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Isser Harel (Halperin), founder and first director of Israel’s Shin Bet and director of the Mossad from 1951 to 1963, died at 91 on this date in 2003. Harel was born in Vitebsk, Russia and emigrated to Palestine in 1930. He oversaw the capture of Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents in Argentina in 1960, after two years of surveillance. He also obtained the text of Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 speech before a closed session of the Soviet Communist Party’s 20th Congress (in which Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s “cult of personality”) and turned it over to the CIA, which established Israel’s enduring reputation for highly effective intelligence. Harel also gained emigration rights for some 80,000 Moroccan Jews in exchange for providing Morocco’s King Hassan important intelligence and security advice. In the early 1960s, he ran a “hit squad” that killed several German scientists who were aiding Egypt with rocketry and weapons technology. This was the policy that ultimately caused Ben Gurion to remove Harel from his Mossad directorship in 1963. Many operatives, including future prime minister and former terrorist Yitzhak Shamir, quit in protest, and the controversy that ensued resulted in Ben Gurion’s resignation within the year.
“My mind was by no means easy about the need to carry out a clandestine action in the sovereign territory of a friendly country, and the question of whether it was permissible to do so — from both the ethical and political points of view — had to be faced in all its gravity.” -Isser Harel