Breaking cover, five high-ranking agents discuss the advantages they have as female spies, the dangers and costs of their work, and where they draw the line
For female Mossad agents, life is like a spy-movie — though not always as glamorous. Theirs is a world of intrigue, sleepless nights and, sometimes, flirtation, in conditions of ever-lurking danger, all for the sake of the state, with immense strains on their families.
For the first time, five female Mossad agents went public this week, in interviews with the Hebrew-language Lady Globes newspaper, giving readers a tiny glimpse, from the female perspective, of the clandestine activities of Israel’s secret service. They talked about using their womenly wiles in the service of the state, and also about the limits to that use. No matter how vital the mission, there are some lengths, they made clear, to which they will not go, and will not be asked to go.
women, who all hold ranks of commander or higher (the equivalent of brigadier generals or colonels in the IDF), have been involved in some of the agency’s most daring and important operations.
One of the agents, named only as Yael, indicated that flirting is fair game when it comes to national security. She told the magazine that women carry certain “advantages” over men: “A man who wants to gain access to a forbidden area has less chance of being allowed in… A smiling woman has a bigger chance of success.”
We use our femininity because any means is valid,” confirmed Efrat, the most senior female operational commander in the Mossad. “But even if we think that the way to advance the mission is to sleep with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, no one in the Mossad would allow us to do it. Women agents are not used for sexual purposes. We flirt, but the line is drawn at sex.”
One of the Mossad’s most notable operations that deployed women was in 1987, when a female agent, “Cindy,” lured Mordechai Vanunu — a nuclear technician at the Dimona plant who sold the “secrets of Israel’s nuclear arsenal” to the Sunday Times — from London to Italy. Vanunu was then drugged and brought back to Israel in a ship to face trial.
Efrat noted soberly that she knows her “life is over” if she is caught — and said it’s a risk she’s willing to take for the sake of Israel’s national security.
Another agent, Ella, spoke of the impact on her family life: “I leave a secure home, my husband and three small children sleeping safely in their beds with tears welling in my eyes and a growing lump in my throat.”
The women noted that recruiting female agents is hard — the lifestyle is too demanding for many women who are raising a family, for instance, hence a good portion of the female agents are single — and others buckle under the pressure.
But Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, in rare on-the-record comments, praised the Mossad’s women as exceptional agents. He hailed their capacity to multi-task, and to “suppress their ego in order to attain goals.”
Added Pardo: “Contrary to stereotypes, you see that women’s abilities are superior to men in terms of understanding the territory, reading situations, spatial awareness. When they’re good, they’re very good.”