More details are unfolding following the killing of an Israeli officer when a boat capsized and sank off Italy’s coast in late May. There is more certainty that Israeli and Italian intelligence officers on the boat had taken part in an operation that aimed at preventing hostile Iranian members from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. Although the operation seems to have run smoothly, the boat sinking has revealed some hidden details including the fact that the Mossad officer who was killed was responsible for liaison with foreign intelligence services.
Several weeks after the boat Good Uria sank in Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, it became clear that the meeting between nearly 20 Israeli and Italian intelligence officers was to carry out an operation aimed at preventing hostile elements from obtaining unconventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction, particularly biological nuclear weapons and weapons with advanced technologies which may be used for civilian industries as well as for military purposes such as ballistic missiles; dual-use technologies.
Israelis agree that the boat capsized in an accident, but security plans to clean up the scene and cover all traces from the field, including ensuring all agents escaped quickly from Italy and attempts to erase all traces of their work there, failed. The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Italy began investigating the case, revealing the names of the two deceased Italians, and many intelligence officers. This information was sufficient to explain that there was a long and complex operation that took place there and lasted a number of days until its goal was achieved.
Israeli security officials claim the operation may have succeeded in achieving its goals, but it was supposed to remain a secret. After the disaster took place,it was revealed that the Mossad officer who was killed in the accident belonged to a unit responsible for covert liaison with foreign intelligence services.
Mossad and the Italian intelligence cooperate on issues of common interest, such as the war on terrorism and gathering information about the Iranian nuclear project. None of the survivors had identification documents with them. The Italians told the investigators that they worked for the Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers, while the Israelis said they were part of a government delegation. They all dined at the fancy Il Verbano restaurant and then went on a cruise. They wore everyday clothes, sneakers, jeans and T-shirts so they would look like ordinary tourists.
However, there are many details with unmistakable security connotations, the most important of which is that the presence of Russian oligarchs has recently increased on the other side of the Italian lake, and a wonderful villa was bought by a Russian man who suddenly disappeared. Wealthy Orthodox Jews live in the area and often organise parties for American guests including politicians. Israel also has interests in monitoring Italian and Iranian companies that deal with civilian components used in the manufacture of drones.
As more details and secrets unfold, they indicate that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used to secretly go to the same prestigious restaurant referred to earlier. The area where the restaurant is located is popular with many Israeli tourists, but it is also a well-known place for Russian oligarchs.
In recent years, wealthy Russians have begun to buy properties in the region and build hotels. This could indicate that the Mossad and Italian intelligence personnel may have been monitoring Russian elements in the region, operating under the radar of international sanctions. In addition, the lake and its surroundings are close to industrial areas in the Lombardy region where many military and aerospace industries are concentrated.
Days after the disaster, Israeli officials said they cannot reveal details of what happened. Perhaps Tel Aviv wanted to know what was happening in the factories around the lake as part of intelligence gathering on the Iranian nuclear programme, but the question is: Were 20 agents needed for this information gathering?
It may have been that the Israeli and Italian intelligence personnel had completed a top secret mission and were celebrating on board a ship in the middle of a lake.
Or the ship belongs to Russian businessmen who left Russia because of the war – some taking refuge in Israel. They made their millions plundering Russia in the post-communist era in the early 1990s and many have luxurious yachts around the world. Perhaps this boat was owned by one of these businessmen and is used for recreational purposes.
As for the fourth scenario, it could be that some Israelis and the Italians wanted to celebrate a colleague of theirs on his birthday, and because of their jobs, positions and travels, they know the best places to celebrate in style. However, Israel’s haste to rush its agents out of Italy, immediately transporting returning them to Tel Aviv, as well as transporting the rest of the Italians to an unknown location, raised suspicions that something had happened.
Two weeks after the death of the Mossad agent, no details have been issued about who was onboard the boat, why and why Israeli agents were in Italy to begin with.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.