Operation Atlas (Mandatory Palestine)
|Part of World War II|
|Planned by||German Intelligence
Berlin-based Mufti of Jerusalem
|Objective||Attacking the British rule and fomenting tensions among Palestinian Jews and Arabs.|
|Executed by||A special commando unit of the Waffen SS|
Operation Atlas was the code name for an operation carried out by a special commando unit of the Waffen SS which took place in October 1944. It involved five soldiers: three who were previously members of the Templer religious sect in Palestine, and two Palestinian Arabs close collaborators of the mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini.
The mission aimed at establishing an intelligence-gathering base in Palestine, radioing information back to Germany, and recruiting and arming anti-British Palestinians by buying their support with gold. It also aimed at fomenting tensions between Jews and Arabs, thus creating problems for the British Mandatory authorities.
The plan failed utterly, and no meaningful action could be undertaken by the commandos. Three of the participants were arrested by the Transjordan Frontier Force a few days after their landing. The German commander was captured in 1946 and the fifth, Hasan Salama, succeeded in escaping.
One version of the incident by Michael Bar-Zohar and Eitan Haber, alleges that the mission included a plan to poison the drinking water resources of the residents of Tel Aviv. British and German archives have yet to reveal any evidence for this story, and the mufti's biographers ignore it.
Numerous German-Arab commando operations were conducted over 1943-1944 from North Africa to Syria and Iraq, in order to collect intelligence, conduct sabotage operations against the Allies, and to foment uprisings.
Amin al-Husseini, who was one of the main Palestinian Arabs leaders and who had fled Mandatory Palestine in 1937 during 1936–1939 uprising, spent the war as a guest of the Axis Powers. On November 28, 1941, he met with Adolf Hitler and received an undertaking that Germany would either pursue at war's end 'the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power' or 'the destruction of the power protecting the Jews.'
Kurt Wieland, a Palestine-born German from the Templer community in Sarona, was head of the Palestinian Hitler Youth in 1938. He joined the Brandenburg regiment in 1940, and took part in the SSF covert German mission to Iraq in 1941. Wieland was assigned to the military intelligence corps due to his knowledge of languages. He advanced his position rapidly and eventually got to the rank of major, serving in the special commando unit of the Waffen-SS under the command of Otto Skorzeny. The unit involved belonged to Amt V1, the Third Reich's civilian foreign intelligence agency. Wieland was in charge of the technical side of the operation.
As the Allied forces closed in on Germany from the west of the Rhine and from the east through Prussia, operations were devised to disrupt and divert Allied forces on Germany's southern and eastern flanks. One such operation in the Middle Eastern theatre consisted of at least one sabotage operation in Palestine. The implementation of this particular plan was assigned to Kurt Wieland, an intelligence operative, whose background in the region would enable him to make use of his operational experience, his familiarity with Palestine and his connections with the locals. The Waffen SS unit members were ordered to contact pro-Nazi agents in Palestine and set up secret bases in the region.
The Nazis' main intention was to cause the British to divert some of their forces to Palestine, thereby improving the Nazis' ability to repel the Allied forces from Nazi Germany.
In addition to Wieland, two more German soldiers, who had been formerly raised in Palestinian Templer communities, were assigned to the unit. They both knew the region quite well, and belonged to the Brandenburg division: Werner Frank,whose job was to man the radio, was born in Haifa, had joined the Hitler Youth there in 1934, and had become a Brandenburger in 1940; and Friedrich Deininger, born in Waldheim. Deininger had assisted the Palestinian Arab forces during the Palestinian uprising and, as a result, had been imprisoned at Bat Yam. Later he is reported to have escaped and made his way back to Nazi Germany, where he became a Brandenburger and joined the SSF. Two Palestinian Arabs, attached to Amin al Husseini's milieu in Germany, were also assigned to the unit: Hasan Salama, a native of the Palestinian village Qula and veteran of guerilla warfare near Nablus during the revolt and Abdul Latif, a native of Jerusalem, who had been sent into exile for involvement in the 1936-9 uprising and became the Berlin editor of the mufti's Arabic radio addresses. He was delegated to look after political connections. All five members of the unit were briefed by al-Husseini before the mission.
The operation was a failure from the start due to intelligence gathered earlier by the local authorities about German operations in the area due to the defection of Abwehr agent Erich Vermehren earlier in February 1944, mismanagement of the parachute drop, and the cold reception their presence in the area encountered from local Palestinians.
On the night of October 6, 1944, the five unit members parachuted from a "Heinkel HeS 3" airplane over the Jericho region in Wadi Qelt. Their equipment included submachine guns, dynamite, radio equipment, a dupliating machine, a German-Arabic dictionary, 5,000 Pound sterling in different currencies and explosives. It was the discovery of these dispersed cargo boxes on the 9th of October that alerted the British to the fact an operation was underway. A report also talks about "some poison" in the equipment. According to historian Christian Destremau, this refers to capsules of poison that were probably aimed at eliminating collaborators of the Mandatory Authorities.
The unit was dropped in two different locations near Jericho, and most of their equipment scattered around those locations. Hasan Salama, who was injured during the parachuting, began heading towards Jerusalem after he landed. The rest of the unit (the two Germans and Abdul Latif) hid in a cave in Wadi Qelt.
Both local people recommended by the Mufti, Nafith and Ali Bey al-Husseini, refused to provide any support to the commando. Later, during his interrogation by the police, Abdul Latif claimed that Ali Bey had stated that "he was not mad enough to provide them any support". He added that Nafith Bey had explained to him that they were not aware of the political relationship between Arabs and British and that it was a terrible mistake to participate to such an adventure with Germans.
Soon after the parachute drop, local Bedouin discovered one of the parachuted money supplies as well as a pistol and ammunitions. Word of the new coins in Jericho rapidly spread across the region and became the first clue for the authorities that a secret operation was underway. As a result, Jerusalem police commander Fayez Bey Idrissi ordered extensive searches in Wadi Qelt.
On October 11, the British authorities posted the following statement in the Hebrew press:
|“||Meanwhile, Abdul Latif made contact with two Arab policemen seeking the British forces, whom [sic?] provided him with food and water, and updated information. On October 16, 1944 two Germans and Abdul Latif were captured in a cave in Wadi Qelt, after Idrissi instructed to follow the two policemen whom [sic?] provided food and information to the dwellers of the cave.||”|
Information about the capture of the soldiers was revealed to the inhabitants of Palestine in October 1944. On October 16, the British Mandate authorities published the following official statement:
|“||Police information led to a combined military and police operation in the Wadi Qelt area and resulted in an important arrests by the Trans Jordan Frontier Force||”|
On October 27, a full report of the capturing of the enemy parachutists was published in the Davar newspaper under the title:
|“||Enemy parachutists were captured nine days after parachuting in the region. two Germans and one Arab. - They came equipped with money, Arab dictionaries and weapons.||”|
The newspaper stated that on October 8, the Jericho police chief learned that gold coins were being circulated in the city. As a result, an investigation was initiated which resulted in the seizure of gold coins from five local shepherds. The shepherds told the policemen of the site in which they discovered the coins. As a result, a manhunt began which involved military and local police forces, as well as members of the Arab Legion and the Transjordan Frontier Force. On October 16, a sergeant in the Jordanian Frontier Force discovered a man dressed in traditional Arab clothing, standing at the entrance to a cave and holding a gun. The man surrendered without a fight and soon afterwards two additional people were discovered inside the cave, a German and an Arab.
Hasan Salama and Frederick Deininger were not captured, and several days afterwards, the search for them was halted. Deininger was not caught until 1946, when he attempted to renew contact with his family in Wilhelma. Hasan Salama managed to flee to a house of a doctor in a small village near Qula, where he had a foot injury treated.
In July 4, 2001, about 200 secret documents from the British MI5 Archives were released to the public, most of which were related to Germany from the years 1939-1944. Among the documents released, was detailed information relating to the German Operation ATLAS and the German and Palestinian Arab unit members who were parachuted into Palestine to carry out the operation.
The mission to poison Tel-Aviv story
In 1983, Michael Bar-Zohar and Eitan Haber published The Quest for The Red Prince, a book about the hunt by Mossad agents for Ali Hassan Salameh, son of Hasan Salama, the Black September's head of operations who had been responsible for the execution of the 1972 Munich massacre.
They allege that the project included a plan, specifically thought up by al-Husseini, to poison the Rosh HaAyin springs that fed the grid supplying Tel Aviv with its drinking water. The drop is said to have included several cardboard boxes containing a fine white powder consisting of a strong water-soluble poison. Each box is said to have contained poison sufficient to kill about 25,000 people. This part of the parachuted cargo is said to have gone astray, with the unit failing in attempts to recover them.
The Bar-Zohar/Haber story is repeated by historian Klaus Gensicke in his book Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten. (The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis), in which he underscores al-Husseini's role as a Nazi collaborator. Gensicke argues also that al-Husseini was "a genocidal player in the Holocaust". The same view is adopted by Calder Walton, an expert on the history of MI5, in his Empire of Secrets. Walton writes of Salama's "implacable anti-Semitism". The story is also reported by Youssef Aboul-Enein and Basil H. Aboul-Enein in their The Secret War for the Middle East: The Influence of Axis and Allied Operations During World War Two, Chuck Morse in The Nazi connection to Islamic Terror and in the Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz.
Historian Wolfgang G. Schwanitz has cast doubts on the story :
The claim that the mufti got "ten containers with poison" to kill a quarter of a million people via the water system of Tel Aviv in exchange for the five Palestinian paratroopers in late 1944 (61) is not substantiated in British or German sources. If the authors can now show really hard proof, this would be a discovery, since the British police report of 1944 on file is very detailed.
According to historian Christian Destremau, the cargo contained no such quantities of toxic material, but only poison capsules, probably to be of service in attempts to liquidate locals believed to be collaborating with the Mandatory Authorities.
In his Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, Norman Finkelstein notes that this claim has not been reported by the scholarly literature or by many other works that target the Mufti :
The major biographies of the Mufti are The Mufti of Jerusalem by Palestinian historian Philip Mattar and The Grand Mufti by Israeli historian Zvi Elpeleg. (...). Neither mentions a German-Arab commando unit en route to poison Tel Aviv's wells.
In popular fiction
In 2009, the Israeli journalist and military affairs commentator, Gad Shimron, published the fictional novel "The Sweetheart of the Templar From the Valley of Rephaim" (Hebrew: אהובת הטמפלר מעמק רפאים), which incorporated the story of Operation ATLAS while making several changes to the plot, the exact period in which the parachuting was carried out, the names, and their fate.
- The National Archives | The Catalogue | Full Details | KV 2/401
- [dead link]
- The document from the British MI5 archives which covers the details of "Operation ATLAS"[dead link]
- a summary of the MI5 released files
- Rick Fountain, 'Nazis planned Palestine subversion ,' at BBC News 5 July 2001
- Mallmann & Cüppers 2010, p. p.200
- Christopher Browning, with Jürgen Matthäus, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942, University of Nebraska Press, 2004 p.406;'die Vernichtung des im arabischen Raum unter der Protektion der britischen Macht lebenden Judentums sein,' drawing on David Yisraeli, The Palestine Problem in German Politics, 1889-1945 p. 310. In his note to the text p. 539 n. 107, Browning records that Fritz Grobba's recollection is slightly different and less specific: "At the moment of Arab liberation, Germany had no interest there other than the destruction of the power protecting the Jews" (die Vernichtung der das Judentum protegierenden Macht). ISBN 0-8032-1327-1
- Mallmann & Cüppers 2010, p. p.201
- Adams 2009, p. 15.
- Benny Morris: 1948
- "Halbmond und Hakenkreuz: das Dritte Reich, die Araber und Palästina", Klaus-Michael Mallmann & Martin Cüppers, 2006, pg 240 (German)
- Adams 2009, p. 15
- MI5 Document Release, 2001, KV 2/400.
- Christian Destremau, Le Moyen-Orient pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Perrin, 2011.
- BBC News | MIDDLE EAST | Nazis planned Palestine subversion
- Bar-Zohar & Haber 1983, pp. 45ff
- Zohar, Gil. "The führer of the Arabs". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- Calder Walton, Empire of Secrets, HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.
- Youssef Aboul-Enein and Basil H. Aboul-Enein, The Secret War for the Middle East: The Influence of Axis and Allied Operations During World War Two, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 2013, p.29
- Chuck Morse, The Nazi connection to Islamic Terror, IUniverse, 2003, p.87.
- Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel , 2011, p.54
- Wolfgang Schwanitz (2009). "A Mosaic on the Mufti's Islam". Jewish Political Studies Review 21: 178–179.
- Norman Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah, University of California Press, 2005, p.278.
- The document from the British MI5 archives which covers the details of "Operation ATLAS"[dead link]
- Enemy parachutists have been captured, Davar, October 27, 1944 (Hebrew)
- 3 Nazi air officers caught in Palestine, published on The New York Times on October 28, 1944
- Nazi Parachutists Taken In Palestine, published on the Milwaukee Journal on November 1, 1944
- Nazis planned Palestine subversion, published on BBC News on 5 July 2001