Mossad agent arrested for lying about Syria over past 20 years

JERUSALEM — An agent for Israel's Mossad has been arrested and charged with supplying false information on Syria during the past two decades.

Investigators suspect that Yehuda Gil, 63, also kept up to $57,000 in funds intended for other sources.

The incident is the latest scandal to shake the Israeli spy service.

The now-retired Israeli Mossad agent twice reported that Syria planned military attacks against Israel, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported Monday.

Ha'aretz reported that Gil first reported that Syria planned to attack in 1980, when he cited sources saying that Syrian troop movements in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley were preparations for an attack against Israel.

According to Ha'aretz, Gil then reported last year that Syrian President Hafez Assad planned to launch a surprise attack on the Mount Hermon area following a military exercise in the region.

In both instances, the army devised plans to call up reserve soldiers. Ultimately, it was decided not to follow through on the plans out of a concern that they could fuel tensions.

Gil's attorney denied reports that he had deceived Israel for 20 years. Meanwhile, Israeli media reported that there were suspicions about the veracity of Gil's reports as early as 1985.

Three separate investigation teams in the Israel Defense Force intelligence division and the Mossad are investigating what damage any false information may have caused.

Two teams will examine whether the information had any meaningful impact on intelligence assessments. A third committee will examine the agent-source relationship.

In last year's incident, Gil reported that Assad, frustrated by the lack of progress in peace negotiations, decided that after the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the chance of securing any territorial concessions from Israel was unlikely and that a military action was the only option.

During this period, Syrian troop movements were reported in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Israeli officials raised their concerns with American officials, who said they had no confirmation of such plans. France also said it had no information of a planned military action by Damascus, and that the movements were defensive.

Israel requested that calming messages be conveyed to Syria via the Americans as well as Egypt.

In the 1980 incident, the Syrian army had attacked Christian areas in Lebanon. Israel responded by flying sorties over Beirut.

At a certain point, Syrian troops began moving into new sites in the Bekaa Valley.

The development raised some concern that the Syrians were planning a wide-ranging action.

At that time, there was debate within the IDF over whether Syria had the resources to mount an offensive against Israel, versus calls to send forces to the north.

Ultimately, it was decided not to respond to the troop movements. Within the Mossad, Gil's superiors concluded that his information of any planned military action was not complete.

The Mossad's image was already battered this year by September's failed assassination attempt on Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan.