London, Sept.20 : Israel's second woman Prime Minister in waiting, Tzipi Livni, earned her spurs as an agent working for a covert cell in an elite spy unit, reports The Times.
According to the paper, Livni had a dangerous, youthful stint as a spy in Mossad, one of the world's most respected and feared secret services, in Paris in the early 1980s. Though the Mossad does not divulge details, The Times can reveal that Livni ran substantial risks as an Israeli agent operating in a covert cell in Europe.
"She was in an elite unit," said Ephraim Halevy, the former director of Mossad, who for security reasons declined to specify which outfit Livni had served in between 1980 and 1984.
"She was a very promising agent who showed all the attributes of a very promising career. She was very well thought of."
Livni, a fluent French speaker and daughter of renowned Zionist guerrillas, served her time in Paris when the city was a deadly battleground in Mossad's covert war with Palestinian militant groups and Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions.
One Israeli former intelligence source told The Times that the 22-year-old Livni had been recruited into Mossad after her National Service by a childhood friend, Mira Gal, who herself served for two decades in the agency and who now works as her ministry bureau chief. Like many recruits, the source said, she would have started out with so-called "student jobs", mostly maintaining safe houses that were used by hit squads and more senior agents on assignment across Europe.
After her apprenticeship, Livni went through basic training as a field officer, learning how to recruit agents and gather information at a time of huge upheaval among Israel's foes, as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) relocated from war-torn Beirut to the safer shores of Tunisia.
"It was a period when the Israelis were sending strong political messages with their attacks and they did not hesitate to attract attention," ric Denc, a former French intelligence service agent, said.
"Since the Six-Day War [in 1967], Paris was an important intelligence base for Mossad - first, because it had excellent relations with the French services and also because so many Palestinians were based there."
Israeli agents operating out of Paris carried out assassinations and were also widely believed to have infiltrated Palestinian factions.
Among them was Ilich RamIrez S nchez, alias Carlos the Jackal, and the Abu Nidal splinter group. The group perpetrated the massacre of six people at Goldenberg's restaurant in the rue des Rosiers in August 1982 and the bombing of the Paris-Toulouse express, which killed five, the same year.
There were two Mossad stations in Paris at the time, according to Roger Faligot, author of several books on the intelligence services. One covered France and the other Western Europe.
Mossad operators in Paris were also striving to thwart Saddam Hussein from developing an atomic arsenal and shipping nuclear fuels to his new processor at Osirak just outside Baghdad.
Whatever the actual role Livni played, Halevy is convinced that her experience and training stand her in good stead for the tasks now at hand as she tries to build a consensus to govern Israel.
He recalls seeing her in May 2003, when he was National Security Adviser, deploy her Mossad-honed analytical skills and tenacity in government, when, as a junior Cabinet member, she was the only minister to stand up to the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and point out key flaws on a complex security brief that had been dispatched hours before.