Ex-Mossad Chief Confirms Assassination Attempt — Against an Ex-Nazi in Syria

by Yossi Melman

TEL AVIV—For the first time in the 61 years of the history of the Mossad, one of the directors of Israel’s foreign espionage and operations agency is claiming responsibility for an assassination attempt.  General Yitzhak Hofi, who was head of the Mossad from 1974 to 1982, revealed that his agents tried to kill a Nazi war criminal who was hiding out in Syria’s capital, Damascus.

unconfirmed photo, said to be Nazi officer Alois Brunner

The target was Alois Brunner, an Austrian-born SS officer who served as Adolf Eichmann’s assistant and practically was his deputy during the Holocaust.  Eiohmann was located and kidnapped in Argentina in 1960 by a combined team from the Mossad and Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet.  Considered the architect of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” which murdered six million Jews, Eichmann was put on trial in Jerusalem, convicted, and hanged.

Brunner was infamous for being particularly cruel.  He was a sadist who was directly responsible for the deportation and murder of at least 130,000 Jews from Austria, Greece, Slovakia, and France during the Second World War.  He was condemned to death in absentia after the war by a French court, but he had managed to escape from Europe and found shelter in Damascus, Syria.

The strongly anti-Israel Arab government in Syria appeared to have welcomed Brunner, and he was employed as a security consultant for the Syrians, specializing in interrogations.

Consecutive Syrian regimes denied that Brunner — whose credentials as a Nazi war criminal were widely publicized by Israel and by Jewish organizations — was residing in Damascus.

But the Israeli spy agency located him.  There may have been great temptation to kidnap him, perhaps in the hope that Eichmann and Brunner — the boss and his henchman — could stand trial together in the modern, free Jewish state of Israel.

Organizing a snatch operation in the capital of an enemy country would be much more difficult, however, than mounting a kidnapping in Argentina — with a team of dozens of Israelis involved in the Eichmann mission.

Instead, the Mossad twice sent parcel bombs to Brunner in Syria.  The first time was in 1961, the same year Eichmann was found guilty of crime against humanity by the Israeli court and executed.

Brunner opened the letter, and it exploded.  The notorious German lost his left eye, but he survived.  He was 49 years old at the time.

In 1980, once again an exploding parcel was sent to him.  Brunner, with obviously imperfect security or ignoring precautions, also opened this one.  This time, at age 68, he lost a few fingers.

The two assassination attempts were attributed by the international media to the Mossad. But, as is standard practice in Israel, neither the espionage agency nor the government commented on the published stories.

Official Mossad photo of Yitzhak Hofi

Now, at the age of 85, Hofi chatted with an Israeli film crew preparing a documentary on his life and career.  The former Mossad chief told the interviewers that “we dealt” with Brunner, “trying to kill him, but we failed.”

While Wikipedia has a birth date for Brunner in 1912 and does not say he has passed away, we have learned otherwise.  An Israeli intelligence source told us that Brunner died of natural causes in 2008 in Damascus at the age of 96.

Spies against Armageddon, in chronicling the history of all the Israeli espionage and security agencies from 1948 until today, tells the stories of Mossad manhunts for Nazi war criminals from the early 1950’s to the 80’s.

November 1, 2012

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