THE politician vying to become Israel’s first woman prime minister since Golda Meir has disclosed personal details of her former career in the intelligence agency Mossad, hinting that she considered “short relationships” to relieve her loneliness as a secret agent.
Tzipi Livni, 50, whose centrist Kadima party emerged as the largest single group in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, after elections last week, is now scrabbling to form a coalition government. She is expected to be beaten to the prime minister’s job by Binyamin Netanyahu, 59, leader of the conservative Likud party.
In an interview given 14 years ago but published in full for the first time last Friday in a pro-Livni newspaper, she described the pressures of working undercover for Bayonet, Mossad’s elite hit squad, and her role in a secret mission during the 1982 war with Lebanon.
She recalled how, as a 22-year-old living undercover in a fashionable part of Paris, she had found it impossible to form lasting relationships.
“A romantic relationship requires honesty between a couple,” she told her interviewer. “I couldn’t, of course, develop such a relationship with anyone, but a short relationship does no harm, if you keep to the rules.
“It’s a bit like forcing yourself not to get drunk in order to keep control of your mouth.”
Livni said she had been unable to reveal to even her closest family that she was a spy. When her father visited her in Paris, he could not understand why a woman who had been a brilliant law student “was wasting her time in Europe doing nothing”.
Working for Mossad was like “living constantly in two worlds”, she said. “On the one hand, I did things of which I was very proud, and I felt I was part of a special force, contributing to the security of Israel. On the other hand, I had to keep my mouth shut and not to tell anyone about it.”
During her 1982 undercover mission, she said, it was difficult to explain to friends what she was doing out of the country when Israel was at war.
She acknowledged that she was prepared to kill for her country. “To kill and assassinate, though it’s not strictly legal, if you do it for your country, it’s legitimate.”
Livni was a member of Bayonet for four years and in her interview admitted to feeling fear on secret missions. “Life goes on, but it’s like performing on stage. It was rough . . .
“You’re loaded up all the time with adrenaline. Most of the time I was doing strange things normal people never do. I lost all my spontaneity. You must be focused and calculated all the time.
“Even when I went to the newsagent I would check to see if I had a tail.”
One of Mossad’s most notorious operations of the 1980s was the use of a “honey trap” to capture Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear technician who disclosed the details of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme to The Sunday Times.
Asked whether she would have considered such a role, she replied: “If you ask me if I was ever asked to go to bed with someone for my country, the answer is “˜no’. But if I’d been asked to do it, I don’t know what I’d have said. In the “˜office’ [Mossad’s term for itself] there is a job tailored for everyone.”
The interview was heavily cut by Israel’s military censor when it originally appeared. Livni, who was just entering politics at the time, was identified only as “L”.
Observers speculated that the motive for its release last week in the strongly supportive mass circulation Yediot Aharanot was to enhance her reputation after an election in which her party won 28 seats to Netanyahu’s 27.
If Netanyahu returns to power with the backing of other right-wing parties, he may launch a radical initiative to open talks with Syria and trade land for a peace deal.
Some political analysts expect him to offer Livni a senior role to broaden his support. A timely reminder of her patriotic past may have done her no harm in the struggle for power.