Revealed after 46 Years: Israel’s Secret Weapons in Six-Day War were Bedouin in the Sinai as Spies

by Yossi Melman

TEL AVIV—The Middle East is now marking the 46th anniversary of a war that has a permanent place in military history. Israel, in six days, defeated the armies of all the surrounding Arab countries.

The key to defeating Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, with thumping effectiveness and speed? Preemptive strikes, when it was clear to Israel’s leadership that war was inevitable and it would be far wiser to attack first.

Selecting targets, and knowing precisely what and where they were, was the product of excellent pre-war intelligence.

Here’s a story never told before: the role of Bedouin who wander throughout the Sinai Peninsula – recruited and paid by Israeli intelligence to spy on Egypt’s military.

the sort of place in the Sinai where Bedouin meet with foreigners

One of the most intriguing episodes, revealed here for the first time, related to Unit 504 (then numbered as 154) of the military intelligence agency known to Israelis as Aman. The unit was and still is responsible for recruiting and running agents – a tradecraft known as “humint” (human intelligence).

In the years before 1967, the unit’s case officers covertly crossed the border from southern Israel into the Sinai Peninsula — then under Egyptian rule — and hired local agents. These were members of Bedouin families and tribes, and obviously their sense of loyalty to Egypt was very low.

 “We provided them cameras with long lenses which were considered then to be state-of-the-art and nowadays are just junk,” a former officer in Unit 504 said recently. “We taught them how to conceal the cameras, how to position them, and how to take the photos and from which angles.”

The agents proved to be very good pupils and from time to time sent back rolls of film with a treasure trove of tactical intelligence: showing Egyptian military bases in the Sinai desert and troop movements. The real gems were photos of the air fields, which in June 1967 would be bombed with great precision.

Israeli intelligence operatives pride themselves on knowing their region extremely well, including an unmatched ability to identify disloyal, disaffected, weak, or otherwise vulnerable people inside enemy countries – people who would be willing, usually for money, to spy for Israel.

The extent to which that is done today is, of course, a closely guarded secret. Yet there can be little doubt that Aman and Mossad (the agency for special operations worldwide) continue to excel at this priceless espionage skill.

June 8, 2013

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