Bungled spy plot lands Mossad agents in Swiss jail

Israeli media reported Wednesday that the failure of a Mossad operation last week in Western Europe led in part to the resignation of the head of the foreign intelligence agency, Danny Yatom.

But because of restrictions imposed on reporting the story, Israel Television said only that the incident occurred in a Western European country with "one of the most friendly" relations with Israel.

Details were barred from publication because "a person's life depends on it," Israel Television reported, adding that the foul-up threatened Israel's relations with the country in which it took place.

Israeli officials are reportedly negotiating with Swiss officials for the release of the two agents.

The report said a Knesset subcommittee on the security services had been briefed on the incident — but only after the committee chair, Uzi Landau, first heard of it from another source, and then approached Yatom to verify whether it was true.

The report expanded on a story appearing Wednesday in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot that a recent Mossad failure may be linked to Yatom's decision to resign Tuesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to comment.

Yatom resigned after a government inquiry held him responsible for the failed assassination attempt last September on a Hamas leader in Jordan. Yatom agreed, at Netanyahu's request, to stay on until a new director is appointed.

Though Netanyahu approved the plan to assassinate Khaled Mashaal, the government-appointed commission probing the affair last week cleared him of any blame.

The commission, headed by a former Defense Ministry director general, Yosef Chekhanover, reserved its criticism for Yatom, saying he bore "a heavy responsibility" for the flawed mission.

The failed operation seriously strained relations between Israel and Jordan, which reportedly refused to reinstate security cooperation with the agency unless Yatom left. Pressure on him to step down reportedly also came from within the agency.

In his letter of resignation, Yatom said he categorically disagreed with the conclusions of the Chekhanover Commission. But "as someone who bears overall responsibility for Mossad activities, I have no intention of ignoring the report, and therefore I decided to submit my resignation."

Yatom was appointed Mossad chief in May 1996 by former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Possible successors being named include former Mossad head Shabtai Shavit; a former deputy head, Ephraim Halevy, currently Israel's representative to the European Union; and Uri Saguy, former head of the IDF intelligence branch.