Israeli Intelligence

Report of the Commission Concerning the Events in Jordan September 1997

Summary for Publication
Jerusalem Government Press Office
17 February 1998

members of the commission:
Dr. Yosef Ciechanover,
Lt. Gen. (Res.) Rafi Peled,
Maj. Gen. (Res.) Dan Tolkowsky


On July 30, 1997, a suicide attack took place in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, in which 16 people were killed and 169 injured. On September 4, 1997, a suicide attack took place in the Ben- Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, in which 5 people were killed and 169 injured. The Hamas [Islamic Resistance Movement] claimed responsibility for the attacks.

In light of Government policy, a decision was taken to act against terrorist targets.

On September 25, 1997, an attempt to assassinate Khalid Mish'al took place in Jordan. The attempt failed and the agents were caught and arrested.

On October 6, 1997, the Government decided to appoint a Commission of Inquiry, to investigate the Mosad operation against Khalid Mish'al in Jordan.

The Commission held 47 meetings, heard 35 witnesses (some appeared before it several times) and reviewed hundreds of exhibits and documents. The commission held all its meetings behind closed doors, within a closed facility in the central region of the country.

The Commission wished to focus on the major issues relating to the failure of the operation in Jordan. Although the Government had not imposed any constraints in the terms of reference, the Commission decided to study the matter from the day upon which Khalid Mish'al was confirmed as a target for attack until the day two Mosad agents were apprehended by the Jordanian authorities.

Description of the Operation

On September 25, 1997, the Mosad agents waited at the entrance of the Hamas offices in Amman, with the intention of assassinating Khalid Mish'al. They succeeded in injuring him, using a lethal substance. However, immediately afterwards, Khalid Mish'al's personal chauffeur and a security guard intervened. The chauffeur, who saw what was happening, hit the agent with a newspaper on his hand. The security guard began to chase the agents, and was able to note the license plate number of the car in which they had escaped, and boarded a passing car in order to pursue them. The agents were unaware that they were being followed. After some 300 meters, they stopped their car and left it. The security guard chased them and, with the help of a plainclothes policeman, managed to overpower and apprehend them. The agents were driven by the policeman and the security guard in a taxi to the nearest police station, and placed under arrest. When news of the agents' arrest broke in Israel, the Head of the Mosad flew to Jordan, with the Prime Minister's consent, in order to report the events to the King in person, bringing with him an antidote to treat Khalid Mish'al.

Mish'al was given the antidote, thus saving his life. In the negotiations subsequently conducted for the release of the agents, an agreement was reached with the Jordanian authorities whereby, in exchange for the release of Shaykh Yasin and a number of other prisoners held in Israel, they would release our agents and allow them to return to Israel.

Who is Khalid Mish'al?

Khalid Mish'al is the Head of the Political Department of the Hamas, based in Amman, Jordan, having succeeded Abu-Marzuq in this position. From his base in Jordan, Mish'al, in addition to his political functions, activates various groups in Europe and Israel which initiate, encourage and commit acts of terror and sabotage. Funds to finance these activities are channeled through his office.

The Operation in Jordan

The presence of the Hamas headquarters in Jordan and its extensive activities from this base have presented Israel with a major problem. The decision to carry out the attack in Jordan was based on the principle that no place in the world should be allowed to serve as a safe harbor for those who plan to carry out murders and acts of terror in Israel. Israel will act against those who seek to harm Jews, wherever they may be.

In this the current Israeli Government follows the policy of previous Governments. The Commission does not question this policy, but nevertheless proposes that the Government discuss it, define its scope and establish ground rules for its implementation.

The operation in Jordan was planned on the following assumptions: The operational plan must ensure that its successful execution does not leave any tracks that would incriminate Israel directly. In terms of the intelligence community, it must be a "silent" operation. The possibility of failure of the operation, and its implications, were hardly addressed by the Mosad planners and their superiors.

Peace between Israel and Jordan, and ways to deepen and underpin it, are a cornerstone of Israel's foreign policy. Even in the case of a mishap, the foundations of the Israel-Jordan relationship would not be fundamentally harmed. The planners of the operation assumed that the probability of failure was minuscule. They were aware that the relations that had developed following the peace treaty with Jordan were of prime importance to the authorities of both countries, and firmly believed that the "silent" operation, as planned, could in no way harm the King or the Hashemite Government in Jordan.

The various heads of the intelligence community, as well as the majority of witnesses who appeared before us, shared these basic assumptions, although they did not necessarily all agree with the timing of the operation.

Overall Conclusions

Several factors came together, leading to the failure of the operation in Jordan, the main one being the conceptual fixation prevailing in the Mosad, at the various levels involved in planning, approving and carrying out the operation. It was generally believed that the weapon in question and its mode of use were almost infallible. The weapon was silent and had no immediately evident effect upon the target. It was assumed that the proposed operation would be effective without anybody being immediately aware of it. Furthermore, if for any reason the attack was aborted, the weapon in the hands of the assailant, looking innocent enough (unlike, say, a handgun), would not expose the fact that an attempt had been made, and would thus not lead to anybody pointing an accusing finger at Israel. This concept of a "silent operation," with minimal chances of failure, hardly took into account the possibility that it could fail for any reason, and turn into a "noisy" one. The planning, plans and preparations did not seriously consider such a possibility, nor was this aspect sufficiently emphasized when the plan was presented to the Prime Minister. The plan should not have been formulated in this manner in the first place, and should certainly not have been presented as such to the Prime Minister. The Commission found flaws in the planning of the operation in Jordan, the preparations for its launch, in the theory behind the handling and application of the lethal substance and the weapon, and in the coordination of the operation between the various branches of the intelligence community.

In the course of its work, the Commission identified several structural and system defects in the Mosad, which, in its view, contributed to the creation of these erroneous conceptions, with resulting faulty methods and procedures. The Commission dealt with these issues at considerable length in its Report, following up with many recommendations, most of which are highly classified for obvious reasons, and which cannot therefore be made public.

The Commission also addressed the matter of coordination between the services within the intelligence community, with particular reference to the modus operandi of the Heads of Services Committee, and has made certain recommendations.

The Commission addressed the issue of the establishment of a National Security Council, concluding that it was very doubtful whether, in the present circumstances, it would be appropriate and practical to create such a body, and therefore does not recommend that such a Council be established at this point.

The Commission examined and made certain recommendations related to the intelligence advisory functions in the Prime Minister's Office. The Commission recommends that an Assistant for Intelligence and Security, with a rank equivalent or close to that of a Major General in the Israel Defense Forces [IDF], be appointed to serve the Prime Minister. This person should be an intelligence expert, and should be responsible for dealing with the extensive flow of intelligence information to the Prime Minister's Office. The Assistant would serve as a direct link between the Prime Minister and the heads of the intelligence services, and would be a regular member of the Heads of Services Committee. He would be in a position to present to the Prime Minister the essence of the available intelligence information and to draw his attention to any issues as required, bearing in mind that the Prime Minister cannot be reasonably expected to handle the large flow of intelligence information effectively, without a modicum of expert assistance.

The appointment of the Assistant for Intelligence and Security should in no circumstances create a barrier between the Prime Minister and the intelligence community, or replace the existing Military Secretary to the Prime Minister, who serves as liaison officer between the Prime Minister and the Israel Defense Forces. In order to avoid any overlap between the two functions, and in the interests of economy, we propose that the two officers work out of a single bureau, and one of them be subordinated to the other, depending upon the circumstances.

Conclusions Relating to Individuals


The Head of the Mosad and the Division Head in charge of the Combat Unit tried to convince us that their conduct, as well as the plans and preparations made prior to the operation, were flawless, and that the failure of the attempt resulted directly from mistakes made by the combatants in the course of the operation. We have not overlooked the fact that such mistakes were made, but feel that the combatants should not bear the full responsibility for them. In fact, we have concluded that their mistakes in the course of the operation were in large measure due to flaws in conception and planning, in the ultimate operational plan as well as in training for the operation. We have found that the Head of the Mosad and the Division Head bear a heavy responsibility in these matters. When we arrived at the above conclusions, we deemed it appropriate to advise the Head of the Mosad and the Division Head accordingly. We indicated the specifics of our conclusions to them, and where we thought they had apparently been deficient, and that they might in consequence by adversely affected by our conclusions. We requested that they address these issues. They have done so, in writing, and we have considered their responses in preparing our detailed observations and conclusions in the Report.

The Prime Minister

We are unanimous in conclusions regarding the Prime Minister. In examining the conduct of the Prime Minister, bearing in mind that the Head of the Mosad reports to him directly, we tried to define our own criteria, to help us analyze the process in which he examined and approved the plans for the attack against Khalid Mish'al.

To assist us in our analysis, we compared the Prime Minister's handling of the case with the manner in which similar cases had been handled in the past. In doing so we reached the conclusion that the Prime Minister had dealt with the case in a responsible manner, having considered and examined the plans presented to him from every possible aspect that might have been expected of him.

From the minutes of discussions held in the Prime Minister's Office, we learned that the Prime Minister had inquired about details of the plans as might have been expected of him. We found that he repeatedly asked that the operation be coordinated with the other heads of the intelligence community, to ensure that they be informed and coordinated as necessary, and we are aware of the fact that a number of discussions were held in the Prime Minister's Office before the plan was approved and executed. We also inquired whether the Prime Minister's conduct in relation to the attack against Mish'al was any different from that of other incumbents in similar circumstances. We therefore studied the relevant minutes regarding similar operations in the past, and heard the testimonies of former Prime Ministers. We reached the conclusion that the Prime Minister's conduct in no way deviated from the norms and procedures customary in similar cases in the past.

The Commission also examined the question of whether the Prime Minister had exerted any unreasonable pressure to carry out the operation "quickly and at any cost," so that it might serve as an immediate response to the terrorist attacks at the Mahane Yehuda market and the pedestrian mall in Jerusalem. We reached the conclusion that no unreasonable pressure had been exerted by the Prime Minister in this matter.

We do not therefore find any flaw in the conduct of the Prime Minister and Minister in charge of the Mosad.

The Commission did not deem it appropriate to delve into the question of the Prime Minister's ministerial responsibility for the failure of the operation. This matter had already been examined in the past by various investigating commissions, which determined that the issue of political responsibility is not a matter for investigation by commissions or other courts of inquiry, but rather within the purview of relations between elected representatives and the electorate. In stating the above, we do not imply that we have found any flaw, from the political aspect, in the Prime Minister's conduct.

The Head of the Mosad

Dan Yatom was appointed to the position of Head of the Mosad approximately a year and a half ago. His last position prior to this appointment was Military Secretary to the Prime Minister, with the rank of Major General in the IDF. He has devoted his entire active life to the security of the State and to the Israel Defense Forces. Dan Yatom has served, inter alia, in numerous combat command posts at the highest level, and has impressive achievements to his credit. We were impressed by Mr. Yatom's appearance before us, his openness and the manner in which he addressed the issue.

Giving evidence, Dan Yatom addressed the question of the extent to which the Head of the Mosad must delve into details of the plans of Mosad units before giving his approval. We did not wish to answer this question in a general manner, but we are certain that before approving a plan of the type in question, the head of the Mosad must indeed study it in detail. We found that the senior ranks involved in approval of the plans within the Mosad and their presentation to the Prime Minister were among the main factors leading to failure of the operation. The Commission noted a series of shortcomings and errors in the Mosad's basic approach, leading to what was planned as a "silent operation." These were evident in the planning process, in the structure and composition of the plans, and in the manner in which the particular weapon was treated in the plans. We believe that the head of the Mosad erred in his handling of the operation and in approval of the plan. This should not have been structured as a "silent operation," without providing for contingency measures should it become a "noisy" one.

The Commission believes that the Head of the Mosad had enough time at his disposal to convene an additional orderly discussion with the heads of the intelligence services, prior to the operation, and that this should have been done. Nevertheless, the Commission is of the opinion that the heads of the intelligence community were indeed informed by the Head of the Mosad of a possible operation directed against Mish'al.

The Head of the Mosad has extensive experience and knowledge in the field of military operations and it might well have been expected from him that before approving the plan he would identify and address its numerous shortcomings, which were revealed to us in the course of our examination, and would act to rectify them, rather than approve them in what was their final form. It would also have been appropriate that the Head of the Mosad inform the Prime Minister in greater detail of the operational and political implications of carrying out the plan.

We should add that a significant part of the military doctrine underlying the plan is the product of concepts and practices developed and shaped in the Mosad over many years. The Head of the Mosad essentially continued to apply the existing planning, handling and execution procedures and processes previously formed and used in the Mosad.

Summary of the Majority Opinion of the Commission

We believe that in the context of our functions as a Commission of Inquiry, we have thoroughly covered all that was required of us concerning Dan Yatom, the Head of the Mosad. We have spelt out the matters in which we believe he erred and have enumerated the reasons for these errors. We do not deem it appropriate to make any further recommendations regarding him, as we believe that this should be left to the Government's discretion, after study of the facts and recommendations in our Report which, we think, speak for themselves.

Summary of the Minority Opinion -- Rafi Peled

Following the conclusions reached by the Commission, based on the material presented to it, concerning the conduct of the Head of the Mosad and the measure of his responsibility in the failed operation in Jordan, one cannot refrain from making more specific recommendations. In fact, I believe it is the duty of the Commission to do so. In light of the above, I recommend that Mr. Dan Yatom be relieved of his duties as Head of the Mosad.

The Division Head in Charge of the Combat Unit

___________, Division Head in charge of the Combat Unit, has much experience, with many successes to his credit, and belongs in the list of unknown combatants to whom the State of Israel is deeply indebted, whose numerous contributions cannot be publicly acknowledged.

He was in charge of the unit which carried out the field operation against Khalid Mish'al, and was therefore directly responsible for planning and approving the plans, and ordering their execution, without adequate study and without making the most of all possible sources of information to help ensure success.

This officer's main error was that he did not identify the shortcomings in the plans and approved a plan which might have perhaps been adequate for a "silent operation," not taking into account the possibility that it might rapidly turn "noisy," for various reasons. A "noisy" operation requires a totally different approach, and therefore at least part of the components of such an approach should have been included as contingencies in the plan for the operation in question. H. should not have approved this flawed and inadequate plan, and should have warned his superior more emphatically and indicated to him the plan's shortcomings. In the course of the Commission's work, the Division Head announced that he had completed his intended term of service in his current position, and that he was in the process of retiring from the Mosad.

The Commission deems it appropriate to mention H.'s particularly impressive conduct before it and his complete cooperation when giving evidence.

The Division Head -- Minority Opinion -- Rafi Peled

Following the Commission's conclusions, based on material presented to it, concerning the conduct of the Division Head and the measure of his responsibility for the failure of the operation in Jordan, it would be incorrect to refrain from making specific recommendations. In fact, I believe it is the Commission's duty to do so. H. announced his retirement from the Mosad before the Commission completed its deliberations. This action reflects my opinion, and in light of this fact I do not see the need for any additional recommendations.

The Commander and Members of the Combat Unit -- Majority Opinion

The unit that carried out the operation in Jordan is an elite unit of combatants with many successful missions to their credit, who have contributed greatly to the security of Israel, through personal sacrifice and at great personal risk. They, as well as most of their deeds, will probably remain unknown forever.

___________, Commander of this Unit, has had many years of operational activities, with extensive experience and with some very impressive achievements to his credit.

We note that this Unit functions as a single entity, with some of its members and its Commander preparing the initial layout of each mission, each participant drawing upon his experience and insight. The Unit Commander works very closely with his men, and regards them as equals. The Unit's main function is to carry out combat missions. Its proposed plans are vetted, complemented and authorized by a higher echelon, namely the Division Head and his assistants. The Division Head carries most of the responsibility for the plans. With his extensive knowledge and experience, he is expected to provide an overview of each plan as well as study all its components, making necessary modifications and correcting omissions as required, after which he may authorize it.

As previously stated, we believe that the principle reason for the failure of the operation lies in the plan and the manner in which it was devised and we have concluded that it is the Division Head, rather than the Combat Unit, who bears most of the responsibility for the failure. We perceive the members of the Combat Unit mainly as fighters in the field, with their Commander an integral part of the Unit. In this context, any attempt to dissociate T.'s duties as combatant from those as a planner would be inappropriate and artificial, and would unjustly cast upon his additional heavy responsibility in the failed mission which he does not deserve.

The Combat Unit's contribution to the planning should be viewed as stemming from their experience as combatants. They should evidently not be responsible for formulating the ultimate plan and authorizing it. The Combat Team are aware that if they are caught in the act they will be held accountable under the laws of the country in which they are operating. They are also aware of the fact that they are not above the law in their own country. Nevertheless, we believe that in assessing their responsibility one should establish whether the failure was caused by human error alone, or stemmed from a blatant violation of instructions, serious negligence, or extreme carelessness. If, on the other hand, they are penalized in every case of failure, this might well lead to a situation in which the commanders of these units, and the combatants too, fail to act, or are constrained in their actions to such an extent that their ability to carry out their missions is gravely impaired.

After studying the material before us, we have concluded that while the combatants and their Commander T. were responsible for a number of human errors in the course of the operation, these errors might have been prevented. The authorizing echelons, whose functions, we think, go well beyond providing a seal of approval, but rather play a significant role in shaping the plans and basic operational procedures, might well have prevented the development and launch of inadequate and defective plans. The Commission was informed that T. had left his position in order to pursue his studies, and we have therefore refrained from making any recommendations in this regard.

Commander and Members of the Combat Unit -- Minority Opinion -- Rafi Peled

The Unit which carried out the operation in Jordan is an elite unit of fighters who have contributed greatly to Israel's security, at great personal risk and sacrifice.

The danger and uncertainty which characterize such operations, the high risks involved and the need to carry out complex missions in unfamiliar and changing conditions, lead me to conclude that the appropriate way to examine the quality of performance of those combatants is in the context of an operational debriefing within the Unit, rather than any alternative option of investigation and trial.

___________, Commander of the Unit, began his career as a combatant, working his way up the ladder of operational duties eventually becoming Unit Commander. He has many years of responsible and high- risk operations to his credit, and his contribution to the security of the State of Israel cannot be quantified by any normal standard.

In analyzing the duties of all members of the Mosad who gave evidence before the Commission, we found T.'s position to be the most difficult and complex. He wears two caps: one, as a fighter, leading his soldiers in the field, and the other as a staff officer, a senior commander with a rank corresponding to that of an army Colonel, responsible for planning and formulating his unit's operational plans.

There is a very clear and distinct line separating T.'s position as a fighter and commander in the field, which is beyond the scope of our inquiry, and his other position, as a senior staff officer, with a direct responsibility for planning.

An important question which I had to address was whether the failure was a result of inadequate and flawed planning process and ultimate plan, or rather the result of mishaps in its implementation in the field. A thorough examination of findings presented to us and an analysis of the details of the planning procedure and the ultimate operational plan lead me to believe that the main reasons for the failure of the operation were, first and foremost, inadequate and flawed planning within the Unit under T.'s command. These shortcomings led to an erroneous and inadequate plan, approved by the higher echelons, and the combatants sent on a mission which would almost inevitably fail.

I learned that the operational concept, the method of implementation, the location of the operation, the planning procedure, the formulation of the operational plan and the operation orders were entirely devised by the Unit, under T.'s command, and I find him directly responsible for all of the above.

The chain of operational responsibility in the Mosad is comprised of three links only. Any attempt to extract a single link from the chain, and the basic planning function in particular, breaks the causal connection between the inadequate planning at the Unit level and the commanding echelons that approved the plan in a negligent fashion.

Any attempt to quantify the measure of responsibility and divide it among the three links of the chain, leads me to the conclusion that the role of the planning echelon, headed by T., is no less important than that of the other two authorizing echelons above. Thus, it would be wrong to look upon T. as a minor link, one of a number. Rather, he should be viewed as a major planner, bearing most of the responsibility for the inadequate and flawed plan.

The Commission was informed that T. had completed his term of duty and had left to pursue his studies. I therefore recommend that upon completion of T.'s studies, the Head of the Mosad take into account the findings and conclusions formulated in this report when reassigning him in the Mosad.

The Commission held its meetings in a closed facility in the central region of the country, with all evidence and discussions behind closed doors. The Commission acted in accordance with article 18(A) of the Law of Commissions of Inquiry 1968, which states that such commissions are entitled to conduct their discussions behind closed doors if they deem it necessary for reasons of national security. Needless to say, the sessions also included matters and evidence which would not be considered state secrets. However, it was not possible to draw a line between those parts which could be disclosed and those which could not. The Commission prepared this Report on the basis of the same rationale. Most of what appears in the complete Report is highly classified and cannot be made public. The Commission has therefore decided to classify the complete Report as "Top Secret."

The Commission functioned, as much as possible, as a Commission of Inquiry. It enjoyed the full cooperation of all those involved, whether summoned to give evidence or asked to provide material requested by the Commission. The members of the Commission were empowered according to Article 15(A) of the Evidence Ordinance (revised version) of 1971. Evidence was heard by the Commission, after witnesses had been suitably cautioned, following which the witnesses were entitled to review their testimonies. These, as well as any document presented, were subsequently certified by the witnesses' signatures.

This short summary of the Report is published in order to provide the public with some knowledge of the Commission's conclusions and recommendations. The difficulty involved in preparing this publication is that it conceals more than it reveals, which might be misleading. Nevertheless, we feel it our duty to bring before the public a portion, however limited, of our main conclusions, the publication of which does not divulge information harmful to the State.