On Thursday, I went to see Neal Bascomb talk about his new book, Hunting Eichmann, at the Spy Museum. I had no thought of buying the book, but I thought the conversation would be interesting. It was beyond interesting and, yes, I did put down my $27.50 and bought a copy of the book, which I have now read. While I wouldn’t call Hunting Eichmann the best written book I have ever read, the subject matter was fascinating.
Eichmann, as you probably know, was in charge of “the Final Solution”, which extermination of the Jewish people during World War II. But not many people knew this at the time, although in 1944 his role in Hungary became quite visible. But as more was learned after the war ended, his pivotal role became obvious. And there were those who wanted to find him and make him pay for his crimes.
Of course, there were others who felt differently. Not only neo-Nazis, but those who felt that Germany had to move foward after the Nurnberg trials, and that further routing out of Nazis would be too disruptive and involve too many people. Similarly, for a period of time, Israel had other problems to deal with. And the United States, having just recruited German scientists to immigrate to the U.S., did not want to get too heavily involved either.
And, Eichmann had disappeared. Living under an assumed name, he was living in Northern Germany taking menial jobs, and then, in the early 1950s, arranged an escape to Argentina. All of this is detailed in the book, as is how his identity was first suspected (his son inadvertantly befriended a German Jewish girl, not knowing she was Jewish).
Eventually, a German jurist, Simon Wiesenthal, and David Ben-Gurion decided he should be captured, assuming his identity could be confirmed. Israel took the lead (in fact, keeping the others out of the loop), mounting an extraordinarily complex operation to confirm that he is Eichmann, to capture him, to hold him in a safe house, and to secrete him out of Argentina to Israel. And it worked, Eichmann being transferred to Israel, tried and executed.
The Eichmann capture was the biggest operation that Mossad had then ever attempted, and it went a long way to lead to the reputation of Israel’s external espionage agency. As I am now reading the latest espionage thriller by Daniel Silva, Moscow Rules, the latest adventure of Mossad superstar Gabriel Allon, I realize how the mystique of the Mossad captures the imagination.
Accurate or not, I don’t know. But the Mossad’s swagger colors a lot of thinking about Israel, inside the country and out, and it leads to a fair amount of arrogance which either serves, or misserves, the country, depending on your point of view.