Bin Laden search 'useless, hopeless': Israeli expert
Arch-Nazi's captor urges U.S. to make a deal
Thursday, October 18, 2001
The Israeli secret service agent who tracked down and captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in South America says the United States has no chance of pulling off a similar intelligence coup as it searches for Osama bin Laden.
In one of the most audacious intelligence operations in history, former Mossad agent Zvi Aharoni located Mr. Eichmann in hiding in Argentina in 1960, then helped snatch the former Gestapo chief and spirit him back to Israel for trial.
But Mr. Aharoni says it is "futile" for the U.S. to try to capture the leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist group, who is believed to be hiding in the hills of Afghanistan.
"To look for him in a country like Afghanistan is hopeless unless you capture everyone in the whole country," said Mr. Aharoni, 80, from his home in Britain. "It is a huge country and not developed, with deserts and caves where he cannot be found."
Instead of conducting a doomed manhunt, Mr. Aharoni says, the U.S. should accept the proposal offered by the Taliban to hand him over for trial in a third country in exchange for evidence linking him the crime.
"It's useless, hopeless. They will go on for months. You must accept there is no way to catch him."
Mr. Eichmann, the architect of Hitler's "Final Solution," which killed six million European Jews, escaped from Germany after the Second World War and moved to South America in 1950 under the name Ricardo Klement.
Mr. Aharoni was sent to Argentina to investigate a tip that a Jewish émigré had spotted Mr. Eichmann and his family living near Buenos Aires. Operating undercover, Mr. Aharoni followed Mr. Eichmann's son to the family home in a suburb of the city. Mr. Aharoni photographed "Ricardo Klement" exhaustively and compared the pictures to known photos of Mr. Eichmann. Mr. Aharoni knew he had the right man when, on March 21 -- Mr. Eichmann's wedding anniversary -- "Mr. Klement" brought flowers home to his wife.
With Mr. Aharoni's help, Mossad agents snatched Mr. Eichmann off the street as he walked home, then smuggled him out of the country on an El Al flight. An Israeli court sentenced Mr. Eichmann to death for orchestrating the genocide. He was hanged in 1962.
Mr. Aharoni says that the Eichmann abduction succeeded because Argentina did not know the Nazi was living in Buenos Aires, or that Mossad agents were in the country searching for him.
Such an operation would be much more difficult in Afghanistan, he says, because the Taliban may know where Mr. bin Laden is hiding and will likely protect him from U.S. special forces.
If the objective truly is to capture Mr. bin Laden, Mr. Aharoni says, the U.S. is wasting its time and killing innocent people by bombing Afghanistan. "There's nobody in the United Nations to say stop it," he says. He calls United Nations General Secretary Kofi Anan "a jellyfish" for not forcing the U.S. to accept the Taliban's offer.
U.S. President George Bush has said he wants Mr. bin Laden caught "dead or alive" for his alleged role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But with the military action under way, the U.S. administration's rhetoric is increasingly focused on punishing the Taliban regime for harbouring terrorists. There is no longer much talk of catching Mr. bin Laden, who may even have left Afghanistan.
Mr. Aharoni's account of the operation in Argentina, titled Operation Eichmann: The Truth About the Pursuit, Capture and Trial, was published in 1997.
© Copyright 2001 The Ottawa Citizen