An Excerpt from “Head of the Mossad” by Shabtai Shavit

Shabtai Shavit, director of the Mossad from 1989 to 1996, is one of the most influential leaders to shape the recent history of the State of Israel. In this exciting and engaging book, Shavit combines memoir with sober reflection to reveal what happened during the seven years he led what is widely recognized today as one of the most powerful and proficient intelligence agencies in the world. Head of the Mossad is a compelling guide to the reach of and limits facing intelligence practitioners, government officials, and activists throughout Israel and the Middle East.

From the Introduction

The ceremony marking the change of command of the Mossad, during which I received my letter of appointment, took place on April 19, 1989, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Among those present were Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who had chosen me to serve as director of the Mossad; minister of defense and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff Dan Shomron, former Mossad directors, the Mossad Division Heads’ Forum (Rasha), the Heads of Services Committee (Varash), the military secretary to the prime minister, the prime minister’s veteran stenographer Mitka Yaffe, the outgoing Mossad director Nahum Admoni and his family, and my own family, with the exception of my youngest son, who was off skiing in Switzerland.

The ceremony was modest and conducted with an air of understatement characteristic of Prime Minister Shamir. The prime minister read out Nahum’s letter marking the end of his tenure and thanked him briefly for his service and for his long-standing contribution to Israel’s national security. Nahum delivered some parting words. The prime minister read out my letter of appointment and wished me good luck in the new position. I then gave my prepared remarks, to which I had given a great deal of thought.

I began by mentioning my twenty-five years of service in the Mossad, which I believed had trained me for the esteemed role that I was taking on. Even so, I accepted the role with apprehension, veneration, and trepidation. I thanked the prime minister for choosing me, and Nahum for warmly recommending me for the job. I thanked my family and especially my wife, who at the beginning of my career had partaken in covert activities along with me. I emphasized the great sacrifice required of the family members of Mossad operatives.

I praised the Rasha forum, which constitutes the management of the Mossad. These are people who have accumulated hundreds of years of experience among them, and because covert affairs are learned in the field rather than in academia, their combined experience is priceless. They are people who are tough, who tend to say little and keep their feelings hidden. I also commended the Varash forum, stressing that the cooperation among Military Intelligence, the Shin Bet, and the Mossad, through which each body contributes its unique abilities, creates a power multiplier that brings about results that no one body could produce alone. Finally, I expressed my support and best wishes to the Mossad’s employees and operatives scattered across the globe, including in enemy countries, whose actions guarantee the security of the people and the State of Israel.

I thought that the occasion of my acceptance of the position, in the presence of the prime minister and others, merited the expression of my thoughts, and my remarks lasted a few minutes. I remember that while I was speaking the prime minister leaned over to the person standing next to him and whispered, “I never knew that Shabtai could speak!” I had met with Prime Minister Shamir several times before that ceremony, in various meetings and contexts, but I had never said, whether in response to a question or at my own initiative, more than the minimum required to express my opinion on the issue at hand. I had always felt that the prime minister’s time was a precious commodity and that his status required reverence both in speech and in behavior. Thus to him I appeared to be “the silent type”—which incidentally, could have described him as well—and, as the saying goes, I have never regretted the things I did not say.

The ceremony ended with a toast and a tasting of Jerusalem’s famous burekas (savory stuffed pastries) served in the prime minister’s bureau, and then everyone went on their way. I drove from Jerusalem toward the coastal plain, and, with a feeling of awe, I entered the office of the director of the Mossad and took my seat on the chair that I had gazed upon for so many years.


This blog post is part of the Enriching Scholarly Communication and Connections through Notre Dame Press project and has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

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