Labyrinth of Power

Title:                      Labyrinth of Power

Author:                  Danny Yatom

Yatom, Danny (20126). Labyrinth of Power. Tel Aviv, Israel: Contento

OCLC:                    972351278

UB270

Summary: The Labyrinth of Power is a book written by a soldier, commander and statesman, who has recorded grand chapters in Israel’s struggle for security and peace. Danny Yatom filled a number of senior, sensitive and classified positions in the security forces and in the civil service; from soldier and commander in the Israeli commando to Major General in the IDF, director of the Mossad and Head of the Military-Political  Read more…
Subjects

Date Posted:      April 13, 2017

Complied and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom served in the Israeli Defense Forces and was chief of staff and security adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak before being elected to the Knesset, where he served until he retired in June 2008. But of principal interest here is the period 1996-98, when he was director of the Mossad, and Labyrinth of Power begins with his account of that challenging assignment.

Joining Mossad from the military meant Yatom was an outsider and he worked hard to gain the confidence and respect of his subordinates. An early challenge concerned a senior case officer whose premier agent absolutely refused to be handled or even to meet any other case officer. This arrangement lasted for 23 years before Yatom and a colleague decided to investigate. Surveillance soon proved the case officer was his own agent and he went to prison. A precedent had been set.

But counterterrorism, writes Yatom, was Mossad’s high priority mission at the time, and its overseas operations sought to penetrate Hamas and the related organizations that continued to kill Israelis. After Hamas attacks in Jerusalem in August and September 1997, the prime minister decided to respond by assassinating a senior Hamas leader. Mossad was assigned the operation. Yatom provided a list of priority Hamas targets. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his security advisers selected Khalid Mashal, then living in Amman, Jordan, where Hamas had its headquarters. Yatom opposed the selection for three reasons. First, Mashal wasn’t senior enough. Second, Jordan had just recently signed a peace treaty with Israel, and third, Yatom was a personal friend of King Hussein. In fact, Yatom had been his guest in Amman just weeks before. But he eventually agreed with the PM’s decision and Mossad planned the operation.

Its execution was a disaster. “Nearly everything that could go wrong, did.” (p. 20) Mashal survived, though he was hospitalized with mysterious symptoms. Moreover, the Jordanians arrested several of the Mossad officers. Yatom writes that he was forced to plead with the king for their return and, as partial compensation, offered to give “the Jordanians the means to save Mashal’s life.” (p. 25) The king agreed and the operatives were returned but only after Israel was forced to release key Hamas leaders then in Israeli prisons.

Yatom is not the first to tell this story. Australian journalist Paul McGeough wrote a book about it and there are important differences.[2] While Yatom does not mention what caused Mashal’s hospitalization, McGeough wrote that a poison was injected in his ear as the assailant walked by him. Further, Yatom states that Netanyahu instructed him to do what was necessary to save Mashal and get his officers back. McGeough’s version is that the Jordanians eventually realized Mashal had been poisoned and a furious King Hussein called Netanyahu and demanded the antidote if he wanted to get his men back.

There is no way to reconcile the differences; Yatom doesn’t mention McGeough’s book. But he does add considerable detail about the principal Israeli players and the two investigations—one staffed by members outside the government and one by the government—that looked into the fiasco. Both investigations were critical of Yatom, but not of Netanyahu, though they did not recommend he resign. Yatom describes the bureaucratic politics at work as various players sought to protect their careers.

Then a second disaster hit. A Mossad team sent to Europe by Yatom’s deputy and unknown to him was caught implanting bugging devices in Hezbollah facilities in Bern, Switzerland.[3] (p. 85) Two catastrophes so close together was too much for the prime minister; Yatom’s resignation was accepted.

Labyrinth of Power also tells of Yatom’s upbringing and his post-Mossad career working with several prime ministers while participating in attempts to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians at Camp David and Oslo. Though unsourced, the book is a firsthand account and thus worth serious attention—while keeping in mind that differing views exist.

[1] Hayden Peake in The Intelligencer (22, 2, Fall 2016, pp.  134=135).  Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. Other reviews and articles may be found online at  www.cia.gov.

[2] McGeough, Paul (2009). Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assassination of Khalid Mishal And The Rise of Hamas. New York: New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co.

[3] Ibid, p. 229. McGeough’s account says there were seven European cities involved.

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