A British investigative journalist offers an intriguing, somewhat circuitous look back at the Mossad’s attempts to thwart the Egyptian missile program.
In response to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s paranoid efforts to bolster his military program in the late 1950s, the equally paranoid Israeli foreign intelligence service kicked into high vigilance, planting operatives in Cairo and even carrying out intimidation and assassination attempts against the key German scientists recruited to the Egyptian missile work. Howard (The Oil Hunters: Exploration and Espionage in the Middle East, 2008, etc.) uses his expertise and research on Middle Eastern defense issues to piece together this complex, shadowy story. In the first part of the book, the author backtracks into the deep-seated history of Arab-Israeli hostility, focusing on the pan-Arab liberation movement led by Nasser, his mistrust of Western leaders born out by the Suez Crisis of 1956, and his resolve to build up the Egyptian military to ward off Israeli attacks and galvanize his own power base among the Arab states. The goal was to build long-range ballistic rockets, and Nasser’s trusty deputy chief of air force intelligence, Gen. Isam Khalil, was sent to Zurich and elsewhere to try to lure some “specialist engineers” to the Egyptian cause. The scientists were disgruntled Germans, specifically ex-Nazis, who were all offered sweet deals to live and work in Cairo beginning in July 1960. Meanwhile, Mossad, led by the legendary Isser Harel, had to find some suitable operatives to infiltrate the Egyptian-German community, such as the highly convincing Wolfgang Lotz. Ultimately, both sides erred fatally: Harel’s Operation Damocles proved clumsy and politically driven, while the Egyptian rockets lacked a guidance mechanism, which undermined their accuracy.
A well-paced narrative as chock full of mysterious revelations as a good spy thriller.