On July 21, 1973, Mossad agents made a huge mistake in Europe that exposed him to a major scandal.
British documents reveal that the scandal sparked a muffled crisis between Norway and Israel, and raised great alarm in Europe about the Israeli "terrorist reprisals" against Arab activists in the countries of the continent.
An Israeli assassination squad killed a Moroccan youth named Ahmed Bouchikhi, a waiter working in a restaurant in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer, mistaking him for the Palestinian activist Hassan Salameh, one of the most prominent leaders of the Palestinian "Black September" organization.
The assassination squad was formed to carry out a series of intelligence operations called "The Wrath of God", and approved by Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel.
The operations targeted the liquidation of Arabs and Palestinians, especially from the Black September organization, which killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Summer Games in Munich, Germany, in early September 1972.
Salameh - who was described by the Israeli intelligence services as the "Red Prince", was the mastermind of the operation that shook the world.
- Israeli diplomat expelled
The failed operation at Willhammer cast a dark shadow on the good relations between Israel and Norway.
The documents say that members of the Israeli assassination squad were arrested, but two of them hid in the apartment of the Israeli embassy security official in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
The Norwegian police entered the apartment and arrested them.
The government later expelled the embassy's security official from Norway.
The documents reveal that Israel protested legally and diplomatically, that the Norwegian police were not entitled to enter the apartment "because the owner enjoys diplomatic immunity."
However, according to the documents, Norway rejected the Israeli argument and informed Israel that its national law does not allow "abuse" of diplomatic immunity to commit crimes.
Subsequently, the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled that the diplomat had no right to abuse immunity in violation of Norwegian law, and ruled the continued detention of the two Israeli agents, who were arrested from the apartment of the Israeli diplomat.
- Report of the British Ambassador in Oslo
Despite Israel's attempts, after the operation failed, to remove suspicion from it, the General Department of Legal Affairs of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry informed the British ambassador in Oslo of Israel's recognition of the Norwegians that it was behind the operation, according to a report by the ambassador.
The administration said, "The Israelis were forced to tacitly and practically admit that Bouchikhi's assassination was an official Israeli operation."
The acting head of the administration told the British ambassador that the Israelis "defended by saying that their act of this kind was justified."
However, he described this defense as "totally unacceptable to the Norwegians".
The same official pointed out that "the Norwegian authorities are convinced that the operation was officially planned, and they are aware that some of the participants in it are certainly Israeli officials."
In the media, Norwegian media circulated reports, re-published by British newspapers, that the one who carried out the Lillehammer operation was an unofficial execution squad called "The Wrath of God" that was infiltrated by official Israeli agents.
However, the Norwegian legal official "completely refuted these reports", and expressed his belief that "it could be a story that the Israelis planted to mislead," according to the report of the British ambassador in Oslo.
It was also reported at the time that Norway "asked Israel to withdraw the security official from its embassy quietly."
However, the legal official denied the authenticity of this information, and stressed that the Norwegians "are the ones who decided to declare the legal official persona non grata because of his apparent involvement in the assassination."
"I got the impression that the decision (to expel the Israeli official) was taken very quickly" by the Norwegians, commented the British ambassador.
The disturbances and the intensity of the number of Mossad agents
At this time, too, questions were raised about the efficiency of the "Mossad", which was famous for many operations targeting Palestinian leaders outside Palestine.
When the British ambassador asked the Norwegian legal official about his explanation for the reasons for the failure of the Israeli operation, he indicated that “the problem was not only the error in defining the target, but rather pushing a large number of agents (15 people) to pursue him in a small Norwegian town where it was difficult not to notice their presence there. attention."
Among those 15 were Britons and others who used forged British passports.
The British ambassador said that what the Norwegian security official could not understand "is why the group, after locating Bouchikhi, did not go to Oslo or any other place where they would have the opportunity to hide from sight, and then send one or two of its members to carry out the assassination."
After a criminal trial, the Norwegian Supreme Court convicted five Israelis of participating in the operation and sentenced them to prison terms, but they only served part of it, and then they were pardoned.
- The concern of Italy, France and Britain
The documents reveal that this failed episode of the series of "Wrath of God" operations has caused great concern in Europe, especially in Italy, France and Britain.
Days after the operation, the Italian and French charge d'affaires informed their British counterparts in Israel of "their governments' concern over the way in which Israeli and Arab guerrillas are using the two countries' territories in their mutual secret war."
With regard to Israel, the main Italian objection was the "lack of care" of its intelligence in carrying out operations targeting Arabs in Italy and Europe.
According to a report by the British Chargé d'Affairs, his Italian counterpart submitted an informal protest to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
He added that the Italian diplomat "informed the Israeli Foreign Ministry that the relative immunity enjoyed by the Israelis so far in carrying out the reprisals they launched in Italy against Arab agents may not continue unless the Israelis take greater care."
Although the Italian diplomat asserted, after submitting the protest, that the Israelis “dealed the Italian approach with the utmost seriousness,” he confided to his British counterpart that the Israeli Foreign Ministry had informed him that “Israeli practices are justified on the following basis: given that European governments are to a large extent lenient in In dealing with the Arab guerrillas it arrests, Israel finds itself motivated to enforce the law by itself as much as in self-defence.
However, the Israeli Foreign Ministry "did not say that the Italian warnings will be ignored."
The Italian diplomat revealed that his government "felt that the shock of the Israelis resulting from the effects of the Lillehammer operation was an appropriate moment to pressure them to be more careful (working in) Italy."
However, he did not explain what is meant by this concern.
He pointed out that "the pressures from Arab governments may also have something to do with" the orders he received to raise the matter with the Israelis.
At this time, the Italians, according to the British Chargé d'Affairs in Israel, were "in a generally suspicious mood about Israeli operations," intelligence.
The British diplomat said that the Italian Chargé d'Affairs "informed us that he had just received a telegram from Rome stating that there is reason to believe that the hijacking of a Lebanese plane during its flight between Libya and Lebanon to Tel Aviv is an Israeli operation."
The hijacking took place on August 16, 1972, when a drunk Libyan youth hijacked a plane on its way from the Libyan city of Benghazi to the Lebanese capital. At that time, the plane landed at Lod Airport (Ben Gurion International) in Tel Aviv. There were reports, denied by the Israelis at the time, that Israel was involved in the kidnapping.
This raised the suspicions of Italy.
"The Italians were shocked that the plane was allowed to land in Tel Aviv, instead of being ordered to go to a military base," the British Chargé d'Affairs in Israel said.
The Italians interpreted this behavior as "indicating that the Israelis were confident that there was no possibility that the plane was filled with explosives or that it was on a downing mission in a populated area."
According to this Italian perception, "the advantage of landing the plane at Lod Airport is that the accident will receive maximum media coverage."
The British Chargé d'Affairs disagreed with this perception. He said that "personally, I tend to believe" the Israeli version, which refutes Italian suspicions.
"We know that great infrastructure to deal with hijackers is available at Lod Airport, while it should be installed in other places only when it is needed," he said.
He added, "This seems sufficient reason to issue orders for the arrival of an unexpected plane such as the Lebanese plane on August 16 at Lod airport and not at a military base."
The British Foreign Office was not satisfied with the opinion of the Chargé d'Affairs in Israel regarding the Italian position, but also polled the opinion of the British Embassy in Rome.
In a report to the Near East and North Africa Administration, the embassy considered that "the protest presented by Italy in Tel Aviv is unjustified." She described it as a "deliberate tactic by the Italian Foreign Ministry aimed at exploiting the Israeli embarrassment after the Norwegian incident."
Explaining this tactic, the embassy said that Italy sought to "avoid any protest the Israelis might think of making for the easy manner in which the Italians dealt with the Arab terrorists captured in Italy, most of whom were sooner or later granted temporary freedom and allowed to leave the country."
As for France, the charge d'affaires of its embassy in Tel Aviv told his British counterpart that there is "growing resentment in the Elysee (French presidential palace) over the immunity enjoyed by Israeli secret agents in France."
A few weeks before the Lillehammer scandal, Israeli agents assassinated the Algerian artist, Mohamed Boudia, a political activist in the Palestinian struggle movement and one of the leaders of the "Black September" organization, in the French capital.
The documents confirm that the assassination "was a shock to many people in Paris because he was known in the left-wing art world."
According to the French charge d'affaires, "the French police had their own means (in dealing with crime) and it was not easy even for the French government to act."
The French diplomat was not quoted as explaining this, but he said that the French "had their reasons for not wanting to arrest the Israeli or Arab killers if they could avoid it."
However, he said then-French President Georges Pompidou "may insist on changing" this method.
In this atmosphere, the assessment, which the British Chargé d'Affairs had advised his government of the situation of the Israelis, was negative.
"It is conceivable that the Israelis are now facing more difficult problems in carrying out their anti-terror operations as a result of what is generally regarded here as a colossal, stupid mistake made by their team in Norway," he said.
In London, Italian and French concerns echoed and the British Chargé d'Affairs in Israel assessed the situation.
The Head of the Near East and North Africa Department in the British Foreign Office warned of the consequences of Israeli intelligence's practice in Britain similar operations to its operations in other European countries.
He said in a telegram to the charge d'affaires in Israel that "the consequences here (in Britain) will be very bad if the Israelis carry out retaliatory activities against the Arabs in this country, and then they tell us that these activities are justified because of our neglect" of the Arabs in British lands.
- Israeli terrorist revenge campaigns against Arab countries and organizations
At this time, the various British intelligences were following up on Israeli intelligence activities in Europe, and the British Foreign Office called them "Israeli terrorist revenge campaigns against Arab countries and organizations."
The British intelligence assessment suggested that Britain's relationship with Israel prevented the latter from carrying out killings of Arabs on British soil.
In his cable, the Chargé d'Affairs at the Chargé d'Affairs of the Near East Department said, "I hope, of course, that it does not come to this. You will see the assessment of the Joint Intelligence Committee that the Israelis value their cooperation with us in so many areas that it is unlikely that they would jeopardize this by launching operations in this country.
Despite this assessment, the British diplomatic official asked the charge d'affaires to "take any opportunity to convey this message to the Israelis."
He pointed out that there is a "grave concern" expressed by newspapers and British parliamentarians about the possibility of operations in Britain.
He assured the Chargé d'Affairs in Israel that he had "no doubt that any security gain the Israelis might think they would achieve through any operation here of this kind (which took place in Europe) would be a detraction, which would undoubtedly occur, of the respect they enjoy in every country." sectors in this country.
Britain's letter to the Israelis also included a warning of the consequences of "any Israeli efforts to implicate us (the British) in operations carried out in other countries by using fake British passports or British citizens."
After the storm of the Lillehammer scandal seemed to have subsided, the British ambassador to Oslo wrote to his government confirming the existence of a "crisis in relations between Israel and Norway".
This was followed by a telegram from the British ambassador to Tel Aviv saying that "it is clear that the case is a source of great embarrassment for the Israeli government."
Israel continued to evade responsibility for the killing of the Moroccan youth, until its government, led by Shimon Peres, after 23 years, was forced to pay compensation worth more than a quarter of a million dollars to the Bouchikhi family for the wrongful killing of their breadwinner, as part of a settlement concluded in February 1996.
This was the first case of its kind that Israel bore responsibility for, although it did not apologize directly for its implementation.
Norway reopened the case in 1990. In 1998, it issued a worldwide warrant for the arrest of Mike Harari, who was believed to be the leader of the hit squad, but the Norwegian authorities closed the file the following year saying it would be impossible to obtain a verdict.
- violation of Norway's sovereignty
In March 2000, a two-year investigation by a Norwegian National Committee concluded that Operation Lillehammer "was a violation of Norway's sovereignty and a private case in every sense of the word".
The investigation cleared the Norwegian police of the suspicion of conspiring with the Israelis in carrying out the failed operation.
The commission's report said that approximately nine of those who participated in the operation had escaped from Norway, including Harari, the leader of the assassination team.
The investigation revealed that Norway did little to catch the suspects later.
"It is clear that the Norwegian authorities have been under pressure," the report said. He pointed out that the Israeli side "expressed its wish not to pursue (Norway's efforts to reveal) the relations (between what happened in Lillehammer) and other countries," in reference to Israel.