Diplomacy & defense
In 1950, just two years after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Mossad launched "Project Ulysses," planting agents deep undercover to pose as Palestinian refugees and provide intelligence on possible uprisings.
Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Tuesday exposed the project, highlighting the story of a single agent, Uri Yisrael, who spent a record 15 years undercover, marrying a Palestinian woman and raising a family with her, while providing information on the founding days of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization).
Yisrael was one of a group of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries who were enlisted into the spy agency in 1950. According to the report, then Mossad chief Iser Harel convinced them to join project Ulysses by telling them it was a vital national mission.
The men, some of them younger than 20, were ordered to sever ties with their families and placed in a training facility in Jaffo. For a year and a half, they were taught the arts of espionage, studied Islam and perfected their cover stories.
"There were some excruciating moments," recalled unit commander Sami Moriah. "When I would deliver letters from the trainees to their families, one of the mothers begged me to let her see her son. 'Let me have a glimpse of him, even for two minutes, even from afar, just so I know my boy is alright,' she pleaded. There were many tears, but I couldn't allow it because it would interrupt their process of taking on a new identity."
Nine agents completed the process and were embedded in the Arab Israeli population. Their mission was to warn of uprisings and to infiltrate the Palestinian Diaspora in Arab countries.
The report described how two of the agents who posed as Palestinian refugees who had crossed into Israel form Jordan, were beaten by Israeli policeman after Palestinian informants reported their arrival to an Um-El-Fahm inn. Moriah said he and the other Mossad officials could do nothing to prevent the beatings because they couldn't break their cover.
While most of project Ulysses's agents returned to Israel in 1959, two of them -- Yisrael and another one, whose name is still classified under censorship laws -- were encouraged by their Mossad handlers to remain undercover. Still pretending to be hate-filled anti-Zionist Palestinian nationals, the men got married and raised families. To this day, Yisrael's son (who is now in his fifties and lives abroad) does not know his father was really a Mossad agent.
One of the men's biggest accomplishments, according to the report, was providing intelligence on the early days of the PLO. Yisrael was the man who leased the apartment in which the then unknown Yasser Arafat and Abu Jihad first met to plan the Palestinian uprising that would wipe Israel off the map and replace it with a new Palestinian state. Fortunately for Israel, the apartment was fully bugged and Mossad operators could listen in on all of it.
Ronen Bergman's full story, which includes the story of how Yisrael eventually came clean about his identity to his Palestinian wife after she barged in on him while he was sending Morse code messages to Israel, will be published in Yedioth Ahronoth's weekend magazine.