Victor Ostrovsky

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Victor Ostrovsky
Born (1949-11-28) 28 November 1949 (age 72)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
OccupationWriter, gallerist, painter, entrepreneur
Notable worksBy Way of Deception, Universal Soldier: Regeneration
ChildrenLeeorah, Sharone

Victor John Ostrovsky (born November 28, 1949) is an author and a former katsa (case officer) for the Israeli Mossad. He authored two nonfiction books about his service with the Mossad: By Way of Deception, a #1 New York Times bestseller in 1990, and The Other Side of Deception several years later.


Ostrovsky's mother, a gymnastics teacher by trade, was born in Mandatory Palestine to Haim and Esther Margolin, (his grandparents) who fled Russia in 1912 and settled in Palestine where Haim served as Auditor General of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), and Esther volunteered to the British Army (ATS), as truck driver during World War II, and later joined the Haganah to fight for Israel's independence from the British mandate rule.

Ostrovsky's father was a Canadian-born Jew who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II as a tail gunner on a Lancaster bomber, taking part in more than 20 missions over Germany. His plane was shot down over Germany, but he managed to escape and return to active service. After the war, he joined the Israeli military to fight in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, rising to command Sde Dov, an Israeli Air Force base in Israel.

Ostrovsky's grandmother, a Russian immigrant, introduced him to noted Israeli artist Aharon Giladi, who lived on the same street, and who bought paints and canvasses for him. Giladi mentored Ostrovsky for more than 10 years.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Edmonton, Alberta, on November 28, 1949, and he moved to Israel at the age of five.[1]


Ostrovsky joined the Israeli Youth Brigade at 14 and quickly became an expert marksman, finishing second in a 1964 national shooting competition, with a score of 192 out of 200. At the age of 17, he joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) after a minor eye condition ended his hopes of becoming a pilot. He was assigned to the Military Police and rose to command the Nablus Military Police Base. Later, he was made commanding officer of the Military Police West Bank Central Command.

After his service with the Military Police, he spent six years in the Israeli Navy. He was selected to attend the Staff and Command School and attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Ostrovsky was placed in charge of all Navy weapons testing. He helped introduce the Harpoon surface-to-surface missile to the Saar missile boats as well as the Vulcan Phalanx anti-missile defense system.

According to court papers filed by the Israeli government in an attempt to stop the publication of his book By Way of Deception, Ostrovsky was recruited by the Mossad in 1984[2] and trained as a katsa (case officer) at the Mossad's training school north of Tel Aviv.

In 1986, he says that he left the agency saying it was because of what he considered cases of unnecessarily-malicious actions by Mossad operatives. He also accused its directors of knowingly making less-than-accurate reports to the nation's political leadership. However, historian Benny Morris states that Ostrovsky's two years in the Mossad were mostly spent as a trainee, and he wouldn't have had access to many operational secrets before he was fired.[2]

His wife, Bella Ostrovsky, died on January 8, 2015, at 65.[3]

He operated Ostrovsky Fine Art Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona.[4] While he has painted many subjects, he is best known for his Metaphors of Espionage collection, inspired by his days as a spy for the Mossad.

By Way of Deception[edit]

In 1990, he published By Way of Deception to draw attention to the corruption and shortcomings that he claims to have witnessed in the Mossad. He has repeatedly argued that intelligence-gathering agencies must be permitted certain operational freedoms but that significantly-increased governmental oversight of espionage activities is necessary.

Without effective oversight, he has said that the Mossad cannot achieve its full potential and value. According to Ostrovsky, if a US senator on a military committee whose "aide was Jewish, he or she would be approached as a sayan," which Ostrovsky later defines as "a volunteer Jewish helper outside Israel" who would then assist Mossad.[5] Of the Israeli spy network in the United States, David Wise wrote in his New York Times review that "both countries know that Israel has spied on the United States for years" and that from publicly known instances, the "general assertion can hardly be challenged."[6]

Many of Ostrovsky's claims have neither been verified from other sources nor been refuted, and arguments continue to rage over the credibility of his accounts. However, he was named in a lawsuit by the Israeli government, which claimed that he was part of the Mossad. Critics such as Benny Morris, have argued that the book is essentially a novel; or in the case of David Wise, that much of it reads like a "supermarket tabloid," and that a case officer would not have had access to so many operational secrets.[6] They write that intelligence organizations practice strict compartmentalization of confidential or secretive information.[2] Ostrovsky argued their point to be moot, as they themselves are outsiders and that the only information about the Mossad they have is from their supposed "sources" in the agency with a very clear agenda. Ostrovsky also points out that the need-to-know rule was not closely followed in the Mossad because of its small size and the need for case officers to fill many roles.

Shortly before the official publication of the book, the Israeli government filed lawsuits in both Canada and the United States, seeking injunctions against publication. A judge for the Manhattan Supreme Court granted the request at a 1 a.m. hearing in his home.[7] The New York Supreme Court overturned his decision, but the resulting publicity focused national attention on Ostrovsky's story and guaranteed international success.

Concerns were expressed by the Israeli government that by exposing certain prior operations, the book endangered the lives of agency personnel.[8] Ostrovsky maintains that he never placed anyone in danger because only first names or code names were used. Furthermore, Ostrovsky says the Mossad was privately allowed to see the book before publication to ensure that lives were not placed in danger.

The Other Side of Deception[edit]

He wrote a sequel, The Other Side of Deception, in which he gives more anecdotes and defends his earlier work with a list of newspaper articles



Articles (partial)[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Morris, Benny (1996-01-01). "The Far Side of Credibility". Journal of Palestine Studies. 25 (2): 93–95. doi:10.2307/2538192. ISSN 0377-919X.
  3. ^ Bella Ostrovsky obituary
  4. ^ Victor Ostrovsky Art Gallery
  5. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (September 14, 1990). "Column Left: Suppression Only Lends Credence : Israel's attempts to stop publication of a damning book are backfiring". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Wise, David (October 7, 1990). "What Did Mossad Know, and When?". The New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  7. ^ "N.Y. Judge Bans Book; Injunction Says Spy Expose' Would Hurt Israel'". Washington Post. September 13, 1990. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  8. ^ Cohen, Roger (1990-09-14). "Ban on Mossad Book Is Overturned". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-18.

External links[edit]