Bar (center), outside the courthouse and flanked by police officers, during the time of his trial in 1961
|Died||1966 (aged 53–54)
Israel Bar (1912 – May 1966) was an Austrian-born Israeli citizen convicted of espionage. On March 31, 1961, Bar, a senior employee in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, was arrested under suspicion of espionage for the Soviet Union. A former lieutenant colonel in the IDF, Bar was a well-known military commentator and an acknowledged expert on military history, and was employed in a civilian position within the Israeli Ministry of Defense to write a book on the history of the Israeli War of Independence.
Unconfirmed early history
Bar claimed to have been born in Austria to an assimilated Jewish family, claimed that he had been active in the Austrian Social Democratic Party and claimed to have taken part in the armed conflict between the military organization of this party, the Schutzbund, and the Austrian army. Bar took pride in having later completed officer training in the Austrian military academy and for having served as an officer in the army for a certain period of time, claiming to have completed his service as a colonel serving as a brigade commander
'We can find no trace of your parents in Austria. If they were typical Jewish parents, as you make them out to be, then why aren't you circumcised?'
'We have checked all the records in Austria. You never fought on the barricades. You never received a doctorate, as you claim you did, nor did you ever attend the university. You did not go to the military academy because Jews were not allowed to at the time. They have checked their lists for us and your name is not there. The Schutzbund has no record of your membership either.'
'We have gone through the records of the international Brigade and your name is not there. You never fought in Spain....'
'Now tell me: who are you? We want the truth.'
Israel Bar never revealed his true identity, nor did he ever admit to have worked for the KGB.
Bar had obtained first-hand knowledge of both theoretical and historical military areas, which made him an expert in these issues and an acknowledged expert on military affairs, despite his lack of real field experience. He was proficient in the details of the battles, names of places, commanders, military units, a proficiency which Israel Bar used to gain credibility and military experience.
Bar's publication of articles on military subjects led to his acceptance in 1940 as a permanent member of the Haganah. There, he took part in training and in planning until the outbreak of the Israeli War of Independence. With the establishment of the IDF he was appointed as one of the two assistants to the head of the Operations Division and the Deputy Chief of the General Staff as well as serving as head of the Planning Division for the Operations Division, at the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He requested discharge from the IDF in 1949, because of his failure to be promoted to a new position in the Operations Division in direct subordination to the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. He bitterly claimed that he was not promoted because his credibility was in question because of his connection with an opposition party, Mapam. Israel Bar was formally discharged after a leave of absence in July 1950.
Bar was politically active in Mapam during his service in the IDF. After his resignation from the IDF he began work in Mapam, as head of its security department. In this position he obtained military intelligence information about the IDF in order to keep party officials, who were in the opposition, informed, and was closely connected with the party's information department which was gathering political non-military intelligence.
During his Mapam activity Israel Bar was closely associated with Moshe Sneh, the leader of the Left Faction, a group which identified itself with the USSR, and Communism. The Prague Trials and the Moscow Doctors' Plot during the years 1952–1953 caused internal dissent within the Mapam and a split where the Left Faction resigned from Mapam and later formed Maki. In January 1953, Israel Bar chose unexpectedly not to join Sneh and temporarily retired from political activity. In 1954, to the surprise of many, he joined Mapai, the majority party led by David Ben-Gurion.
In the early fifties Israel Bar lectured on military history in various courses in the IDF. In mid-1955, he signed a civilian contract with the Israeli Ministry of Defense with the intent of writing about the events of the Israeli War of Independence. A project he was involved in right up to his arrest. In 1959 Bar was appointed head of the Department of Military History in the University of Tel Aviv.
Israel Bar was considered among the ministry's senior administrative officials as the civilian contract with the Israeli Ministry of Defense afforded him the rank of colonel. A position which allowed Israel Bar to intermittently receive various updates, which included classified material.
The dramatic change in Israel Bar's avowed political views sparked varying reactions. Some considered him to be an opportunist hoping to return to the IDF; others viewed his efforts to approach Ben-Gurion, the Defense Minister of Israel, with suspicion, considering them an alarming sign of attempted left wing influence.
Bar used his new status in the Ministry of Defense to his advantage in order to create the impression that he had a very close relationship with Ben-Gurion, and that he was amongst his confidantes and advisors. Despite his civilian status he could often be seen wearing the uniform of a lieutenant colonel. Furthermore, he had the habit of spending lunch breaks in the General Staff base, where he would meet senior officers and exchange updates and opinions.
Israel Bar presented himself as a close confidante of the Minister of Defense and so gained the trust of many of his colleagues and associates at the General Staff Base, they even considered him to be a close link to the minister, one who could promote their personal and professional interests. Some even provided him classified documents, including intelligence assessments, for consideration.
From the year 1958 Bar began to develop close connections in Europe, including Germany, France, the United Kingdom as well as other Western countries. Furthermore, he embarked on several trips to those countries, while creating the impression that he was on a government mission and thus obtaining the aid of military attachés and Ministry of Defense delegations. His meetings included the German Minister of Defence, Franz Josef Strauss, and the head of French intelligence, among others.
Despite the explicit prohibition of the head of the Mossad, Isser Harel, this had been conveyed to him by the director general of the Ministry of Defense. Ysrael Bar during a visit to Germany in 1960 met with the Chief of Federal Intelligence Service of West Germany, General Reinhard Gehlen, who was a prime target for Soviet intelligence.
Isser Harel considered it a suspicious sign when he discovered that Israel Bar had gone ahead with the meeting he had specifically prohibited. Isser Harel's suspicions, suspicions that he had long harbored against Bar, he considered as corroborated. Harel had always suspected Bar due to his close connection to Sneh, his activity in the Mapam Security Department, which seemed to have a subversive bent, and the suspicion that he could be a communist who had infiltrated Mapai in order to attain a central position and to become a Soviet-Communist agent within the establishment.
The information on Bar at that point was not enough to legally justify his removal from his position in the Ministry of Defense. Consequently Harel had three long conversations with Bar in 1955, 1956 and 1958. He was also closely monitored, with no results. Harel was not satisfied with the first conversation in 1955, when Bar was questioned about his past. In September 1956, prior to the Kadesh operation Harel had a second conversation with Bar, as a precautionary measure carried out in cases of "individuals with questionable loyalties". This conversation was also intended as a warning to such individuals, were the Soviets to attempt to recruit them, or simply as a deterrence to the formation of such connections.
Following the arrest of Aharon Cohen in 1958, on the grounds of espionage for the USSR and due to certain connections between Bar and Cohen around that time, Harel conducted another conversation with him.
No specific suspicions were raised in these three conversations; however Harel's suspicions were far from allayed.
Even after Bar's meeting with the head of the German intelligence service, he was monitored, but still there was not enough material to support the suspicions.
In January 1961, Vladimir Sokolov, a member of the Soviet intelligence and a staff member at the Soviet Embassy, was observed carrying out secretive activity in a certain area of north Tel Aviv. Shin Bet decided to increase the surveillance of this area to a daily level.
On March 29, 1961, at approximately 08:00 P.M, the surveillance detected an unidentified individual carrying out a secret meeting with Sokolov. Surveillance of the individual's movements led to an apartment on the second floor of 67 Brandeis Street in north Tel Aviv—Israel Bar's apartment.
The following evening, on March 30, 1961, at approximately 08:00 P.M, Bar was observed walking in the area of the previous meeting, carrying a heavy briefcase. He met with Sokolov and was later seen walking without the briefcase. At 10:40 P.M he was observed walking to his apartment holding the briefcase.
In the time between these events two Soviet cars, one of which belonged to Sokolov, were observed exiting the Soviet Embassy separately, and heading in the direction of Tel Aviv. A member of the Soviet intelligence holding a briefcase emerged from one of them. Shin Bet's intelligence assessment was that the material in the briefcase had been photocopied and returned to Bar.
Israel Bar was interrogated that night and his apartment was searched. Classified documents were discovered during the search. Bar was arrested on the morning of March 31, 1961.
Bar initially denied all accusations of contact with foreign diplomats, but later on, admitted to having connections with Soviet intelligence as well as to his operator Vladimir Sokolov. The interrogation revealed that Bar's recruitment by the Soviets began in 1956, when he met Sergei Lousiev, a representative of the Soviet news agency Tass, and a known member of the Soviet intelligence, in the apartment of an Israeli journalist.
About a month later Bar was invited to Misha Eidelberg's apartment. Eidelberg was an old acquaintance from the Mapam, and a central activist in the Communist organization The Movement for Friendship with the USSR. Shortly after arriving at Eidelberg's apartment Lousiev arrived "unexpectedly" and began to discuss some "frustrations" in his press work: his lack of sources of information, the constant slandering of the USSR in the Israeli press, and finally, the fact that there was no Israeli willing to explain the Israeli point of view to the Soviets. By telling Bar this, Lousiev as much as invited him to become the Israeli spokesperson. Lousiev expressed his desire to continue meeting Bar and they decided to schedule another meeting over the phone. However, before Bar had the chance to call, he met Lousiev "coincidentally" and they scheduled another meeting, which was held in September 1956.
Bar informed the Minister of Defense's military secretary about this new acquaintance and the secretary advised him to discuss the issue with the head of the ISA Amos Manor. Bar did report the issue to the head of the ISA, during a meeting on a separate topic. Manor warned him that Lousiev was a member of the Soviet intelligence and that his intentions were far from innocent. Despite these warnings Bar met Lousiev again.
In September 1956, when he was summoned for the meeting with Isser Harel, he mentioned his acquaintance with Lousiev and was warned again regarding the continuation of his relationship with the Soviet.
His further relationship with the Soviets was, claimed Bar, at three festive occasions held at the consulates of Bulgaria, the USSR and Yugoslavia, between September 1957 and January 1958. Bar met Lousiev again and was introduced to Vasili Avdyenko, a senior member of the Soviet intelligence, stationed as head of the KGB branch in the USSR embassy.
According to Bar, the two had a serious conversation regarding political and strategic issues regarding the relations between Israel and the USSR. Avdyenko later introduced Bar to Vladimir Sokolov. He began meeting Sokolov in January 1958 and they gradually moved from semi-public meetings including intellectual exchange of ideas in pleasant surroundings, to conspirative meetings on military matters concerning Western countries and later, concerning Israel as well. Bar was subjected to a number of intelligence interrogations conducted in the Soviet intelligence facility, located in the Russian Church in Abu-Kabir. During further stages of the intelligence relationship with Bar, Sokolov demonstrated increasing interest in security matters related to Israel. He demanded and was given documents, which he photocopied.
In early 1961 Sokolov's demands became more aggressive and even threatening. He demanded information on Israel's nuclear potential and implied that Bar would never be able to sever his connections with the Soviets. According to Bar, he was shocked and began to reconsider this relationship, which had begun on a political background, but had turned into "the work of an actual mole".
He even contemplated, he claimed, turning to Shin Bet, but did not do so due to Harel's hostile approach towards him, and the harsh words between them after his meeting with the German general.
In response to pressure from the Soviet operator, Bar provided him the plans of an American army base that had been built in Turkey by an Israeli company – Solel Boneh. Sokolov appeared for his next meeting, which he had set with Bar for April 10, 1961.
On April 16, 1961, Bar's arrest became public, after which Sokolov left the country. Bar claimed in his defense that he had acted out of the hope to turn the Soviet orientation in the Middle East in Israel's favor.
Bar was tried for espionage and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. He appealed his sentence to the Israeli Supreme Court, but the court rejected his appeal, and his sentence was lengthened to 15 years imprisonment. Israel Bar died while still in prison in May 1966.