, Manuel Noriega.
Given his animosity toward the press, it is surprising that he recently agreed to another interview with a journalist - not an Israeli one, heaven forbid, but an American-Italian one. Eric Salerno held lengthy conversations with Harari in the latter's Tel Aviv home. The talk focused not on Harari's work in the Mossad, but on his distant past, when he was a radio operator in Italy's Lombardi district for the Mossad L'Aliya Bet, which brought illegal immigrants to prestate Israel. Harari related, for instance, that his code name in radio messages was FNM, an Italian abbreviation for the rail line to northern Milan, and showed the interviewer a pistol he retained from operations in 1948.
The conversation forms a chapter in a book Salerno recently published in Italian, Mossad base Italia. The book relates the story of the generous aid the Italians provided to Mossad L'Aliya Bet and other prestate undergrounds, such as the Haganah, as well as the close cooperation, ever since Israel's establishment, between Italy's intelligence service, SISMI, and the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces' intelligence branch.
The Israeli organizations never examined the backgrounds of the Italians who assisted them. In 1938, members of the Betar movement participated in a naval training course in Benito Mussolini's fascist Italy. Mossad L'Aliya Bet and the prestate military organizations Palmach and Palyam - which worked to bring Jews to Israel, purchase arms and blow up ships and planes carrying weapons to Arab countries - were assisted by former fascists.
A key Italian figure was Pino Romualdi, leader of the neofascist Movimento Sociale Italiano, with which the current speaker of the Italian parliament, Gianfranco Fini, was also affiliated. Romualdi supplied the Irgun, another prestate underground, with explosives from old cartridges used by the fascists in World War II. Another fascist who was very close to Mussolini, Fiorenzo Capriatti, came to Israel and helped create Shayetet 13, the navy commando unit.
According to Salerno, the Mossad persuaded Italy's current prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and his aides to order Italy's intelligence services to give it the names of their own operations officers, so that Mossad could obtain their help in its clandestine operations. Adm. Flavio Martini, a former head of SISMI, said that when he was SISMI's chief of operations in the 1970s, he traveled to Syria, and upon his return, provided Israeli intelligence with Damascus' plans for war.
Based on the evidence and documents gathered by the author, all Italian governments since World War II helped the Mossad and Military Intelligence. Israeli espionage agents confirm that Italy's intelligence services are among the friendliest in the world toward their Israeli counterparts.
Israeli intelligence in Malaysia
Israeli intelligence is now at the heart of a political scandal in Malaysia. The story began about a week ago, when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim claimed in parliament that two Israeli espionage agents had infiltrated the computers of the national police headquarters. According to Ibrahim, they posed as computer communications experts employed by a computer company called Asiasoft-Malaysia, which was hired as a subcontractor in a project to upgrade the police's information systems. Asiasoft, he claimed, is registered in Tel Aviv.
Ibrahim, 62, a former deputy prime minister, is a controversial figure. Next month he will face trial on charges of raping one of his aides, whom he allegedly seduced into coming to his apartment. Ibrahim denies the accusations, claiming they are a plot by his political rivals to smear him and thereby end his political career. This is not the first time he has been accused of such crimes; in 1998, he was convicted of sodomy. But six years later, that conviction was overturned on appeal.
The opposition leader's claim that Israeli intelligence agents had infiltrated the country sparked an outcry. The police commissioner, Moussa Hassan, rushed to deny the charge, but also ordered an investigation to determine its truth - as well as the opposition leader's sources of information.
The story took a new twist this week, with reports that Asiasoft is actually registered in Singapore. That in turn sparked claims that Israel has close ties with Singapore, and that the little city-state on the edge of the Malaysian peninsula often serves as a front for Israeli military and intelligence activity.
And if all that were not enough, the Malaysian interior minister, Mudin Hussein, admitted that two years ago, problems did indeed arise with the company and its contract was terminated. He declined to elaborate on these problems.
Muslim Malaysia has no diplomatic ties with Israel, though in the past, there have been reports of small-scale trade relations between the countries.