The Mossad — Great Employer for Women

The Mossad – Israel’s secretive but famous foreign espionage service – is trumpeting a new attitude toward women.  Female operatives are often the leaders in risky missions abroad, according to the agency.

This, if true, is a big change from the first decades of covert operations – including the mission in Argentinato kidnap Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. In the group that held Eichmann in a safe house in 1960, before an El Al airliner secretly flew the prisoner to Israel, was only one woman.

Here is what our book, Spies Against Armageddon, says about her (in Chapter 6):

A female operative was chosen for the traditional role of “housewife,” to buy groceries, cook the food, and tidy the residence where the Nazi would be held.  She was Yehudit Nessyahu, born in Holland in 1925: highly intelligent, fluent in several languages, described as forgettably plain-looking, and a veteran of clandestine work smuggling Jews out of Morocco. 

She would rise to be the highest ranking woman in the Mossad, its director of personnel.  After her retirement at age 51, she would study law, head the Israeli writers’ association, and assiduously avoid cameras for fear that a single snapshot of her could endanger her contacts and agents from many missions abroad.

As a religious woman, Nessyahu prepared only kosher food during the Argentina mission – even for the notorious Nazi.  She was disturbed by the fact that she was nourishing a mass murderer and enemy of the Jewish people.


Tamir Pardo

Now, in a Hebrew-language interview with Lady Globes – a magazine for women that is a supplement to one ofIsrael’s top business newspapers – the director of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, is saying that there is no obstacle to having a woman serve in his post in the future.

“We are soldiers without weapons,” Pardo tells Vered Ramon Rivlin of Lady Globe. “Our weaponry is only between our ears. Our capability is based on our not being visible.”

In “clandestine combat,” Pardo continues, women “have a very big advantage.”  He says females are better at “multi-tasking.”  In espionage work, he says, the tasks are to get the mission done while also surviving. “For men that is harder.  That’s how we were born. There’s nothing to do about it.”

In field operations, he reveals, “the number of women is equal to the number of men.”

Based on security photos and video released by the police in Dubai– after an assassination by a large Mossad squad in early 2010 – there were many more men than women. But perhaps the women were clever enough not to be photographed or identified as Israeli operatives in that Arab city.

Part of a Wanted Poster by Dubai Police, 2010

Some female Mossad operatives, identified by partial and probably false names, also spoke to Lady Globes.  One of them said that when she started in the agency, women were only “decoration” — typically to sit in a car with a male operative, because a couple in a car would rarely be challenged by police or security guards. Now, the article says, some Mossad men joke that they are being added to missions only as unimportant add-ons.

Pardo confirms that females are a key part of the Mossad’s operational units. As for why so few have been the heads of departments, Pardo replies: “That comes from their own choice, not the institution’s.”

The agency chief points out that women tend to start earlier in the Mossad. They pass the challenging entry tests as early as age 23, while men at that age “wouldn’t stand a chance.” Pardo says women are more mature, at an early age, and are better at perceiving and observing places and events.

“It’s easier for women to put aside their ego, to look at the mission and less at the ego.”  He also says females are better at the “acting” that espionage work often requires.

Women’s ability to tolerate tough conditions “is no less than that of men – and [actually] even greater.”

Pardo also boasts that the Mossad offers above-average opportunity for women to have a family life, while doing their delicate and dangerous work. Noting that women handle changes very well, he predicts that more of them will hold senior, decision-making roles in the Mossad.


September 17, 2012

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