Now Revealed: Israeli Kidnap Mission — Ill-Fated but Involving the Manhattan DA and a Canadian Professor

[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and of the national best seller Every Spy a Prince, wrote the following for The Jerusalem Report, a magazine published in English in Israel.]

Nothing in the official biography of Professor Eitan Rubinstein suggests he had volunteered to be a Mossad spy and a Nazi hunter. But that is part of his secret resume; and his target was none other than Dr. Josef Mengele, the notorious, sadistic Nazi physician from Auschwitz. Known as “the angel of death,” Mengele was responsible for conducting medical experiments on human beings and sending some 400,000 Jews to the gas chambers.

In a phone conversation and subsequent exchange of e-mails from his office in the snow-covered prairies of Winnipeg. Canada, Rubinstein reveals one of the most adventurous, brazen and, at the same time, bizarre operations to capture Mengele and bring him to justice in Jerusalem – a story that has never been told before.

“Unfortunately we failed,” says the professor, who heads the Infectious Diseases Unit at the Department of Internal Medicine of the University of Manitoba. “Our intelligence was flawed,” he tells The Jerusalem Report.

Twenty-nine years ago, Rubinstein was a member of a team consisting of former Mossad agents, a former special forces soldier, former Israel Air Force pilots and a Dutch journalist. “It was an unauthorized operation. But I believe that if we would have succeeded, the government of Israel would have claimed responsibility for it,” he relates.

Rubinstein emphasized that he and the others had agreed to take part in the operation not for financial reward. “All of us were volunteers who did it out of a historic sense for justice,” he says, adding – and certainly with a smile on his face at the other end of the line, “I also liked the thrill, the adventure and could not say no to Zvi Malkin.”

Peter Zvi Malkin was a legendary Mossad operative who died in 2005 in New York. He gained worldwide fame as a member of the Mossad team that captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 and brought him to Israel to stand trial. Eichmann –the former SS officer who was in charge of the Nazi “Final Solution” – attempting to exterminate all the Jews of Europe – was convicted and hanged in Israel.

It was Malkin who had pounced on Eichmann and – paraphrasing the title of one of his books — laid hands on the notorious Nazi

Many parts of Malkin’s private life are blurred, probably in a deliberate attempt to elevate the mystique surrounding him. According to his son, Omer, Malkin was born in Poland in 1927 and moved with his parents to Palestine at the age of nine. But on his website, Malkin himself claimed he was born in Palestine.

“With him, it depends on what passport you’re looking at,” Omer told The New York Times after his father’s death.

Zvi Malkin’s sister, Fruma, and her three children remained behind in Poland. All died in the Holocaust, along with many of their other relatives.

As a teenager, Malkin joined the Hagana, the pre-state Jewish underground in Palestine during the final years of British rule (which ended in 1948).

In the early 1950s, after the establishment of the State of Israel, he was recruited by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and was assigned to its Operations Unit, which, at the time, worked also for the Mossad. In the 1960s, Malkin set up for the Mossad a unit that specialized in break-ins into Arab embassies in Europe, Africa and South America. The unit was codenamed Keshet and still serves today as an important part of the Mossad’s operational directorate.

“He was really a master in this field,” Malkin’s long-time friend and team member, Yair Racheli, tells The Report. “There was no lock he could not unlock, no door or window or safe he could not open.” Under Malkin’s leadership, the unit significantly increased its operations and collected invaluable intelligence from the break-ins.

Malkin retired from the intelligence community in 1976, moved to New York, and commuted between Israel and the United States. He devoted most of his time to his hobbies – painting and writing books. But being restless and missing the action, he also served as a private consultant on counter-terrorism and assisted Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, on several cases.

The work, however, was not sufficiently fulfilling; he missed the thrill and excitement of secret operations. Fortune struck in 1984.

At the time, a France-based Dutch journalist was working on a story in Paraguay, where he had befriended a local, influential lawyer being identified (for now) only as Carlos. Apparently, the lawyer, who claimed to be close to the country’s dictator, Alfredo Stroessner, had told the journalist an incredible story: “Dr. Mengele is alive and sheltered by our state leader.”

Carlos had hinted that he would be ready to assist any investigation into the matter — if he was paid handsomely.

Upon completing his assignment and assuming that the Jewish State was still interested in hunting down Nazi war criminals, the journalist flew to Israel, where he tried to make contact with the Mossad – but to no avail. Mengele, who was hiding out in South America, was indeed an important Mossad target in the 1960s, but attempts to locate him had failed time and again. Eventually, the manhunt was aborted.

Failing to reach the Mossad, the Dutch journalist found the New York-based Malkin, who was clearly taken with the story.

More than two decades after the success of the combined Mossad-Shin Bet mission to find Eichmann, Malkin proposed his daring, innovative mission to snatch Mengele. The head of the Mossad, Nahum Admoni, consulted with then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres and with the foreign minister, (ex-Mossad senior operative) Yitzhak Shamir.  The result was a decision that the State of Israel would not be involved.

In response to a question from The Report on the matter, Admoni responds, “I don’t remember this incident, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

Malkin, however, did not give up on the idea of locating and capturing the Nazi war criminal. He flew to the United States and met with his friend, Robert Morgenthau, whose office was involved then in a number of Nazi war-crimes cases. Morgenthau liked the notion. He introduced Malkin to a wealthy Jewish businessman from Panama, an owner of an aviation firm. This Jewish contact agreed to fund the operation to the tune of $10 million, including lending Malkin one of his Boeing airplanes.

Malkin decided to lead a private operation of his own. He designed the plan as would a professional intelligence officer. First, he approached retired colonel Ze’ev Liron, a former Israel Air Force pilot and Mossad station chief in Europe. Now, a successful businessman in the field of security exports, mainly to Chile, Liron gladly accepted.

In addition to Liron, Malkin recruited a decorated combat soldier from Sayeret Matkal, the IDF elite commando unit – a man we shall identify only as Doron.

Next to be recruited was Eitan Rubenstein (the present-day Canadian professor and official), then a specialist in the field of infectious diseases at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. Malkin assigned Rubinstein the task of drugging Mengele following his capture – a traditional role, often for an anesthesiologist, in Mossad kidnapping operations.

Also enlisted was Amnon Linvi, who in 1976 had participated in the daring hostage-rescue operation in Entebbe, Uganda. He was given the task of flying the Boeing plane that would extract Mengele after his capture.

Rafi Eitan, a friend of Malkin and a former senior Mossad operative, also had a role to play.  He had been involved in the Eichmann capture in 1960, and in 1984-5 he was serving as the prime minister’s adviser on counter-terrorism. Eitan was tasked as the “treasurer” of the operation, supervising the funds.

Malkin, Doron and the Dutch journalist headed out to Paraguay, gathered information, and made contact with Carlos. During these meetings, most of which were held in Europe and Brazil, Carlos provided them with information pertaining to Mengele’s daily routine and his security procedures. In exchange, Malkin gave him a large amount of money from the slush fund. Carlos also received a car and was promised an additional bonus of $100,000.

The plan was to abduct Mengele, who routinely bathed in a spring in the heart of the jungle. The abductors would overcome his guards – and if necessary, kill them – and bring the wanted Nazi by jeep to a small airport in Paraguay. From there, they would fly to Rio de Janeiro, where the Boeing was waiting.

With the help of a contact at the airport, they planned to strap the unconscious Mengele inside the plane, in a secret compartment built especially for the mission. Rubenstein was tasked with staying by his side to administer drugs in case the hostage was to awaken.

In March 1985, when Malkin, Doron, Liron, Rubenstein, Livni the pilot, and the journalist were busy preparing for the fateful night, Malkin received an anonymous phone call from a source who warned him that they were about to walk into an ambush. Malkin and his colleagues found an excuse to lead Carlos to a nearby coffee house. Malkin then broke into Carlos’ hotel room and found documents proving that the lawyer was a fraud. He had betrayed them and set them up for a trap.

The group quickly disbanded and returned to Israel.

Malkin, who maintained contact with Carlos, told the South American that orders had been received to halt the operation. Two months later, he invited Carlos to meet him in Paris. This was the last time Carlos was seen; his body has yet to be found.

“Malkin gave us the impression that Carlos’ betrayal was avenged,” Rubinstein reveals from Canada.

In retrospect, it turned out that the operation was completely superfluous. Mengele had died five years earlier, in 1979, apparently after suffering a stroke while swimming with friends in Brazil.

December 23, 2013

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