By Nissan Ratzlav-Katz
Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, who commanded the 1960 Mossad operation to capture fugitive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, says the kidnapping of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a distinct possibility.
In an interview with Christoph Schult of this week’s edition of the respected German magazine Der Spiegel, the former Israeli intelligence agent said that while there are no more covert Israeli missions targeting old Nazis, “that’s not to say that such operations are completely a thing of the past.”
Schult: “What do you mean by that?”
Eitan: “It could very well be that a leader such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suddenly finds himself before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”
Schult: “Do you mean that seriously?”
Eitan: “Absolutely. Those who spread poison and want to eradicate another people [have] to expect such consequences.”
Eitan’s statement is all the more provocative as it was offered without prodding at the end of an interview focusing on the Minister’s recent revelation that his team in Argentina in 1960 decided against abducting notorious Auschwitz sadist, Dr. Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death”. His agents discovered that Mengele was also in Beunos Aires after they had already apprehended Eichmann and were preparing to bundle him off to Israel for trial.
Eichmann was subsequently tried and sentenced to death by an Israeli court for crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in an outlawed organization. He was executed in May 1962 and his ashes were scattered in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
‘It Wasn’t About Revenge’
Israel had Mengele in its sites one more time before the man’s death from a stroke in 1979, according to Eitan, but the Mossad determined that capturing him was not a possibility at the time. It was further decided not to assassinate him, even though it would have been feasible, Eitan said, adding, “It wasn’t about revenge.”
When asked why he chose not to nab Mengele after the capture of Eichmann, Eitan replied, “There were just 11 of us and we had our hands full dealing with Eichmann.” Then-Mossad chief Isser Harel wanted Mengele, too, Eitan added. “I refused because I didn’t want to endanger the success of the Eichmann operation.”
The Mossad commander said that his team wanted to return to Buenos Aires after bringing Eichmann to Jerusalem in order to capture Mengele, as well. “But due to a leak, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had to make an official announcement about our success. When our agents returned to Argentina, Mengele had moved out of his apartment and gone underground,” Eitan revealed.
The Der Spiegel interview also shed some light on the policy decision that ended with the apprehending of Adolf Eichmann. “In 1958, we resolved to capture a former Nazi and bring him to justice in Israel,” Eitan explained. “Possible targets included Mengele, Eichmann, the former head of the Gestapo Heinrich Muller, and Hitler’s right-hand man Martin Bormann. The first one we could find was Eichmann, so we concentrated on him.”
When the interviewer noted that Israel has in fact carried out assassinations of fugitive Nazis, Eitan said, “There were such operations, but I was against them. Criminals have to answer for their crimes before a court of law.”
Following his service in the Mossad, Rafi Eitan served as an advisor on terrorism to Prime Minister Menachem Begin and later headed the now-defunct Bureau of Scientific Relations, an intelligence agency focused on obtaining secret technologies. Eitan resigned his post following the capture of Jonathan Pollard, a former US Navy Intelligence Research Specialist who has been behind bars in the United States since 1986 for passing classified information to Israel.