Strange case of `Mossad agents'

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The Independent Online
OUTSIDE THE window yesterday, police sirens wailed and black-clad policemen with sub-machine-guns surrounded the prison van. We, of course, were all waiting for the boys from Mossad to appear at the Larnaca assizes.

A tired old man was selling scratchcards to Cypriot law-yers. Then a red-haired lady in a faded leather jacket and shiny black leather trousers took her stand in the box for the accused. She looked an unlikely candidate for spying, we thought. Her lawyer sought a remand while Judge Akis Hadjichambis shouted angrily at the journalists pushing through the door.

"What's all that noise about?" he demanded. Poor Dora Droushiotou had never expected this kind of attention. Cameramen, photographers, Israeli journalists - who had hired a private aircraft to bring them in from Tel Aviv - poured into the court. Then it was agreed. The lady could have a remand. "This isn't the spying case - it's not serious," one of the lawyers muttered to us. "She is only charged with hiring someone to kill her husband."

But when the lads we had been waiting for turned up, they, too, looked unlikely spooks. Udi Hargov and Igal Damary were still wearing the zip- up jackets they had on when they made their first court appearance last month. Unshaven - one of them was in jeans, the other in corduroys - they both wore spectacles and were thin, rather small men. The charges against them - that they were spying, with sophisticated technology, on Greek Cypriot military installations - seemed almost preposterous. They entered no plea, but how could anyone think these two were professional secret agents for Israel?

The Cypriot press have already revealed that they rented a flat next to a fish restaurant in the seaside village of Zygi - site of a proposed new naval base - but never visited the cafe and didn't bother to say good morning to the owner. So the proprietor had gone to the police to tell them there was something distinctly fishy about his two uncommunicative neighbours.

According to police officers, they had been found with radio telegraphy equipment, radar scanners and mobile phones, and they had watched convoys of the Greek Cypriot National Guard driving past the restaurant. Reports said that the Cyprus "anti-terrorist" squad had traced their most recent calls - between 15 October and 6 November - to numbers in Tel Aviv that belonged to the "Israeli Intelligence Institute". Other calls had been made to London.

On an island where local journalists think nothing of discussing cases before evidence is given in court, there has been no end of public debate about what Messers Hargov and Damary might have been doing. Their flat was scarcely 200 yards from a National Guards camp - which may be a location for the Russian S-300 missiles that President Glafcos Clerides of Cyprus still insists on bringing to the island this year.

The Turks have already threatened to bomb the missile bases if they are installed. And Turkey's newest ally in the Middle East is a small Mediterranean country called Israel.

Then there is the S-300 radar system. It can, say the experts, project a coverage of several hundred miles, giving the owners access to most Israeli military air traffic patterns over Lebanon, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Israel itself. Perhaps for this reason, the charges against 37-year-old Mr Hargov and Mr Damary, 49, were expanded yesterday from the original accusation that they were working for a single "foreign country" to the claim that they were gathering information on military installations of use to "any other states".

The Cypriots might have been more easy-going had their arrest not come only three days after an official visit to Cyprus by President Ezer Weizman of Israel - who was at pains to reassure Cypriots that the Israeli-Turkish alliance did not threaten them. There was also the little matter of four Israelis arrested here back in 1991 when a policeman came across them - holding tools and a telephone junction box - in the lobby of the building housing the Iranian embassy in Nicosia. They claimed they were "looking for a toilet" and were released with a fine for trespassing.

Indeed, Mossad seems to be having a bad time with its telephone tappers. Only a few months ago, Swiss police caught an Israeli agent bugging the flat of a Swiss citizen of Lebanese origin. Not to mention the two would- be Mossad killers sent to Amman as Canadian tourists to murder an official of the Palestinian organisation, Hamas. They failed - and ended up swapped for the imprisoned Hamas leader. If this is typical of Israel's supposedly elite intelligence service, why, one asks oneself, are the Arabs so paranoid about Mossad?

At least the Israelis seem to take it seriously. Mossad's operations head resigned - according to the Israeli paper Maariv - after Hargov and Damary were arrested.

Other Israeli newspapers took it as confirmation that both worked for Mossad when the Israeli Prime Minister responded to the case by saying cryptically that "it's one of those things that the less one talks about, the better".

The defence lawyer Andis Triantafyllides, asking for more time to study the extended charges, obtained a remand in custody for the two Israelis until 21 December. The police in black then snapped handcuffs on the pair and hustled them back into the van, leaving behind two possible thoughts: that Mossad isn't what it is cracked up to be; and that you must never - ever - be rude to the owners of Cypriot fish restaurants.