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Another Mossad scandal chips away at agency's credibility

Israeli newspapers
The case is front page news on Israeli newspapers   
December 6, 1997
Web posted at: 7:39 p.m. EST (0039 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The latest scandal to rock Israel's Mossad spy agency involves allegations that an agent fabricated information that may have skewed Israeli assessments of Syria's political and military intentions.

It is being called the "Gil Affair," named after Yehuda Gil, 63, who was identified on Saturday as the Israeli Mossad agent who allegedly received some $200,000 for passing along bogus intelligence reports on Syria.

The charges brought against Gil include spying and fraud, Israel Radio said quoting a charge sheet.

Bit by bit, Israelis have been reading between the lines in newspapers squeezed by censorship about what is being called "the mother of all intelligence scandals." Mossad gathers intelligence outside Israel and carries out "special operations."

"In recent months there were suspicions about him (Gil) and Danny Yatom, the head of the Mossad, decided to check them," Israel Channel Two Television said.

"He received permission from the attorney-general to tail him and the surveillance found the man was reporting on meetings with the source that never took place," it said.

The charge sheet said Gil had fabricated some of the information and altered the essence of other information supplied by his source.

On Saturday night a Tel Aviv District Court judge lifted a publication ban on Gil's name and other aspects of the case, the radio said. However, it reported that Gil's picture would not be published so as not to "hurt the security of the state."

Gil's lawyer, Yigal Shapira, told Channel Two on Friday that "he has not confessed ... We have yet to formulate a line of defense."

The charge sheet said Gil, in special services, began his career in the Mossad in 1970 and had been feeding false information for many years.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without confirming details, said earlier in the week that Israel never based its assessments on just one source.

"I can only say that the assessments on all issues and certainly about such a sensitive issue as our relations with Syria are made on the basis of a range of sources and analysts," Netanyahu said before leaving for Europe on Thursday.

It was revealed on Saturday that Gil was a former general-secretary in a far-right political party that advocates expelling Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.

The disclosure that he was affiliated in 1992 with the ultra right-wing Moledet party has prompted speculation that his concocted reports may have been aimed at discouraging Israeli leaders from making peace with Arab partners.

As high-ranking Syrian and Israeli officials advanced talks in that direction, the Mossad official is said to have insisted Syria's President Hafez al-Assad ... hadn't abandoned the war option.

Israeli newspapers have pointed to Israel's assessment of Syrian troop movements in Lebanon in September 1996, as an instance when the rogue agent's information may have misled Israeli leaders.

The redeployment of thousands of Syrian troops to within striking range of the Golan Heights at the time put Israeli troops on high alert.

"We were almost on the threshold, on the verge of a military confrontation with the Syrians," said Ze'ev Schiff, strategist affairs correspondent of Ha'aretz, a daily newspaper.

"To see how deep the damage is we have to go back almost 20 years to look into all the details which were brought by this man from his so-called agents," Schiff said.

"I can't find any reason rather than the ideological one....He didn't need the money," said Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a Labor Party Knesset member.

"It's definitely more embarrassment than damage. Yet there is some damage because we lost some credibility," said Uzi Landau, Likud Knesset member.

Israel Radio, recalling the recent "Mashaal Affair," the botched Mossad assassination attempt in Jordan against a leader of the militant Islamic Hamas group behind suicide bombings, speculated as to whether the "Gil Affair" would redeem Yatom, who took office less than a year ago.

Analysts described the Mashaal incident as one of the worst blunders in the history of the Mossad, whose operations include the 1960 kidnapping in Argentina of Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Nazi Holocaust in which six million Jews were killed.

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.

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