The revelation in Haaretz, the left-wing Israeli daily newspaper, that the Mossad trained Nelson Mandela in Ethiopia throws a new wrinkle into the Mandela story.
The world already knew that Mandela was trained in sabotage and terrorist tactics. This occurred when he left South Africa for Ethiopia to set up a secret underground military apparatus for the African National Congress that would then wage guerrilla attacks against the apartheid regime.
The assumption was that he got his training — as he probably did as well — from the KGB or the GRU, Soviet intelligence agencies that were seeking to establish proxies in Africa loyal to communism and the Soviet Union. But until the story that appeared yesterday, no one knew that Mandela “was trained in weaponry and sabotage by Mossad operatives in 1962, a few months before he was arrested in South Africa.”
The Mossad, the writers reveal, also tried their best to convert their subject — whom they did not realize was Nelson Mandela until he was arrested in South Africa — to the philosophy of Zionism. Mandela, who had support from Jewish Communists at home as well as from other liberal Jews opposed to apartheid, was evidently familiar with both the pre-state Haganah in British-occupied Palestine, and with Zionism in particular.
On October 11, 1962, two months after Mandela’s arrest in South Africa, the Mossad sent a letter to its officers that was stamped “Top Secret”:
The Mossad sent the letter to three recipients: the head of the Africa Desk at the Foreign Ministry, Netanel Lorch, who went on to become the third Knesset secretary; Maj. Gen. Aharon Remez, head of the ministry’s department of international cooperation and the first Israel Air Force commander; and Shmuel Dibon, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia between 1962 and 1966 and former head of the Middle East desk at the Ministry.
The subject line of the letter was “the Black Pimpernel,” in English, the term the South African media was already using for Mandela. It was based on the Scarlet Pimpernel, the nom de guerre of the hero of Baroness Emma Orczy’s early 20th century novel, who saved French noblemen from the guillotine during the French Revolution.
“As you may recall, three months ago we discussed the case of a trainee who arrived at the [Israeli] embassy in Ethiopia by the name of David Mobsari who came from Rhodesia,” the letter said. “The aforementioned received training from the Ethiopians [Israeli embassy staff, almost certainly Mossad agents] in judo, sabotage and weaponry.” The phrase “the Ethiopians” was apparently a code name for Mossad operatives working in Ethiopia.
The report also noted that Mandela greeted everyone with the term “shalom,” and was most familiar with the problem of the world’s Jews and with Israel. He appeared to the Mossad agents as an “intellectual,” but most tellingly “he expressed socialist worldviews and at times created the impression that he leaned toward communism.”
On that, the Mossad had it right. Their training of him did not pay off. From the start, Mandela supported the Soviet Union and its foreign policy, and befriended leftist African tyrannies as well as Yassir Arafat and the PLO.