Operation Damocles: Israel's Secret War Against Hitler's Scientists, 1951-1967

Overview

The cloak-and-dagger story of the former Nazi scientists recruited by Egypt to develop long-range missiles capable of striking Israel.
From 1951 to 1967, Egypt pursued a secret program to build military rockets that could have conceivably posed a threat to neighboring Israel. Because such an ambitious project required Western expertise, the Egyptian leader president Nasser hired West German scientists, many of them veterans of the Nazi rocket ...

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Overview

The cloak-and-dagger story of the former Nazi scientists recruited by Egypt to develop long-range missiles capable of striking Israel.
From 1951 to 1967, Egypt pursued a secret program to build military rockets that could have conceivably posed a threat to neighboring Israel. Because such an ambitious project required Western expertise, the Egyptian leader president Nasser hired West German scientists, many of them veterans of the Nazi rocket program at Peenemünde and elsewhere.
These covert plans soon came to the attention of Israel’s legendary secret service, Mossad, and caused deep alarm in Tel Aviv. Could the missiles be fitted with warheads filled with radiological, chemical, or even nuclear materials? Israel responded by using threats, intimidation, and brutal assassination squads to deter the German scientists from working on Nasser’s behalf.
Exactly half a century later, this book tells the gripping story of the mysterious arms dealers, Mossad assassins, scientific genii, and leading figures who all played their part in Operation Damocles.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
“Embroidering this episode with the craft and occasional ruthlessness of espionage, Howard will interest readers of intelligence history.”
Publishers Weekly
British historian Howard (Iran in Crisis?) takes the temperature of a lesser-known conflict that was heating up in the Middle East while the U.S. and Russia squared off during the Cold War. In the years following WWII, Egypt, under the guidance of President Nasser, recruited former Nazi scientists (including Willy Messerschmitt, designer of the famous eponymous WWII fighters) for their long-range rocket-development efforts. With longstanding tensions between Israel and Egypt, Israel took up arms to counteract the potentially calamitous program. Initiated by Mossad director Isser Harel, the retaliatory Operation Damocles of 1962 entailed letter bombs, breaking into liquid rocket-fuel labs, assassinations, and entreaties made to officials in Bonn (then the capital of West Germany) to warn German scientists working to arm Egypt that "they were ‘playing with lives." While some of their efforts paid off, Israel's attacks that kicked off the Six-Day War of 1967 sealed the deal that Israel was a serious threat. Howard's conclusions are sound, and his briskly paced work is an entertaining read. 10 pages of b&w photos. Agent: Andrew Lownie, Andrew Lownie Literary Agency (U.K.). (May)
Ahmed Rashid
“A brilliant analysis that is cogent and clear. There is no better study available. A must read.”
The Associated press
“A fascinating story.”
The Times Literary Supplement
“Unpretentious and enjoyable.”
Kirkus Reviews
A British investigative journalist offers an intriguing, somewhat circuitous look back at the Mossad's attempts to thwart the Egyptian missile program. In response to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser's paranoid efforts to bolster his military program in the late 1950s, the equally paranoid Israeli foreign intelligence service kicked into high vigilance, planting operatives in Cairo and even carrying out intimidation and assassination attempts against the key German scientists recruited to the Egyptian missile work. Howard (The Oil Hunters: Exploration and Espionage in the Middle East, 2008, etc.) uses his expertise and research on Middle Eastern defense issues to piece together this complex, shadowy story. In the first part of the book, the author backtracks into the deep-seated history of Arab-Israeli hostility, focusing on the pan-Arab liberation movement led by Nasser, his mistrust of Western leaders born out by the Suez Crisis of 1956, and his resolve to build up the Egyptian military to ward off Israeli attacks and galvanize his own power base among the Arab states. The goal was to build long-range ballistic rockets, and Nasser's trusty deputy chief of air force intelligence, Gen. Isam Khalil, was sent to Zurich and elsewhere to try to lure some "specialist engineers" to the Egyptian cause. The scientists were disgruntled Germans, specifically ex-Nazis, who were all offered sweet deals to live and work in Cairo beginning in July 1960. Meanwhile, Mossad, led by the legendary Isser Harel, had to find some suitable operatives to infiltrate the Egyptian-German community, such as the highly convincing Wolfgang Lotz. Ultimately, both sides erred fatally: Harel's Operation Damocles proved clumsy and politically driven, while the Egyptian rockets lacked a guidance mechanism, which undermined their accuracy. A well-paced narrative as chock full of mysterious revelations as a good spy thriller.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605985657
  • Publisher: Pegasus
  • Publication date: 6/15/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 268
  • Sales rank: 1,360,098
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Roger Howardis a British journalist and historian specializing in the Middle East. Roger’s articles have appeared in theGuardian, the LondonTimes, theDaily Telegraph, theIndependent, theWall Street Journal,The Spectator, theNew Statesman, theInternational Herald Tribune, and many other newspapers. He lives in England.

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