Mossad agent said held by Swiss

Mossad agent said held by Swiss

Yatom did not report incident to parliamentary subcommittee, top of page

Copyright 1998 Jerusalem Post.

All Rights Reserved

EITAN RABIN, JAY BUSHINSKY, and news agencies, Jerusalem Post, 02-26-1998, pp 01.

At least one Mossad agent was recently arrested in Switzerland in a bugging operation gone awry, Swiss television reported last night.

“The suspect is accused of having conducted espionage with eavesdropping devices,” the report said.

It quoted reliable sources in Berne as saying at least one Mossad operative had been taken into custody last week.

Swiss officials were not available to comment on the report, which did not give any other details.

Swiss Federal Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte’s office said she and Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jakob Kellenberger would brief reporters this morning.

“All I can say is that it involves an espionage case,” a spokesman for Del Ponte said.

Agence France Presse quoted a diplomatic source in Berne as saying that according to one version of events, Mossad agents were caught taking photographs, while another version said that electronic surveillance equipment had been planted in an Iranian mission at the UN center in Geneva.

The source alleged that several agents were arrested and that “the issue of their release is under negotiation between Israel and Switzerland.”

The Mossad was shocked by the foul-up, which is what actually led to Danny Yatom’s resignation as head of Mossad, a government source here said.

The Knesset subcommittee on intelligence heard a report about the foul-up on Monday.

Sources in the committee were angry that Yatom did not report the incident of his own initiative and that the panel’s chairman Uzi Landau (Likud) learned about it from a security source and then asked Yatom, who confirmed the information. Landau disagreed with the critics and accused political and Mossad elements of deliberately leaking the information to try and damage state security.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu learned immediately of the foul- up last week, while the Ciechanover Committee report was on his desk, sources said.

They said that he asked the Mossad to investigate.

Netanyahu denied yesterday that he had forced Yatom to step down.

Speaking in the Knesset, Netanyahu said he has not finished reading the Ciechanover report and therefore could not have made up his mind on this issue.

“I gave Danny Yatom my full backing and all the appreciation which I really have for him,” he said. “The decision was his and his alone.

He came to me with a firm decision and I respected it.”

Netanyahu would not comment on the reports of the latest operational failure of the Mossad.

He said he hopes to choose a new director within a few days and does not intend to come out with any “interim announcements” about candidates.

Netanyahu said the director of the Mossad must be “a man who will assure its efficient, successful and secret functioning.”

He said it was important that the Mossad not be damaged because it is central to our existence. “We must avoid creating a situation in which these people, who undertake fateful missions for the sake of our security will take into consideration – the personnel and their commanders – what will happen to them in case of a mishap.

“There are slip-ups and successes the scope of which is impossible to imagine and it is impossible to imagine the contribution made by these successes to our security.”

Local media broadcasts yesterday gave few details about the latest foul-up but made reference to a case in 1991 when four Israelis were arrested during an attempt to bug the Iranian embassy in Nicosia in the dead of night.

The four, widely reported to be Mossad agents, claimed they had been looking for a lavatory. They were released on payment of $1,000 fines.

The Mossad was exposed to further embarrassment last December when one of its former officials, Yehuda Gil, was arrested on suspicion of feeding the agency false information and pocketing money intended for informers.