An officer in Unit 504, which runs agents abroad, was embroiled in one of the ugliest episodes in the history of Israel’s military intelligence. Fearing he would talk, the authorities decided to ensure his voice wouldn’t be heard
Loaded with tranquilizers and psychiatric drugs, he was gripped by three male nurses in white gowns, who took him to the treatment room. He was apathetic, his eyes were glazed, his gaze unfocused. They made him lie on a bed and attached electric cables to his head. This was the first electric shock treatment administered to Maj. Amit, a former outstanding intelligence officer in Israel Defense Forces Unit 504, which operates agents abroad. Eleven more treatments were to follow.
The time was the late 1970s. The location: the Mazor psychiatric hospital in Acre, in northern Israel. The background is one of the darkest and ugliest episodes of Israeli intelligence; any and all information about it is still sealed. Because of the gag orders, I will code name it “Addictive Candy,” for the purpose of this article. It involved systematic illegal activity by the state over many years, and publication of its details could bring disgrace to many former intelligence officials and give Israel a bad name.
Amit – who prefers not to reveal his first name – played a secondary role in the affair, until he asked to be relieved. The security authorities, for their part, were apprehensive that he would not keep the affair secret and decided to go to extreme lengths to prevent him from talking. They might have gone too far.
Initially he was charged with espionage, no less – the allegation being that he had shared details of the operation with members of the unit who lacked the proper security clearance. It was also claimed that he had been a drug dealer. Later, the army authorities said they would drop the charges if he would agree to be confined to a closed ward. The confinement and the electroconvulsive treatments were only part of a lengthy saga of threats and humiliations by the army, the police and the Shin Bet security service. Its height came in the 1980s, when Amit was again charged with espionage, this time for initiating contact with CIA agents. For that, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
I have been following Amit’s story for more than 20 years. A host of disturbing questions still hover over it, and won’t go away. During this whole period I have attempted time and again to report the tale of the “Addictive Candy” operation. I failed. The stubborn insistence by the intelligence bodies to conceal and bury the story brought me to the conclusion that it stemmed from shame, and not from real concern for national security. The security authorities and the courts blocked every attempt of mine by means of secrecy ordinances, gag orders and sweeping censorship.
Recently I tried again to shatter the conspiracy of silence, along with journalist Doron Galezer and attorney Shlomy Zachary, and backed by former senior military and government figures, including an Israel Defense Forces general, who believe, as we do, that the time has come to shed light on this old case. Once again, however, the justices of the Supreme Court, in a closed-door session, decided to reject the request, after hearing the director of Military Intelligence, Gen. Tamir Hayman, ex parte.
This article is based on conversations with a large number of intelligence officers and lawyers, all of whom asked not to be identified, as well as on medical records and legal documents.
For his part, Amit has remained silent for years. Now, at the age of 75, he is ready to tell his life story, in the hope of righting some of the wrong he feels was done to him. Next week, via his lawyer Elad Mann, he will submit a new petition to the Supreme Court demanding that the security authorities turn over all relevant documents to him.
Three bullets in the stomach
Amit was born in Haifa in 1945, an only child. His father was a police officer in the Haifa district, a “strong and dominating person,” he says. “He brought home the tension from his police work and sometimes burst out at me for all kinds of things. I loved him, but I knew children who loved their fathers more than I did.”
The background is one of the darkest and ugliest episodes of Israeli intelligence. The publication of its details could bring disgrace to many former intelligence officials and give Israel a bad name.
Upon being drafted, he was sent to a naval course. “That wasn’t for me,” he says. “I took part in a few operations in Lebanon, and from the moment we set sail, I would be throwing up like crazy. Toward the end of the course, when we returned from a training cruise near Barcelona, I left.”
During his military service Amit got married; he and his wife have two children.
After his short-lived naval experience, he joined the Border Police and served on the northern border, in the late 1960s, where he got into trouble for the first time. “A terrorist force fired at [Moshav] Margaliot,” he relates, “and we decided that we would cross over the border and pursue them. We hit two of them. The paramedic who was with us claimed that I shot the third terrorist while he lay wounded on the ground. I found myself in a dilemma in the field, and I pumped another volley into him. It was a confirmation [of kill]. Anyway, the Military Police called me in for an interrogation, for killing a wounded terrorist. Luckily for me, Raful [Rafael Eitan, later IDF chief of staff], who was the division commander at the time, came to my aid and testified that we had operated exactly according to protocol.”
Were those border ambushes scary?
“Call me crazy, but there’s one thing I’m not afraid of: I am not afraid to die. Our mission was to defend the northern communities, and that’s what we had to do. Besides that, I loved the country.”
“Don’t make me laugh.”
Amit was subsequently made operations officer in the elite Egoz reconnaissance unit, which occasionally carried out operations in Lebanon. “It was the most beautiful time of my life,” Amit recalls. “Today, everything has changed. Back then, a soldier didn’t always have to have a lawyer by his side. If guys took shoes or a watch from the terrorists they killed, no one made a fuss.”
Amit was wounded seriously in 1972, when the army launched an extensive raid in Lebanon following the murder of the Israeli athletes in Munich. “I took three bullets in the chest and the stomach, and then there was an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] explosion. I was hit by 70 fragments of different sizes,” Amir says, showing the scars. His injuries left him with a permanent limp.
When he realized that the wound would prevent his promotion to company commander in the unit, he decided he would leave the army. Just before his discharge, he happened to meet Lt. Col. Yehoshua Bar-Tikva, the commander of the northern district of Unit 504, who suggested that he join up. Amit hesitated, mulled it over, and finally agreed. That was a decision he regrets to this day.
Throughout most of its existence, Unit 504 was seen as unrestrained and uninhibited in its operations. In the first years after Israel’s establishment, the country’s borders were regularly breached in both directions. That made it easier to recruit agents to work on Israel’s behalf, but it also allowed enemy agents and drug smugglers to enter Israel. The smuggling served the unit up to a point, by providing the agents with a cover story, but the ties between smugglers and officers of Unit 504 created an opening for corruption. That problem was especially widespread in the north.
“The unit was involved in a lot of things that were on the brink of criminal,” says a former 504 officer. “Apparently, there were officers who engaged in actual smuggling of drugs, gold, electrical devices, you name it. You have to understand that in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was no problem to cross the border and enter Lebanon or any other neighboring country. There was something very alluring in what the unit did. The whole business of intelligence and illegal commerce was very intermixed.”
Senior Lebanese government figures were involved in their country’s drug operations, which were worth billions of dollars. Crime families figured out how to collaborate with the government in Beirut, with the Syrians and, after the occupation of South Lebanon by the IDF since the mid-1970s. Unit 504 was aware of the drug trade for decades, followed the route of the drugs – mostly hashish and opium – across the Middle East and also turned them to its own advantage.
Amit was posted to the unit’s base on Mount Meron and was appointed to be a case officer – namely, a recruiter and handler of agents. He excelled in the job and earned praise from his superiors. Summing up a personal interview held with him in November 1974, one of his commanders, an officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel, wrote: “I am pleased with the way he has taken to the job, and I see him as having the potential for making his way up the ladder of positions in the unit. He performs his duties seriously and sees his work in the unit as a challenge.”
Amit served in Unit 504 during the Yom Kippur War in 1973-74 in Syria and later that year, the unit’s commander, Col. Yigal Simon, promoted him to the rank of major and appointed him to command the unit’s base in Nahariya, a seaside town not far from the Lebanese border. “He performs his task very well,” Simon wrote about him. “I am convinced that he can further the base and the matters he is in charge of.”
The base’s sector of responsibility stretched from Rosh Hanikra on the border with Lebanon, along the Mediterranean Sea and inland to Hadera. Amit set out to recruit potential intelligence sources who arrived from Lebanon via sea and land.
How do you convince someone to become an agent or informant?
“You can offer humanitarian and family aid; you can compensate him. Everything is possible. We live in the State of Israel, but next to the State of Israel is another state: the State of Intelligence. The State of Israel is nothing compared to the State of Intelligence. Their people can enter any place and do whatever they want.”
Around this time a new commander, Col. Moshe Kristal took over in the unit. “From the first minute I didn’t get along with him,” Amit relates. Toward the end of 1976, Kristal asked Amit to move to the unit’s headquarters, in Tel Aviv. Amit was not inclined to make the move, but agreed in the end. Kristal refused to tell him in advance what he would be doing. Only once he had arrived at the Kirya – defense establishment headquarters – and signed a new secrecy form, was the mission made known to Amit. It was “Addictive Candy,” a top-secret, clandestine operation, known only to a very small group of intelligence officers.
‘We live in the State of Israel, but next to the State of Israel is another state: the State of Intelligence. The State of Israel is nothing compared to the State of Intelligence. Their people can enter any place and do whatever they want.’
“In short order, I understood that I was mired in crap,” he says. “I returned exhausted and irritable from trips of hundreds of kilometers. My clothes had a strange aroma. My wife asked me what the smell was and I couldn’t tell her. I met with dubious characters. I wanted out and I spoke to Kristal, but he refused.”
Distressed, Amit turned to two female colleagues at headquarters – a master sergeant and an officer – and told them about his plight. “Tell him to get me out of this crap,” he implored them. It didn’t help – on the contrary.
About four months later, police detectives arrested Amit’s driver, Boaz Yemini, and another civilian. They were found to be in possession of 19 kilos of hashish, worth about 100,000 shekels (about $28,000) in today’s terms. Yemini admitted to possession and trafficking, adding that he had dealt in hashish and opium in the preceding months as well. He had done so, he added, with the knowledge of his commanding officer, Amit, who, according to Yemini, was also a partner to the deeds. Amit was also arrested and the investigation was transferred to the Military Police. Amit admitted to having told Yemini that he could do whatever he wanted, but denied his driver’s allegation that he himself was involved in the drug deals.
Field Security officers and Amit’s superiors in 504 were appalled. Fearful that the unit’s secrets would leak out and embarrass them, the entire IDF and the Israeli government, they clamped a strict gag order on the arrests and the investigation. Indictments were filed against Yemini and Amit in a military court. Yemini pleaded guilty and was sentenced to military prison for drug dealing. Amit was charged with drug dealing and also with espionage – for having shared information with the master sergeant and the officer without authorization and contrary to his undertaking of secrecy.
At a certain stage, Kristal and the MI brass realized that Amit was determined to “fight the charges and maybe to go public” and to prove his innocence in court. A trial, they worried, was liable to reveal information that would spark a world-wide scandal. This concern was part of the background to the offer made to Amit to revoke his indictment if he agreed to be committed to a psychiatric hospital.
“The choice I faced was hospitalization or imprisonment for espionage,” Amit says. His lawyer, Israel Inbar, leaped at the army’s offer. “In my view, it was coerced confinement with the purpose of silencing me and getting me out of the way, and they succeeded very well.”
During his three-year confinement in the closed ward of Mazor, Amit felt he had lost every shred of humanity. On one of her visits to the hospital, his wife found out by chance that the doctors were treating him with electroconvulsive therapy. Under the law, physicians who wish to administer that form of therapy must get the consent of a first-degree relative. The electric shock treatments ceased following her complaint.
Amit became increasingly embittered after his release in 1982 from the hospital. He found a job as a private detective in Haifa and enrolled for academic studies. But the effects of his hospitalization and his medical condition made it impossible for him to conduct a normal life. He was restless and would disappear from home for hours, wandering the streets aimlessly.
In 1984, he chanced to meet a sergeant from the U.S. Marines, whose ship was anchored in Haifa port. The Marine introduced himself as “David” and the two became friends. Amit told David that he was a discharged officer and was weighing various business offers. David said he intended to retire from the Marines soon, move to Germany and start a clothing business. Amit was enthusiastic and David said he would stay in touch. Indeed, not long afterward he called from the United States and invited Amit to meet with him in Germany. The two met in the Savoy Hotel in Frankfurt and talked about establishing a joint business.
It’s not known whether David was a CIA recruiter or really just a sergeant in the Marines, but at the end of the meeting they agreed to meet the next day in a small town near Cologne. David arrived at the meeting accompanied by a man he introduced as Bob, who “belongs to the good guys.” The latter intimated to Amit that he knew about his service in MI, mentioned details that Amit had not told David about, and then said, “We want your help.” Amit replied that he was willing to work for American intelligence, but with the proviso that he would not provide information about Israel, only about Lebanon and Syria. In return, he asked for a salary and a U.S. passport. Bob replied, “We can talk about that,” but first wanted “more details about Israel.” Amit refused.
For his recruitment, Amit had to undergo tests to establish his credibility. A man and a woman came to his hotel room and conducted a psychometric diagnosis and a polygraph test. Amit, who understood by then which way the wind was blowing, deliberately lied and thus failed the test and decided to break off contact with Bob. Amit recalls that Bob offered him $2,000 for “expenses” but he declined, saying, “I don’t want your American dirty money.”
The next day Amit went to the airport, knowing he would not see those people again.
You were an experienced intelligence officer, you knew the tricks, so why did you agree to meet with the Americans?
“I wanted to get out of Israel, because of what I had been through. I was in distress, so the idea of starting a business with David was attractive to me. I am not naive. I was a handler and I knew what recruitment was. But even so, when David suggested that I meet with his friends, I had no idea where it would lead. I didn’t think I would be a target for recruitment. I was ready to work for the Americans as a consultant on Lebanon and Syria. I knew Arabic and I told Bob that I was ready to help them with anything, only not against Israel. I didn’t tell them a thing about Israel or military secrets.
“The truth is that I was surprised that they knew more than I did about MI. When I understood that Bob was trying to take me down the slope of recruitment involving Israel, I realized that the only way out was to lie in the polygraph test, which I did. My warning lights should have lit up much earlier, and for that I feel remorse.”
A flat tire
Amit went back to Israel to his routine, and to contending with daily mental distress – which included nightmares and jolting flashbacks. He was always on the lookout for anyone who was ready to listen to him talk about his distress. One such person, whom Amit considered a close friend, was Jimmy, a nickname adopted by Nazmi Wahsh Samaniya, who boasted that he was the first Bedouin in Israel to be recruited into the Paratroops. Jimmy, who is from Moshav Ya’ara, a mixed Jewish-Bedouin community in Galilee, was part of a group who used to hang out with personnel from 504 and from the Shin Bet. During one of Amit’s visits to friends in the moshav, Jimmy overheard what had transpired in Germany – and decided to pass on the information to a Shin Bet officer with whom he was in contact. Amit was put under surveillance.
On March 24, 1986, about two years after the trip to Germany, Amit and his wife went to the parking lot of their apartment building on Leon Blum Street in Haifa. They noticed that their car had a flat tire. As Amit was changing the tire, police officers pounced on him, handcuffing him and taking him to the police station in Petah Tikva, which housed the unit for international criminal investigations and the Shin Bet interrogations department.
“During the entire car ride, no one spoke to me and I didn’t know why I was being arrested,” Amit recalls. “I was thrown into a small cell, moldy and smelly, that wasn’t even fit for animals.” A few hours later he was taken for interrogation and accused of being a spy who had betrayed Israel and revealed its secrets. Amit denied this vehemently and refused to sign a confession. Every few days he was moved to a different detention facility: “I was held in total isolation. They tried to humiliate me in order to break me. Warders spat into the food that had been thrown by the door and cursed me. When I was taken to court for additional remand, I was paraded through the street handcuffed, so everyone would see.”
‘In my view, it was coerced confinement with the purpose of silencing me and getting me out of the way, and they succeeded very well.’
During Amit’s interrogations, the police officers mocked him and said he was mentally ill. “Your wife will divorce you,” they laughed. On one occasion, his son, then an officer in the Armored Corps, was brought in for questioning. Amit was threatened that if he did not cooperate his son would be ejected from the IDF. One police officer slapped his face. Finally, even though he denied the allegations of spying and of betraying Israel, he admitted the facts about meeting with the Americans.
His trial was held in 1986 in the Haifa District Court in camera and under rigorous censorship. Amit was convicted of being in contact with foreign agents, being in possession of secret documents and of aggravated espionage. The conviction was based on Amit’s confession, and on Jimmy’s testimony. Amit claimed that Jimmy had lied and fabricated evidence, but the three-judge panel sentenced Amit to 12 years in prison. He appealed to the Supreme Court, but the appeal was rejected. During his time in jail someone leaked to an Israeli-American newspaper that he had spied for Syria.
He was held in a prison in Ramle, fired with a powerful desire to tell the world about his situation, about what he was going through, and above all that he had not spied for Syria or betrayed any military secrets. With the proficiency of the wily intelligence officer that he was, he persuaded a social worker at the prison to bring a cassette recorder and tapes into his isolated cell, recorded his life story and smuggled out the recordings to the journalists Zohara Ron, Anat Saragusti and Menachem Sheiz who reported in 1988, under the limitations of severe censorship, the fact of his arrest and trial.
Amit’s escapades in prison worried the Shin Bet and MI. One day he was visited by someone who introduced himself as “Danny Cna’an.” After his release from prison, Amit found out that his visitor had been the then-director of the Shin Bet, Yaakov Peri. He asked Amit not to disseminate confidential information and assured him that the defense establishment was attentive to his problems. If he would only wait patiently, he would have a greater chance of being released early.
Amit was in fact released after serving seven years of his sentence. His army rank was left untouched. He now gets an IDF pension and a disability allowance for his combat injuries. In his leisure time he does volunteer work in the association of former Egoz soldiers. But above all, he continues to feel that he was victimized by a predatory system that betrayed him and silenced every attempt to report on his case, for fear its own shameful exploits would be exposed to the world.
“Look, I am not a paragon of virtue,” he admits. “I did a lot of dumb things during my military service, things contrary to protocol. But it’s a long way from there to what I went through. It’s hard to describe in words the feeling during electric shock treatments. You don’t feel like a living person, but like a slab of meat, skin and bones. For years I couldn’t fall asleep and I had awful nightmares, which still happen.”
Don’t you feel responsible for your deeds?
“The responsibility for my deeds is clear, and I assume full responsibility. I should not have agreed to enter a psychiatric hospital. That’s how it all began.”
Why did you agree?
“I wasn’t asked about entering Mazor. The question makes it sound as if I had a choice, and chose to be committed. I was a soldier who obeyed orders. They decided to hospitalize me.”
Is there anything you regret?
“I regret the misery I had caused my family which, despite everything, supported and stayed with me. We remain united but because of me they suffered a great deal. That should not have happened.”
By Yossi Melman