Tel Aviv, Israel 61321
First Exposure: The Safe Breaker of the Mossad
By Sagie Green, 'Magazine for Passover'; Yediot Achronot; 18 April 2006, pg. 6-10
Photographs by Yonatan Blum
translated from Hebrew and minor editing by Historama.com
"I did everything with just one eye, because through the other I can't see"
|With his own hands he caught Arab marauders, executed Nazis, brought Eichmann on the plane from Argentina and cracked locks and safes in the service of the Mossad. "Our method is to not leave traces", says Moshe Tavor, the man before whom no door was left closed|
One of the things that you immediately pay attention to is the large palms of the hands. Moshe Tavor will be 90 years old this year, and still his handshake cracks bones. When he was a soldier in the British Army, no one from among the 600 soldiers in the battalion succeeded in beating him at arm-wrestling. These ten fingers, and all what they did, these are the reasons for our meetings together, which took place - like a cliche from a spy movie - on a public bench in the National Park in Ramat Gan.
Over the course of years Moshe Tavor was a lock-breaker in the service of the State: there wasn't a door which remained closed before him, there was almost no safe which he didn't succeed in cracking. The stage of his life began a little after his service in the Jewish Brigade and the War of Independence, during which he made completely different use of his two hands.
Before more than 50 years, he received a phone call at the metal plant in Kibbutz Hanita where he lived. They asked him to come to the 'Kirya' [military complex] in Tel Aviv for a meeting with a man he didn't know called Isser Har'el. He remembers a small house with a long table inside with two wooden benches on either side of it, like in a kibbutz, on one of which sat a short man. Har'el, who then stood at the head of the security services, explained that he's looking for technical person and offered Tavor to establish a seminar which would deal with something he was already specialized in: locks. Har'el asked that he try it for a year, and if not, that he should return to Hanita.
Tavor began to train workers at the labor shop in Yafo. "I recruited five-six people, and we began to work on all what was connected to opening and closing". He was already not going to return to the kibbutz; he and his wife received an apartment in Yad Eliyahu, where their three children were born. "I was the boss there for many years, and we made very many developments and very many penetration operations, also domestically and also abroad".
"They would bring me locks", he describes the work, "and I would crack the system and understand how to arrive at the development of the key, and to open them". He would buy or acquire the needed lock and practice on it, do research and train, and when he reached the solution he would create from a blank - "key zero", the basic pattern of the necessary key for that lock - the key which with exact planning would open it. "I had the biggest collection of blanks that there is, hundreds and hundreds of different profiles and thousands of locks. I even ordered locks and blanks from factory catalogues, for what I would need in the future".
How do you open a lock at all? "For a start", explains Tavor, "I practice with a steel rod of a certain profile, which they called 'snake' or 'wave'; and also with a 'toothpick', a kind of short metal stick with a point at the end. Snakes have all kinds of turns, according to all kinds of possible combinations of the order of the pins inside a cylinder lock. He who knows how they built the lock knows how to connect these combinations. The toothpick enables me to dig into the lock and to advance, to understand the order of the pins and to arrange them for an opening".
"A different method to open a lock is with 'pressures': I enter the correct blank which belongs to this specific lock, and with a turning motion and an upward-downward movement, those same pins which catch the blank and prevent it from turning leave small imprints on the rod, an engraving. At those places I would file away, and at the moment where I reached the correct height which the pin reaches, the pressures would stop and there were no more signs - and I would stop filing. That's how the process went until I had a key in hand. In the beginning I would practice through dry runs, and when I began to feel sufficiently skilled I was prepared to go and open the lock 'wet', at the location where it was".
What about combination locks, those with a series of numbers and no key? Tavor laughs. "In the United States there's a company by the name 'Sargeant and Greenleaf' which manufactures combination locks for safes and also runs courses for certified locksmiths on how to open them in the event that someone forgets the code. But Israel in those days didn't have the money to send someone like Moshe Tavor to America, indeed they had to send all kinds of wheeler-dealers, so I ordered this class by correspondence course and that's how I completed all the sets of combination locks".
Combination locks with the dial are the most complicated, explains Tavor. For those you need an instinct, a sensitivity, an unusual gentleness in the fingers: "You practice lots and lots to reach the sensation, an exactitude of millimeters among the difference of a number from between 40, you suddenly feel some kind of click and this means that the dial has reached the correct number". So you don't use a stethoscope? Tavor motions with his hand in a declining manner. "That's just in the movies. A good lock breaker needs sensation in his fingers in order to feel the contact points which a normal person doesn't feel, and there's nothing better than to spot the microscopic engravings of which the pins leave behind on the blank, and I did everything with just one eye because through the other I don't see', he laughs. And what about the famous movie scenes in which the secret agent imprints the profile of the key in a piece of gum" "That's possible with a type of plasteline in a special device which has talcum powder spread on it, and from this you can make a hard blank". And in order to open a safe you don't need any kind of equipment? "Not according to our method", he replies. What's the method? "Our method is to not leave behind any traces. I have a key to an apartment, and I'm familiar with the lock to a safe. So all I need is a notebook and a pen, and I begin to work, sometimes even for two hours: I jot down, create a table, make calculations, and then say 'good, this is the combination', turn it according to the numbers written before me, turn the handle left, and the safe door opens. And then it's a celebration". Except that this party was a little spoiled in the last quarter of the 20th Century when combination locks with the 'manipulation proof' device - which are protected from cracking through finger sense - became widespread. "These kinds of locks we would open through different methods", says Tavor.
The Boy Moshe Flies
We will return to all these methods, but here is the first picture, the first memory: a small boy stands on the wooden beams of the balcony at his home, just four steps separate him from the street, and he observes with interest the tumult all around him: a long line of men march across from him, defeated German and Austrian soldiers who journey on they way back home at the end of the First World War. Their guns and large cannons leave an intense impression on him.
Moshe Karpovich was a rebellious boy. Just a little time had passed from when he began to learn at a 'Cheder' [religious school] in the town of Voltermantz in Lithuania until he told his parents that he was fed up with the repetition and unsophisticated writing, and started a strike. Like his older brother Aharon, he wanted to learn "culture" in the Jewish school. Without much option, after a few days his parents succeeded in entering him into one of the classes. Also there the troubles didn't end. Once he left school and got lost. It was winter and snowing, and like always arose the concern that the gypsies had kidnapped him. In the end the boy was found sleeping in the Jewish cemetery. It turned out that he went out to walk around, got tired, went to rest and fell asleep under one of the monuments.
He was born in 1917, the middle between three brothers, to Yehuda, who made shoe samples for women, and to Batya. It was a secular home which didn't delve much into politics, but in 1925, when he was seven years old, they decided to leave Lithuania. When they reached Palestine the boat didn't reach the wharf. Large Arab sailors in white sleeves and bear chests came and gathered the passengers in rowboats paddling to the shore. The grown-ups went down to the rowboats on rope ladders, the children the stevedores threw one after the other like packages. The boy Moshe, flew. In the air he sees his new house which is in Yafo.
From there they moved to the neighborhood of Neve Shalom. They lived together with Arabs; with some of the children he played, with others he fought. Once, one boy cried to him [in Arabic] "Death to the Jews". Moshe started to chase after him. "I wanted to give him a beating. I ran after him until we reached an Arab caf? on the sea shore. On the roof were fancy clothes and straw stools, and people played backgammon. This kid, who didn't have any strength left to run, then lay on the ground like this and I grabbed him by the head and punched his face a few times in the stool. I got up. Looked around and I left. They didn't touch me". This wouldn't be the last time that national pride would dictate his steps.
The System of the Changing Pages
Already at the national school they discovered that Moshe had unique hand skills. And because his parents didn't have the money to send him to the [Herzliya] Gymnasium, they decided to send him to the Max Fine trade school. "Is it alright to give myself a compliment?" he asks, "I was a good student. I was exceptional. I had a talent in my hands for gentle physiology and great accuracy, and also a sense for beauty, for esthetics and design. I knew how to build things". And he who knows how to build and to assemble apparently also knows how to take apart, to separate and to open. "There", he says, "began my romance with locks".
As a member of the immigrant camp movement, he joined the first core which in 1938 erected the "wall and tower" kibbutz of Hanita. Even this wall contributed somehow to the deed that Moshe Tavor turned into a safe cracker: "In the kibbutz they used to lock the food in a refrigerator at night, and we, when we returned from guard duty, really wanted the things that were inside. So I began to train with a metal rod, like those with a certain profile, and with special toothpicks, until I would succeed in opening the lock".
When he was in training at Kibbutz Deganya, in preparation for the movement to Hanita, came the first work of its kind which became later on the center of Moshe's professional life: a safe-cracker in the service of the State. With the quelling of the Druze rebellion in Lebanon, the French brought over large quantities of weapons to the storage at Kordany, next to Haifa. "We, with our sharp mind, understood that the place most appropriate for this weaponry was the Hagana [Jewish self-defense movement]. So we would undertake appropriations, 'rekhesh', as they called it. We worked there in a sophisticated way: there was a diary organized on numbered pages on which they wrote how much weaponry was received on such and such a day. We went to a printer in Haifa and he prepared us exactly the same diary pages. I was already familiar with covert opening and clean opening of locks. So the foreign guard they used to drive out to be entertained in Haifa, and I would open the storage lock, and from there we would bring the weapons to trucks of the Hagana. The original diary pages we would simply switch with the printings of our own: if for example it was written that on a certain day there were received '117 guns', we wrote '17 guns' and our printing we entered in place of the original pages".
Wingate in Full Nudity
But on the way waited for him a few more important stations. Still in Deganya Tavor head a rumor: there's an officer in the British Army, Orde Wingate was his name, who is gathering around himself Jewish soldiers. "I heard that they established the Special Night Squads. It was like a legend", he recounts. "I was perhaps half a year at Ein Harod with Wingate. We would go to the Arab villages and wage battles or capture leaders of gangs. He spoke Hebrew not bad, and the Bible didn't leave the palm of his hand, for everything he found justification in the Bible. Look, he wasn't a comrade to become friendly with in particular, but he also didn't keep a distance. Once I brought him a letter to the tent and found him naked like on the day of his birth, and he didn't offer any curses of authority, the ranks weren't on his shoulder".
Tavor describes an atmosphere of a wild but professional commando unit. "It wasn't an organized army, with all the accoutrements. Wingate for example went about just in khaki shorts, and everything was quite informal". Tavor was important, he had a backpack with five or six grenades and at the hour of battle he could throw far. In his red leather Arab belt he had packed guns and magazine. Even today, if you give him this gun, he'll know how to use it, he's sure of it. With his eyes blindfolded he used to be able to assemble and take it apart.
Their operations the Night Squads did far from their base. They used to go tens of kilometers on foot until they reached their destination. "We used to go in the darkness, in a line, Wingate always marched at the head. Of all our actions I remember one specifically: after the massacre in Tiberias we surrounded the village of Lubiya, and there we assassinated them - we killed some ten of theirs". How did you know who committed the massacre? Wingate had his methods. Firstly, he knew Arabic, and secondly he had good intelligence, which he received from the Hagana and from people whom he 'handled' in the field on his own. And when he used to catch someone who looked suspicious to him, he would tear off his shirt and look if there were signs of a rifle belt on his skin". Did he get emotional in action? "There was no emotion. In the thick of battle you shoot or throw grenades, and there is a little perception of fog; you're in the midst of the action and nothing else exists except this. After all, we were in a dangerous situation, they shot, they weren't playing". The action, is that what drew him towards the Night Squads? "I think that I went there out of a childhood ambition, but also from ideology. I had this issue that they were Arabs and we were Jews, and it's either them or us. If you had the opportunity to wound or to kill, you would have preferred to kill".
Close to Mutiny
Except that this ideological fervor could not have continued existing within the confines of the Special Night Squads. The British, for whom Wingate's identification with the Zionist idea was not to their taste, threw him out of here to Ethiopia. Tavor had a new idea: to enlist in the Jewish Brigade. Just that there was one tiny problem: the youth was blind in one eye. That's how he was born. When they came to Palestine, his mother towed him to the famous Dr. Ticho, and he confirmed: the boy won't see out of his right eye. Therefore they rejected him during his first two enlistments. He waited for the third enlistment and then came already prepared: "The doctor told me 'cover your right eye', and I covered the right eye with my right hand and succeeded in reading all the numbers. When he told me 'cover your left eye', I immediately covered the right eye with my left hand. Instead of switching eyes I simply switched hands, and he didn't pay attention - and I passed. The business wen't not bad until they took him out to the firing range: the officer in the basic training, Captain Lisel, positioned himself above me and asked me 'Why do you bring your nose over the barrel of the rifle?' I didn't have an option, so I told him: 'Sir, this is the situation: I don't see from the right side'. But I shot well. He could have expelled me home, but he just thought for a moment and said, 'leave it'".
That's how he was accepted into the sixth company of the fighting Jewish battalion, or "The Palestinian Buffs", bearer of an 81 millimeter mortar in the machine gun unit. But when he sat in Benghazi, in liberated Libya, in 1944, and read with yearning eyes on the progress of the Allies, he felt that he stands to miss out on the war, and decided to do something: he threw away his service book, took off his uniform and exchanged them for local clothes - long sleeves and a fez. "I told the Major that I didn't volunteer in order to serve in the British Army, but rather to fight the Germans. It was close to a mutiny. He sent me to prison and told me 'You want to go to the front? You in your life won't get there, and I'll sure of that'". The next time the Major saw him was at the landings in Naples, in preparation for the fighting in Italy.
Tavor draws out a picture from his shirt pocket. It depicts graves marked with crosses and Stars of David. This is the British military cemetery. "I have a few good friends buried in Italy", he says. "It was a tough battle. There was a German commando unit in some village in the Rimini area, and we attacked and slaughtered them. That was a good feeling, to take down a German".
The Hands Didn't Shake
This issue, to take down Germans, didn't cease with the end of the organized war. Tavor, together with some eight of his friends from the Brigade, including Israel Carmi [a former member of the Night Squads], Tzvi Aharoni [possibly a reference to an investigator in the 'Lavon affair' and the man who later tracked Adolf Eichmann down in Argentina] and Chaim Laskov [the future, fifth, Israeli Chief of the General Staff] - his commander and friend still from the period of the Night Squads - became a group of 'avengers', a group from the Brigade, which for the length of its period of duty in Italy, France and Belgium, went out on independent operations to locate Nazis and collaborators, conduct hasty field courts and carry out the sentence - death.
The information on the people they caught they received from surviving Jews, from underground fighters or from Hagana members in Europe. "Those same Nazis who were active in killing Jews, we were supposed to go out and assassinate", Tavor describes. "We would get dressed in British military police uniforms and go to the person, to his home. It could be that he thought that we're taking him to an inquiry. In our group Laskov took care of the trial, and Tzvi Aharoni, who knew German perfectly, translated. They investigated the man to see if he indeed was in the SS and if he committed the thing that we were attributing to him, for instance, that he prepared the shipment of Jews to a certain death camp. Afterwards we would drive to some grove that we had chosen ahead of time, and there, after we checked him again once more so as not to make a mistake, we would conduct a form of trial and then kill him".
"My job was to be the executioner", he says dryly, "and believe me, my hands didn't shake". He raises his hands up. "Are my hands shaking today?"
How did you kill?
"Usually, in order to not leave traces, it's better that everything be done in a dry manner".
What is the meaning of 'dry'?
"A bullet in the head is 'wet': there will be a bullet, there will come out blood. Will come out blood, there will be blood in the van. There will be blood in the van, there will be an investigation. There will be an investigation, and here will be traces. So I would strangle him like this. Everything is clean work".
From where is the technique?
"I didn't learn technique. Simply with my two hands, I take his throat and press, and it's over. This was after a trail, where he admitted to the things, let's say that he's responsible for this and this shipment to Auschwitz or Birkenau. He could not have denied it, we had written information. And then, at the moment that he admitted, we would take him in the van. On one bench sat on both his sides two of ours. They held him, and I sat on the bench opposite. I was chosen to do the deed because of my strong hands".
You did everything face to face?
"Yes. A few minutes, until he would stop breathing. And then we would throw him into the water: we always had metal pieces in the van. We would arrive with the body to a point at the river which we knew to be deep, and tied to it the metal to the legs so that the body would sink, because if it would arise, they would start to look, they would know who he was and what he was. This way he wasn't. He disappeared".
None of them resisted, didn't cry, didn't shout?
"He couldn't shout, what could he shout? His throat was blocked. He didn't understand, everything was a surprise. I sit across from him, holding him for a few minutes until I knew he was dead".
How did you know?
He stopped convulsing. There was a more relaxed feeling in the hands, he was no longer breathing. In any case, if we lowered into the water one who could still be alive - also that was not so bad".
He asks to clarify something: "Look, the boys killed Germans also for no reason. They would go out, some three guys, light up a German's house - and there. Or there were those who would literally run them over in a car. The convoy drives through some village, and the driver runs over pedestrians and says that there was an accident. It got to the point where the British drivers went on strike, they didn't agree to work with us".
"We", he distinguishes, "did this in the framework of the Brigade, with the agreement of the Hagana, with a trial. And until today I have no feeling of discomfort. All of my father's family other than two brothers were murdered, and also my mother's family was destroyed". Against who did they take revenge? He doesn't remember the names. And the deeds don't come up in memories, in dreams? "No. You know what?" he pauses in his sentence, "I killed a lot of people all the same, and on this until today I don't have any feeling of unease". Because of these deeds Tavor's battalion was not allowed to enter German territory. They stopped in Turin, in Italy, and there they were released.
Forgets About the Dangers
When he returned to Hanita, he met his second wife, Tova, an Israeli from childrens' group, born in Kiryat Chaim and younger than him by 11 years (on his first wife he only says, "It ended. We drove to the Rabbinate in Haifa and she made eight circles around me".) At the kibbutz he returned to his first love, the lathes and the cutters in the metal plant that was erected there, and then Isser Har'el called him to the flag. At the beginning he dealt with pursuit after tax evader. "There were a lot of Jews who hid income or who traded [illegally] in foreign currency, and we would go after them. Imagine to yourself: you open someone's safe who declares such and such, but you photograph the hidden documents of his and see that the story is completely different. Afterwards they would confront the these people with the evidence, bring them to trial or strike an agreement with them. I, from the moment that I enabled them to photograph or write down what was found behind the safe door, exited the scene".
Afterwards came the traces after everyone whom Isser Har'el suspected of spying for the Soviet Union. Tavor is the one who enabled him to penetrate into the houses and safes of Israel Beer [military analyst convicted in 1962 of spying for the USSR], Aharonchik Cohen, Moshe Sneh [a founder of the Israeli Communist Party 'Mapam'], Meir Ya'ari [leader of the Israeli Communist Party] and others.
When Har'el moved over to the Mossad, he brought with him Tavor and his seminar to be used as the "Technological Branch of the Operations Division", and it began to operate overseas: "I would come with the team. As a rule I would open the front door. I would wait in the car near to the place and by radio they would inform me that I could go up". Could people without his experience also break locks? "Yes, I was in the seminar for all those years. There are operations people, and me they would select only if the regular operations people were unable to overcome the barriers. For the most part, they would know this ahead of time and I would make all the necessary preparations: always a study, always an effort to obtain the same model of lock or of the safe and to learn them down to their details, and to practice opening them. And there were instances where they knew that I wouldn't be able to make it to an operation, so we took one of our guys and I sat with him for a month in the apartment in Tel Aviv and instructed him on the specific lock".
Did you know where you would break in and why?
"I knew for what we were breaking in."
Many times they would discover unexpected things in the safe, different and strange things. For example, what was found in the safe of the Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, which Tavor was called to break into not a few times: "I open the safe, and inside there's secret documents and I don't know what, and suddenly from behind me pops Paula [Ben-Gurion's wife], 'Oh, there it is,' what is it? - a box of sugar. It disappeared on her, she didn't know where it was; it got lost".
Whatever there was in the safe, and whatever use they made of the material, and however many pictures they took or copies they made - everything had to return in the end to its original place. "The first condition was that everything will remain as it was when we opened the safe. There are those who get wise, close the door of the safe and leave something so that if the door gets opened, the object will move or fall, let's say, like a thread fiber. So before we touch, before we do something, we check everything with a magnifying glass. That's a condition". And what if by temptation you took something? "Even if I opened a safe and I would see there a few million Marks, I didn't touch it. If someone takes a bundle and puts it in the pocket, and no one paid attention, even the person who lost the bundle of notes would remain quiet. But temptations like these simply don't exist. You forget the world, the dangers, absolutely nothing interests you. Just one thing is active: the brain and the fingers".
Engagee With Eichmann
The brain, the fingers and perhaps even emotion accompanied Tavor to Buenos-Aires, when he participated in the capture of Adolf Eichmann. There his lock breaking abilities were not needed, but all of his technological abilities were. "There were a few possibilities to bring him back to Israel. One was to put him into an aluminum airline tray-wagon. So I took a wagon like that and instead of trays, I arranged inside a seat for him and welded confines for his hands and legs in both panels of the wagon. An even wilder idea was to bring him into the plane during take-off: to stand him up on the runway, to dress him in a flakjacket that I stitched and to tie the jacket to the plane with cables, so that during takeoff the plane would pull Eichmann behind it and we would roll him into the belly of the plane".
In the end Isser decided that we'll enter the plane directly with him. We dressed him in an 'El-Al' [Israeli Airlines] uniform and the doctor gave him a sedative which made him drowsy. And that's how in full view of the spotlights I took Eichmann 'engagee' and entered him into the plane".
Tavor is also the one who went down from the plane with Eichmann, arms crossed, and also he who built the glass booth in which Eichmann sat during the course of his trial. "My assignment was to make sure that no one would get a bullet into him. We made a booth of glass plates through which a bullet would not pass. I went twice to hear the witnesses and it bored me". And all the same Tavor asked to close one more small issue with the prisoner he had caught. "I wrote a letter in which I officially volunteer to carry out his sentence, to be the hangman of Eichmann. They replied to me: 'You have done your part, and for this there is someone who will do it". Why? "I wanted to complete the mission", he replies. "Look, every Nazi personality I would be willing to kill with no problem. Not just that I was willing - I did kill. So Eichmann [I would kill] for sure".
It's Better Already Not to Work
After the capture of Eichmann, there were many other missions: once he entered in order to plant hidden recording devices, another time he came to clean a room of listening devices. A person who worked alongside him testifies to his cool nerves. "Perhaps I had a cache of a few things: in emergency situations I don't get emotional, my technological abilities are good, and I always keep clearly in the forefront of my mind the supreme importance of service to the State. I grasp the awareness that if you know what your enemy keeps in the well - your situation is better".
What can you know about your enemy or about anyone else by visiting his safe? "Personal things? A lot. Yes, if he has a lover - but this didn't interest us particularly, except if this information could play to our advantage in future contacts with the person. But in general what we looked for were the papers from through we could glean valuable information. There were also doors that I labored hard to open and in the end I discovered behind them a broom and a few rags".
Tavor was never caught during a break-in. "We always managed to keep our objectives in proportion, so that they wouldn't be too close together, and the guards we managed to distance". Was there a safe which you did not succeed in opening? "Yes, but perhaps I can count those on one hand". Is there at all such a thing as an unbreakable safe? "I assume there is". Tavor, however, dealt with not just disassembly but also with assembly of locks. "We developed and installed an additional thing so that when we vacated in a frenzy the embassy in Moscow during the Six-Day War [in June 1967] we were concerned that they would open and see". [This seems to be a reference to the story in the 'postscript' below.] Why didn't you use a little explosives and close the issue? "I've never dealt with TNT. It's better already not to work. I also didn't work with gloves. I knew that I'm leaving behind fingerprints, but I didn't care because the object had no idea that I'd been at his place - he had nothing to latch on to".
In 1987 Tavor retired from the Mossad. A man who worked closed to him recounts that "until the age of 70 Tavor would go out on missions when it was something sensitive or when the boys in the field didn't succeed in dealing with a lock". Since he quit, he stopped dealing with or even being interested in break-ins, but the prints of his long fingers are still scattered around the world. Also in places that for sure no one would imagine to himself.
* In the event, Eichmann's real hangman was Shalom Nagar, a 23-year old former border guard and policeman who transferred to the prisons' service. Of Yemenite origins, with no direct connections to the Holocaust, he was one of 22 guards assigned to protect and watch Eichmann during his trial. He only became aware of his duty to hang and oversee the cremation of Eichmann's body hours before the actual time of the execution. Nagar was reluctant at the time to be Eichmann's hangman because he didn't want to later be called a "murderer". In the course of his guard duty he would also taste the food being brought to the prisoner to make sure it wasn't poisoned. In the course of his 28-year career in the prisons' service he also guarded John Demjanjuk (suspected of being 'Ivan the Terrible' of Treblinka death camp), Kozo Okamoto (a member of the Japanese 'Red Army' terror group that perpetrated the Lod [Ben Gurion] airport massacre of 1972) and Abdel Aziz Rantisi (the former commander of Hamas in Gaza). Israel has no death sentence, except for Nazi war criminals and collaborators, and to date Adolf Eichmann is the only person sentenced to death and executed in Israel.
A translation of an interview with him is available here.
In a sad turn of events, less than a month after he gave his interview with the Yediot Achronot newspaper Moshe Tavor died (6 May). There was one story that he recounted to the interviewer though asked that it not be published while he was still alive:
Although he was very open he categorically refused to allow one word to appear about what he did one day in Moscow. "If the Russians will know that I was there, they will come look for me - even today," said the 90-year old spy who retired about 20 years ago. "I'm still afraid of them".
In 1965 the Soviet Union built a new residence for the Israeli embassy in the capital, Moscow. Members of the diplomatic staff who feared that the building was swarming with listening devices that the Soviets implanted asked that at least one space be be sealed off from eavesdropping and cleaned of microphones so that it would be possible to speak without fear of being overheard. The mission - to debug one room - was assigned to Tavor and his men. "I built in my seminar in Tel Aviv a booth made of perspex boards, and I sent it to Moscow by diplomatic mail. Perspex is a very insulated material, and it also has another advantage: if someone tries to perforate it or to punch a hole in it or implant a microphone into it, it's possible to spot it immediately".
When the boards arrived in Moscow, a team in Tavor's charge came to assemble them in a room arranged ahead of time. "But before that we needed to clear the whole room of the cement that was on the walls and of the tiles on the floors, to leave it completely bare in order to prevent any possibility that listening devices had already been implanted. I started to hew and suddenly in the floor I spotted a rectangle made of plywood. I lifted the plywood and beneath it I saw some kind of board, which looked like an electricity board made of insulated material called novotex. It seemed strange to me that they did all the building's wiring from the floor and not from the ceiling, so I carefully lifted the electricity board and underneath it I suddenly revealed an opening to a tunnel with a reinforced ladder made of metal.
I went down a few rungs, groped my way in the dark, and suddenly encountered a dial. I started to turn it and I hear a door that starts to open. I left the dial for a moment and this door, made of metal, falls on my hand. A lot of blood started to stream. I thought I'd lost my hand. With a great effort we managed to turn the metal door against the direction of the pivots. What I saw there was a tunnel nearly at the height of a man, with a thick cable running along its base. I started to follow the cable's path and I saw that the tunnel branches out. I lowered my men to there. At every fork in the path I stationed a man and continued on". At a certain point he was left alone. He continued to advance until at the edge of the tunnel he spotted a slightly open door.
"I stood there in the darkness. That was the most frightening moment in my life. I never felt more worried for my life as I did at that moment there. I told myself, 'if I now go through that door - I won't come out of here alive'". Moshe Tavor turned back, he gathered his men at the junctures at which he stationed them and together they climbed back up to the embassy building. From the window he saw that the door whose threshold he hadn't dared cross was located exactly at the pavilion which lay across from the other side of the fence that walled the embassy - already not in the territorial area of Israel. The Russians apparently understood that the Israelis were on their trail and had located their listening devices. They immediately blocked the expanse, brought in a cement mixer and begun to block the opening to the tunnel. One of the details that Tavor didn't forget was that in charge of the team of men which poured the concrete into the tunnel was a woman.
What the Americans, the British and the Franch didn't succeed in doing - to prevent eavesdropping by the Russians - we, our little selves, succeeded in doing", Tavor said to me just under a month ago. "I'm convinced that if the Russians would know that it was me, they will look for and find me. Even today, and therefore this is something that I'm not prepared to have published, except after my death".
On Friday last week [May 6] Moshe Tavor died.
Source: "The Most Frightening Moment in My Life" by Sagie Green, '7 Days' magazine supplement, Yediot Achronot, 12 May 2006, p. 62