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Amid political turmoil, Mossad chief stresses need for ‘unity in order to survive’

The head of the Mossad intelligence agency on Thursday warned that Israel needs unity for its survival, in what appeared to be rare commentary from the spymaster on Israel’s political turmoil.

Speaking at an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Mossad chief David Barnea said Israelis “should not underestimate the importance of unity in order to survive. Our strength is our internal unity.”

Barnea added that Israel has learned it cannot ignore existential threats, saying, “We must not underestimate the enemy and his capabilities, we must not exaggerate the support of our allies in times of crisis, we must not fall prey to existing concepts.”

“We must not forget that all around us are countries and organizations that continue to grow and strengthen to threaten our peace. We must act to assert our deterrence,” Barnea said before the audience, composed of current employees and commanders of the Mossad, and retired agents who served during the 1973 war.

The event, held at the Mossad headquarters, opened with a one-minute silence in memory of Shabtai Shavit, the seventh head of the Mossad, who passed away this week during a vacation in Italy.

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Barnea also mentioned the US-mediated talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia aimed at securing a normalization agreement between the two countries. The Mossad has reportedly been involved in the negotiations.

“We must strive for normalization. We will continue to strive to establish relations with Muslim countries near and far. A country that despises the pursuit of peace is doomed to be drawn into war,” Barnea said.

An Israeli tank on the way to the Syria border during the Yom Kippur War, October 1973. (State Archives)

Barnea also addressed Israel’s unpreparedness ahead of the Yom Kippur War.

“It is not enough to be right, it is not enough to perform the required intelligence analysis — you also have to convince the decision-makers and move them to action,” he said. “Unfortunately, despite the qualitative intelligence that the Mossad produced before the invasion, we failed to convince the top echelons of the government and the security establishment at the time.”

On Tuesday, the Mossad announced it will publish a book to mark 50 years since the war. The book will reveal intelligence the Mossad gathered in the build-up to the surprise attack on Israel, and will detail how the agency uncovered much of Egypt’s plan for a surprise attack ahead of the war. The military and political echelons largely ignored the warnings.

In his speech, Barnea talked about the agent known as “the Angel,” who gave Israel advanced warning of the attack. He denied widespread reports that the agent, since identified as Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser, was a double agent.

“These claims were intensively checked before the war by a joint IDF-Mossad team and again after the war,” Barnea said.

“The Angel was an important and strategic agent. Those who don’t understand HUMINT have a hard time understanding the nuances of an agent and his handler,” he says, referring to human intelligence.

On June 27, 2007, Marwan plunged to his death from the fourth-floor balcony of an upscale London apartment building. Whether he fell or was pushed has never been definitively established.