Israel may be one of world’s youngest countries, but that doesn’t mean that its relatively short history hasn’t been packed with incident and intrigue.
The State of Israel was born in the aftermath of the Second World War, as more and more Jews escaping persecution by the Nazis across Europe migrated to Palestine. The UN decided that the only way to avoid rising hostility between the Jewish immigrants and the native Palestinian Arab population was to partition the country into Arab and Jewish sectors – a condition that continued after Israel was declared a state in 1948, and which still continues in some shape today.
Sadly, the UN plan proved to be a less than effective solution to the problems facing the people of Israel and the existing Palestinian population. Israel has been involved in several wars with their Arab neighbors, and have had to put down a number of armed uprisings or intifadas carried out by Palestinians. Although Israel now enjoys an uneasy peace with many of the other Middle East states, the Palestinian people continue to be treated as second-class citizens – and the Israeli authorities have ignored repeated UN mandates regarding illegally occupied territories within the Arab areas of Israel.
There are lots more dark secrets in Israel’s checkered history, as the list below shows.
15. Mossad And The Egyptian Scientist
A lot of Israel’s darkest secrets can be attributed to their fearsome secret services agency, Mossad. Mossad and their highly-trained agents have been responsible for assassinations, kidnappings and even military attacks on foreign soil. One of their victims was Egyptian nuclear scientist Yahya El Mashad who was killed in a Paris hotel room in 1982.
Although Mossad have never admitted responsibility for the assassination – they prefer to stay in the shadows rather than taking the plaudits for their work – El Mashad was the head of the Iraqi nuclear program under Saddam Hussein, one of Israel’s main enemies in the 1980s.
14. The Palestinian Nakba
The Palestinian Nakba or catastrophe was one of the State of Israel’s first acts to attract the criticism of the international community. On 15 May 1948, the day after David Ben Gurion declared the existence of the State of Israel, 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and into refugee camps. Many of these camps were in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where some Palestinian families have been living as refugees ever since.
The Palestinian population in Israel commemorate this every May 15, on Nakba Day, and this has spread to become a wider symbol of the persecution of the Palestinian people and their struggle to regain recognition and basic rights in their own country.
13. 2009 Gaza Conflict
Israeli troops have often come in for criticism for their conduct during military operations, especially with regard to the targeting of civilians – including women and children. In 2009, the Israeli Defense Forces were involved in a 22-day conflict in the Gaza Strip, supposedly targeting Palestinian fighters who had themselves been launching mortar attacks on communities across the border.
After the conflict was over, Israeli soldiers told how they had been instructed to shoot unarmed civilians – and that many innocent men, women and children had died at their hands. One elderly woman was killed just a few yards from her front door, while another soldier told investigators how he had seen a mother and child shot by an Israeli sniper.
12. Israel and ISIS
At first glance, it might seem highly unlikely that Israel would have any connection with the Islamic fundamentalist group ISIS, yet a senior figure in the Russian secret service claims that Mossad agents have been training Islamic State fighters operating in Syria and Iraq.
While these kinds of reports need to be taken with a pinch of salt, it might be in Israel’s interest to destabilize some of the more ardent anti-Jewish regimes in the Middle East, and giving ISIS fighters assistance in this might be seen as one way to achieve this. It would be a rather risky strategy, given that ISIS could soon turn their attentions on Israel itself in their bid to turn the region into an Islamic caliphate!
11. Adolf Eichmann
In the aftermath of the Second World War and the Nazi holocaust, authorities from the UK and the US spent a great deal of time tracking down and punishing those responsible for the worst abuses. Adolf Eichmann was one of those behind some of the most heinous crimes, but he eluded capture in the months after the war and fled to South America.
By the 1960s, Mossad agents had identified where Eichmann was living, under an assumed name, in Argentina and set about capturing him to bring him back to Israel to face trial from the atrocities he committed. Agents kidnapped him from the street, sedated him and put him on a flight back to Israel, where he was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death.
10. Saddam Hussein And The Exploding Book
Mossad didn’t just capture and convict men who they considered enemies of Israel – they would often simply cut out the middle-man and go straight to an assassination attempt. On many occasions, these highly-trained agents were successful, but sometimes even Mossad got things wrong.
In the 1970s, Israeli secret service agents, apparently working to support Iraqi Kurd separatists fighting for their freedom, tried to kill Saddam Hussein with an exploding book. Sadly, for Mossad and for many future generations of Iraqis, the suspicious Hussein smelled a rat and the rather theatrical assassination attempt failed.
9. President In Disguise
For much of its history, Israel has cut an isolated figure in the Middle East. The only Jewish country surrounded by predominantly Muslim nations, and a state which has made refugees of the indigenous Arab population – to the diplomatic displeasure of many of their neighbors. Yet advances have been made towards peace in the Middle East, through secret talks and meetings between representatives of the Israeli government and leaders from more moderate countries such as Jordan.
The Israeli president for much of the 1970s, Shimon Peres, recently revealed that he used to wear a disguise for meetings with Jordanian diplomats, as any publicity about these secret talks would have been the kiss of death for any proposed agreement.
8. Mashal Assassination Attempt
In 1997, Mossad agents traveling under false Canadian passports, illegally entered Jordan in order to try and assassinate Khaled Mashal, one of the most important figures in the pro-Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. One of the agents administered poison to Mashal, but the two Mossad operatives were captured by the Jordanian authorities soon after.
King Hussain of Jordan created a diplomatic incident when he demanded that Israel turn over the antidote to the poison; at first Israel refused, but they eventually conceded that their assassination attempt had failed and handed over the antidote. In order to get back the two Mossad agents who had botched the job in the first place, Israel were forced to release key political prisoners, including another Hamas leader who was serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison.
7. Deir Yassin Massacre
In April 1948, in the final days of British rule in Palestine and less than a month before the State of Israel came into existence, fighters from Zionist terror groups Irgun and Lehi launched a night-time attack on the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin.
In the ensuing violence, it is thought that between 100 and 150 of the villagers, including women, children and the elderly, were killed and their bodies left dumped in the streets. Reports later surfaced that the Zionists had killed a further 80 Palestinian villagers that they had taken prisoner after the fighting, but their bodies were never found.
6. 2014 Gaza Conflict
2014 saw yet another military action by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and in East Jersualem, the Arab section of Israel’s historic capital city. Again, civilians were killed by Israeli Defense Forces, both deliberately and accidentally.
Figures compiled by the UN in the aftermath of this particular 2014 conflict showed that over 2,300 civilians were killed and over 17,000 were injured. These were the highest fatalities and injuries recorded in a year since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began all the way back in 1967. As well as those who were hurt or who lost family members, it was though that the 2014 conflict led to half a million Palestinians losing their homes.
5. Operation Wooden Leg
In 1985, the Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Wooden Leg; an attempt to strike and destroy a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) base in Tunisia, more than 1,200 miles from the Israeli border. This was already a controversial operation, as it effectively amounted to an Israeli invasion of Tunisia, in order for the operation to be carried out. In the end, the operation became even more controversial because the scale of the aerial bombing led to so many civilian deaths.
Some estimates suggested that 15 Tunisian civilians were killed alongside the 47 members of the PLO who lost their lives in the attack. The Tunisian government had not known about the impending attack, and they always believed that the operation had been carried out with the blessing, if not the support, of the United States.
4. Modechai Vanunu
The case of Mordechai Vanunu is an example of what happens when an Israeli citizen turns against the state. Vanunu, also known as John Crossman, was one of the senior scientists within Israel’s own nuclear weapons program. Concerned by some of the things he saw and heard, Vanunu proceeded to reveal the details of Israel’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons to a British newspaper.
The Israeli authorities don’t take kindly to that kind of betrayal, and they sent Mossad agents to kidnap Vanunu in Italy, where he was seized and drugged before being flown back to Israel to be tried behind closed doors. He served 11 years of an 18-year prison sentence, and is still subject to a series of conditions and restrictions, including not being allowed to leave Israel.
3. State Baby Stealing
In July 2016, the Israeli government admitted for the first time that thousands of mothers arriving from Europe in the 40s and 50s had had their babies stolen from them. There had been anecdotal evidence for years of mothers being told that their child had died, but never being able to see a body or even a grave site.
It seems that in a misguided attempt to ensure that children had the best upbringing, the authorities were taking children from mothers they considered unsuitable, or who had too many children already, and giving these stolen babies to well-off but childless Jewish families.
2. Mossad Miss Their Target
In 1972, at the Munich Olympics, the Israeli team was targeted by PLO activists, who took the athletes hostage, eventually killing 11 of them. In the aftermath of this shocking attack, Mossad launched Operation Wrath of God, a 20-year operation to track down and execute all those PLO operatives responsible for the Munich massacre.
These extra-judicial killings would have been enough of a dark secret, but Mossad also managed to kill the wrong man in an incident in Norway which became known as the Lillehammer affair. The Moroccan waiter they shot had no connection to the PLO or to Munich, and the Mossad agents involved were arrested and imprisoned for murder.
1. Sabra and Shatila
Although the massacres which took place in the Shatila refugee camp, and the nearby village of Sabra, occurred in Lebanon, the fingerprints of the Israeli Defense Forces were all over this unsavory operation. The IDF had ordered a right-wing Christian group, the Phalange, operating within Lebanon to clear out the area, and the group took them at their word, killing up to as many as 3,500 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians who were seeking shelter and safety in the Shatila camp.
The IDF received reports of the massacre as it was being carried out, but they took no action to stop the Phalange or to try and restrict their violence against innocent civilians.
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