Mossad agent reveals details of historic PLO Beirut assassination

Mossad agent reveals details of historic PLO Beirut assassination
Analysis: Contrary to popular belief, the "Verdun operation" was planned months ahead, and wasn't a direct retaliation to a Black September operation, according to a Mossad agent.
6 min read
08 September, 2015
Mossad agent Yael spied on the three Palestinian leaders who were killed [Archive]
The most famous element of Beirut's April 1973 "Verdun operation" was the belief that it was a retaliation by Israel for an operation carried out a day earlier by the Black September organisation.

The Verdun operation in the Lebanese capital city claimed the lives of three Palestinian leaders - Kamal Nasser, Yousef al-Najjar and Kamal Adwan - all veterans of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Black September, the group behind the infamous fatal kidnapping of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, had attempted to assassinate a Mossad agent in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia.

It bombed the Israeli ambassador's headquarters there, and attempted to blow up an El Al plane.

But a new book, Yael - The Mossad's Warrior in Beirut, claims the issue was more complicated and organised than previously thought, and took several months of preparation before zero hour was decided - when Yael, a Mossad codename, informed her bosses that the three leaders were at home.

According to the book, this would "avert a situation where the complicated operation is initiated, and the soldiers arrive at an empty apartment".

Mossad has allowed Yael to tell her story, some 40 years after the operation, under some strict conditions, including keeping her real identity and more recent photos secret. Yael is now 79 years of age.

Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonot revealed on Friday some details of Yael's role in the Verdun operation - also known as "Operation: Spring of Youth" - and revealed some aspects of Mossad's recruitment tests.

Yael was born in Canada and grew up in the US state of New Jersey to a non-practicing Jewish family. The failure of her marriage pushed her to emigrate to the occupied Palestinian territories.

There she was introduced to the Mossad, Israel's intelligence and covert operations agency, and underwent several tests - which she thought she had failed, particularly after she could not even find her car after her first meeting with one of her examiners.

Two days later, she was invited to a meeting with the commander of the Mossad's "Caesarea" unit, Mike Harari.

Yael's first mission was to collect intelligence in Beirut. She found it easy living in Beirut and integrating into Lebanese society. She took the persona of an American novelist writing a screenplay that would be filmed in Lebanon.
On the fourth floor there was an apartment which looked directly towards the two buildings in which the targets lived. I rented the apartment.
-Mossad Agent Yael

"I found an apartment which belonged to a man named Fuad Abboud," Yael writes, in an extract published in Yedioth Aharonot.

"He lived with his sisters in a building he owned, where he also rented out a few of the apartments. On the fourth floor there was an apartment which looked directly towards the two buildings in which the targets lived.

"I rented the apartment, and of course told the landlord about my screenplay."

Yael was not alone in Beirut. Her Mossad handlers were also there, including one codenamed Eviatar.

On 9 April, Yael had dinner with Eviatar and mentioned to him that the three Palestinian leaders were all in their apartments that night.

Her passing comment was the green light that Mossad needed to launch its assassination operation. Israeli commandos landed on Beirut's shores and headed to the home of the three Palestinian leaders.

Evitar asked Yael after the dinner to go back to her apartment and wait in the back, away from the apartment's windows.

Yael pointed out that she had no idea she had practically issued the order for the launching of the operation; not until a few hours later when she was in her apartment and heard shots and screams - and somebody speaking in Hebrew amid an exchange of gunfire between members of the Palestinian organisaton and the withdrawing Israeli force which had completed its operation.

"I crawled on the floor and peeped outside to see what was happening," Yael recalled. "Three large vehicles were parked on the street. The shots got louder, there were screams, and the lights in the three apartments turned on. Everything happened quickly and suddenly I heard 'come here, come here', in Hebrew.

"When I heard Hebrew in the heart of Beirut, I knew that was it, there was an operation underway, and I connected what was happening with the information I had given to Eviatar a few hours earlier. After all, I wasn't quite that naive. I remember saying to myself, 'I am just doing my job'. I did what they told me to do, that's all."
When I heard Hebrew in the heart of Beirut, I knew that was it, there was an operation underway
- Mossad agent Yael

It is clear from the details of the operation that preparations for it took a long period of time, which reinforces the idea that the assassination was planned for previously and wasn't just a retaliation for the Black September operation a day earlier.

It is also in line with former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's promise to go after all members of the Black September who were involved in the planning and executing of the Munich operation, in which eleven Israeli Olympic team members were kidnapped and later killed by Black September in 1972.

Yael said that she was recruited to work for Mossad in 1971 and received intensive training in surveillance and monitoring. She was given a false identity and a "cover story" that would enable her to "stay in Beirut for a longer period of time", without arousing suspicion.

Yael received training from Israeli novelist and biographer Shabtai Teveth - who wrote the biography of David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister.

Teveth trained Yael to look like a writer and how to perform her role professionally. According to the book, he told her, for example, how a writer's table should look and how books and papers would be scattered all over it.

Yael pretended that she was an American screenwriter who wished to produce a film about Lady Hester Stanhope, a British socialite and adventurer who had travelled throughout Syria and Lebanon early in the 19th century, lived in a disused monastery and then settled near the coastal southern Lebanese city of Sidon. She was known as the "Queen of the East".

The information that was gathered by Yael and other agents who were active in Beirut helped the "Verdun operation" come about.

Commando units from the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, paratroopers from the Special Forces, and the Navy carried out the operation, while members of Mossad's Caesarea unit drove the cars that transported the commando units from the beach to the heart of Beirut and back, where Israeli inflatable boats took them back to Israeli warships that were waiting for them out at sea.