Around the globe, countries are vying to locate medical gear that is extremely limited. All types of help are welcome and enlisted in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. So once the Mossad determined that Iran no longer posed an immediate threat to Israel, due to its own struggles against COVID-19, the spy service turned to invest its energies into Israel’s national health emergency.
According to Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, director general of Sheba Medical Center, the Mossad has been pivotal in helping the hospital obtain secure vital medical devices and expertise from abroad. What’s the story behind this mission?
Early in February, experts at Sheba realized that additional ventilators and medical equipment would be needed to cope with the virus in Israel. At that point, Prof. Kreiss met with Mr. Yossi Cohen, director of the Mossad, at a private event. They discussed a topic weighing heavily on both their minds – how the Mossad could help the Israeli health system. Prof. Kreiss explained the most urgent requirements to Mr. Cohen, who then received more comprehensive lists from the Ministry of Health. Shortly thereafter, Mossad set its international network into action to locate the necessary items.
“It is only in Israel that Sheba could have enlisted the help of the Mossad,” Prof. Kreiss said. “Can you imagine Mount Sinai Hospital going to the CIA for help?” he added, referring to the well-known New York medical center.
Prof. Kreiss would not provide details on precisely how the Mossad agents assisted the Israeli medical sector or exactly where the imported gear came from. However, six other Israeli officials who are knowledgeable about Mossad operations explained that international spy contacts were used to avoid shortages that could have overwhelmed the Israeli health system. They said that the contacts were invaluable in helping Israel to obtain testing material and ventilators that the Israeli health ministry had been incapable of acquiring. Because the Mossad’s activities are classified, these six individuals have remained anonymous.
Led by Mr. Cohen, a command and control center was established and headquartered at Sheba to manage the distribution of medical equipment across Israel. The center was staffed by representatives from the Ministry of Defense purchasing division, the Mossad, and Unit 81, the highly secret military intelligence unit that handles the development of advanced espionage technologies.
As Prof. Kreiss praised, Mossad agents demonstrate a single-mindedness of purpose, which was critical for the job of helping Israel to procure enough ventilators and testing supplies. “Part of their ethos is to execute their task at any price,” he said.
According to a senior Israeli official, the Mossad agents understood that urgent action was essential, as the demand for medical equipment was expected to grow and many countries would likely refuse to export products eventually. With no time to waste, the first shipment of supplies brought into Israel by the Mossad came on March 19. According to an official from the prime minister’s office, 100,000 coronavirus testing kits arrived on a special flight. Subsequent arrivals included 1.5 million surgical masks, tens of thousands of N-95 masks, more testing kits, protective outfits for first-aid workers, protective goggles, and a variety of medications. The Mossad was also instrumental in acquiring technology and knowledge from abroad that enabled many Israeli labs to perform coronavirus testing and produce ventilators. Additionally, using expertise imported by the Mossad, production lines to manufacture 25 million protective masks per month are currently being assembled.
Reports of the Mossad’s assistance in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic have spread, boosting the intelligence agency’s reputation as one of the most respected government institutions in Israel. Early on in the global coronavirus crisis, a meeting between Sheba’s Prof. Kreiss and the Mossad’s Mr. Cohen set the gears in motion for a unique rescue mission to bolster Israel’s fierce fight against COVID-19, a new invisible enemy.