The Mossad in Hollywood Movies
Someone should write a study of the portrayal of Mossad agents in US movies. Israel’s spy agency has a special place in US popular culture. It is rather bizarre, if you think about it. It is unimaginable that Turkish intelligence or Syrian intelligence would be heroically portrayed in American culture. But the centrality of Israel in the American imagination is unmatched. No country has achieved that status: not even the UK. No one speaks of a British lobby as they speak of the Israeli lobby. And since Israel does not have an actual history beyond its years of conquest since 1948, it had to invent for itself a narrative derived from science fiction. Former CIA director (in Carter’s administration), Stansfield Turner, once said that the Mossad excelled in PR and not in intelligence.
The Mossad’s propaganda was so effective that it penetrated into the Arab psyche and affected how Arabs viewed their own capabilities. Arab regimes helped in that effort: they wanted Arabs to feel impotent vis-à-vis Israel in order to accept the regimes’ defeatism and weakness. There are no good books that talk about Mossad failures (like the Lavon affair, for example, or the bungled pursuits of commanders of Black September which reveal deep ignorance of their real culprits), but there is a number of books that talk about the case of Elie Cohen. We now know that Israel wildly exaggerated the achievements of Cohen, who was exposed by a diligent Syrian intelligence officer. Instead, several books and movies were dedicated to Israeli skill in penetrating the highest echelons of Syrian government. But Western accounts always ignored the facts: that Cohen never reached the highest echelons of government, and that he never ever met Col. Amin Hafiz (not in Argentina and not in Syria during his spying years). Arabs were fascinated by the spy novel narrative of the Mossad’s excellence and the Mossad most likely helped in recruiting journalists to sing its praises (there are Western journalists who are specialized in praising the Mossad’s work). The Mossad’s chase of Black September operatives involved so many mistakes and blunders that the story lent itself to comedy were it not for all the innocent people that Israel habitually kills.
The Mossad’s propaganda focuses on “espionage” ignoring the terrorist work of the organization. This is an organization that works more through car bombs than through chases and spy work. I thought about all that as I watched the new movie, The Debt. It is based on a work of fiction but talks about the Mossad’s attempt at capturing a Nazi doctor and bringing him to face trial in Israel. The Mossad likes to pretend that the bulk of its work is to chase and punish Nazi war criminals while in reality the Israeli government has for years worked closely with Western right-wing political organizations possessing anti-Semitic leanings or ideology (like the Israeli alliance with the Christian Right in the US). The Mossad (and Hollywood movies) want to focus on Israel’s hunt for Nazi criminals but not on the Mossad’s murder of a Moroccan waiter because he merely resembled a Palestinian leader. In the movie, Mossad agents are portrayed, typically, as smart, strong and burdened with moral indoctrination. They don’t even want to beat a Nazi war criminal: this is about Israelis who have regularly been seen beating and murdering Palestinian children.
Western depictions of Israeli terrorists always include invented stories of “anguish” and moral “reflection”: Western Zionists need to offer propaganda in order to soften the impact of Israeli terrorism. And certainly, Western portrayals of Mossad “adventures” skip over their most memorable acts: their kidnapping of a man in Lebanon in 2006 because they mistook him for his namesake Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah; their many assassinations of innocent Palestinians because of mistaken identities typical Israeli terrorist recklessness; their famous dispatch of a hit team of fools to Dubai last year to target an unarmed Palestinian; the uncovering of more than 180 Israeli spy in Lebanon in the last two years (none of the Western media took note of that because they deemed it to be too embarrassing to Israel). But the Mossad needs extra help these days: what they can’t or fail to do on the ground, they can do instead in Hollywood movies.