A Mossad officer since 1961, and the chief of Israel’s spy agency from 1998 to 2002, Efraim Halevy saw four decades of secret history, though he could only talk about so much of it in his new memoir, Man in the Shadows. He’s in town to speak at the Oxonian Society this week. Robert Levine debriefed him beforehand.
In Israel, you see security everywhere. Do you think New York will ever look like that?
I’m not a prophet, so I don’t want to say. But if there are further attacks, they might be directed at targets where you can have mass results, such as malls or bus stations.
Are you paranoid when you come here?
I’m not paranoid when I get to the U.S. No way. Unfortunately, though, there is not a sense on the street that the country is at war: You don’t have conscriptions, you don’t have shortages, you don’t have events that crowd the news.
Do you mean the war in Iraq or the war against terrorism in general?
I think we are now in the midst of World War III. It began in 1998, when the embassies [in Africa] were attacked.
How do we win?
Since the enemy doesn’t want to defeat the U.S. and seize a chunk of territory, the only way to win is to destroy the enemy where he is. The moment U.S. territory was attacked, I said to colleagues that the only way the U.S. can win the conflict is to come to the Middle East.
Did we go to the wrong country?
I don’t want to say if you went to the right country, [but] I have greater trust in the judgment of those in the White House than others do.
What did you think of the portrayal of the Mossad in the movie Munich?
I think it’s a bad movie and very unprofessional in its portrayal of how intelligence operates. Just to give one example, I cannot imagine there would be a situation where a team of Israelis following a team of Palestinians would be inhabiting the same building—it’s totally in the realm of fantasy.
What about the idea that reprisals for terrorism have only fueled more hatred?
If you have terrorism, you have to do two things: address the motives but also make sure that acts are prevented. The motive for Israeli activity was deterrence. It’s not vengeance.