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Monday, 1 August 2005

Spielberg hasn't finished his movie about the Mossad, but there's already criticism

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Monday, August 1, 2005

Matthew Kalman, Dan Baron, Special to The Chronicle

Jerusalem -- Israeli spymasters have hit out at Steven Spielberg's new
movie about the Mossad, disputing its accuracy and its main theme.
"Munich," starring Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush and Daniel Craig, follows the
Mossad agents who hunted down the Palestinian terrorists responsible for
the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
More than 20 Black September terrorists were assassinated over a period of
at least two decades, but the Palestinian mastermind and one of the
original gunmen remain at large.
Yigal Eyal, a former Mossad agent, said: "The Munich massacre galvanized
Israel into deciding that if other countries could not guarantee its
citizens' safety, it would do so itself -- by whatever means."
Ilana Romano, the widow of Josef, the first Israeli athlete killed,
agreed, adding that the feeling Israel had to act on its own increased
when the West German government agreed to release three gunmen involved in
the Olympic massacre after Palestinians hijacked a suspiciously empty
Lufthansa flight in October of that same year.
"That was when reprisals really began," she said
She said she received a phone call after each killing of the Black
September team.
The movie is being filmed amid tight secrecy in Malta and other locations
around the world.
It is largely based on "Vengeance," a version of the Mossad missions by
George Jonas, which has been discredited by Mossad officials and Israeli
espionage experts.
According to Jonas, Israel largely abandoned its agents midmission in
Europe, where several were hunted down and killed by Palestinian
counterespionage teams.
Zvi Zamir, who headed Mossad at the time, said the version of events told
by Jonas was "not true."
"I am surprised that a director like him has chosen, out of all the
sources, to rely on this particular book," said Zamir of Spielberg's
project.
Spielberg has said his movie would show Israel's response "through the
eyes of the men who were sent to avenge that tragedy."
"By experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in
their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were
doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic standoff
we find ourselves in today," said Spielberg.
"It's about how vengeance doesn't ... work -- blood breeds blood," actor
Daniel Craig told Empire magazine.
But Mossad operatives said in interviews that agents never suffered last-
minute pangs of conscience or balked at carrying out their duties.
"I know of no case of an intelligence agent backing out in the middle of
an operation for reasons of conscience," said Gad Shimron, a former Mossad
agent who was not involved in the Munich reprisals. "Before or after,
perhaps, but never midmission. The idea of an agent violating his contract
because he finds a mission morally problematic is pretty much unheard of.
These are dedicated professionals who invariably have proven their worth
in Israel's elite military units and fully realize the tough nature of the
business they are entering."
One of the Mossad assassins involved in the Black September missions said
there were serious inaccuracies in Jonas' book.
He said the code name Wrath of God attributed to the assassinations was a
fable. Each mission had a separate code name generated by clerks. Nor was
there a fixed team as described in the book. The personnel changed
according to each mission, with agents being seconded from other Israeli
units. He said the actual triggermen were only on the ground for a very
short period of time and required little preparation.
"The exposure of the hit team -- those with their fingers on the trigger,
rather than the various support agents -- is kept to an absolute minimum,"
he said. "You can expect to be flown out to the target at a couple hours'
notice, do the job and be back home by nightfall. There is no special
training needed for a mission that involves shooting; these things take
place at close range, usually with light handguns, and there is no mystery
about that."
The assassin said that the most famous scene in the book, where Prime
Minister Golda Meir summons the head of the hit team to give him her
personal blessing, was pure myth.
"It is unthinkable for the prime minister to summon a field agent for a
personal request that he undertake a mission. It's just not done," said
the agent.

Matthew Kalman is a member of the Chronicle Foreign Service; Dan Baron is
a Jerusalem-based writer and the co-author with Itay Gil of "The Citizen's
Guide to Stopping Suicide Attackers: Secrets of an Israeli
Counterterrorist."