Jump to content

Victor Ostrovsky

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Victor Ostrovsky
Born (1949-11-28) 28 November 1949 (age 74)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
OccupationWriter, gallerist, painter, entrepreneur
Notable worksBy Way of Deception, Universal Soldier: Regeneration
ChildrenLeeorah, Sharone

Victor John Ostrovsky (born 28 November 1949) is an author and intelligence officer who was a case officer in the Israeli Mossad for 14 months before his dismissal. After leaving the Mossad, Ostrovsky authored two books about his service with the Mossad: By Way of Deception,[1] a #1 New York Times bestseller in 1990, and The Other Side of Deception several years later. Both books were criticized by journalists, scholars, and historians for their lack of historical accuracy and for containing sensationalist claims.


Ostrovsky's mother, a gymnastics teacher by profession, was born in Mandatory Palestine to Haim and Esther Margolin, who had 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.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Edmonton, Canada, in 1948 and moved to Israel at the age of 1. He grew up in Holon.[2]


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.[citation needed]

In the IDF, Ostrovsky was assigned to the Military Police and later the Israeli Navy. He rose to the rank of major, though variously claimed to be a colonel and lieutenant commander.[3]

Ostrovsky worked in the Mossad from 1984 to 1986. Most of his time in the agency was spent as a trainee, and he was barely a case officer before he was fired. According to historian Benny Morris, given Mossad's information compartmentalization and relatively junior role, Ostrovsky would not have had much knowledge of current Mossad operations or operational history during his short tenure. The Mossad confirmed Ostrovsky's employment, but stated that he had been found "unfit for the service" and he returned to Canada after 18 months as a trainee,[4] with only 14 months of service as a case officer.[5][3] According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ostrovsky was fired from Mossad for insubordination.[2]

He operated Ostrovsky Fine Art Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona.[6] 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.[citation needed]


By Way of Deception[edit]

In 1990, he published By Way of Deception, a memoir of his years in the Mossad.[3] On 12 September 1990, the Israeli embassy in Ottawa successfully obtained a court order temporarily blocking the book's publication of in Canada. On the same day, the New York Supreme Court barred publication in the United States. According to the Israeli government, Ostrovsky wrote the book in violation of the official secrets contract he signed when he employed by Mossad.[4][5] The New York judgment was reversed by an appeals court on 13 September. Notoriety surrounding the book led to it becoming popular.[5] By October 1990, the book was number one on the New York Times bestseller list.[7] He earned nearly $2 million in royalties from the book.[2]

The first half of the book provides a detailed first-hand account of Ostrovsky's training as a case officer, including how to detect surveillance and how to meet and recruit agents. According to Wise of The New York Times, the second half of the book discusses operations in which Ostrovsky did not participate or had occurred before he even joined Israeli intelligence. Wise surmised that due to the detail provided about these operations, Ostovsky and his-coauthor Roy relied on published sources.[5]

According to William B. Quandt in Foreign Affairs, the book contained "convincing tidbits about Mossad recruitment methods and operations," but "how much was true could not easily be determined.[8] Former Mossad chief Isser Harel and journalist Hirsh Goodman accused Ostrovsky of fabrications in the book.[7]

According to coworkers both in Mossad and outside government told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Ostrovsky had an erratic personality and a vivid imagination.[4][9] Former Mossad officer Jerry Sanders, who Ostrovsky heavily criticizes in By Way of Deception, calls Ostrovsky a "failed con man" who aimed to harm Mossad and Israel.[9]

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.[10] 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."[5]

Many of Ostrovsky's claims in the book have neither been verified from other sources nor been refuted, and arguments continue to rage over the credibility of his accounts. Historian Benny Morris described the book as essentially a novel. David Wise from The New York Times stated that much of it reads like a "supermarket tabloid" and given Ostrovsky's brief length of service and his position, he would not be expected to possess the broad range of knowledge about Mossad operations he claims.[5] They write that intelligence organizations practice strict compartmentalization of confidential or secretive information.[3] 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.

Concerns were expressed by the Israeli government that by exposing certain prior operations, the book endangered the lives of agency personnel.[11] Ostrovsky maintains that he never placed anyone in danger because only first names or code names were used. Furthermore, Ostrovsky claims the Mossad was privately allowed to see the book before publication to ensure that lives were not placed in danger.

In 1993, he wrote The Lion of Judah, a Middle East spy novel.[2]

The Other Side of Deception[edit]

In 1994, Ostrovsky wrote another book, The Other Side of Deception: A Rogue Agent Exposes the Mossad's Secret Agenda, in which he gives more anecdotes and defends his earlier work with a list of newspaper articles. Ostrovsky writes that the book was written in cooperation with a "moderate Mossad faction" that he had remained in touch with since his departure from the agency in 1986.[8] Among other claims, Ostrovsky writes that the Mossad supported Russian coup plotters seeking to oust Mikhail Gorbachev to obtain visas for Soviet Jews, plotted to kill George H. W. Bush during the Madrid Conference of 1991, and murdered businessman Robert Maxwell. According to a review by Benny Morris in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Ostrovsky's "list of charges stretches from the preposterous to the ridiculous" and the book "voyages to the far side of credibility and offers giant chunks of deception". He further calls the book "three-hundred-odd pages of nonsense, invented conversations, half-truths, full-blown lies, and terrible prose." According to Morris, Ostrovsky wears his animosity toward the Mossad, and by extension, Israel, on his sleeve on almost every page.[3]

According to a review by Nils Petter Gleditsch in the Journal of Peace Research, the operational detail and information contained in the book "has a scope which it is hard to believe that a relatively junior officer would obtain."[12]

Kathleen Christison praised the first half of the book as a "highly readable primer in the tricks and dirty tricks of the trade" in which Ostrovsky discusses his training and provides details of Mossad tradecraft. She is critical of the second half of the book, second-hand descriptions of alleged Mossad operations that Ostrovsky claimed to have heard about or participated in. She writes that while "the general outlines of these operations are probably accurately conveyed, there is just enough factual error to cast doubt on the details" and his descriptions of his accomplishments "seem overdrawn".[13]

William Quandt criticized the book as suffering "from some of the same flaws [as By Way of Deception]: extensive quotations of conversations based on memory." While Quandt writes that some of the book may be true, "to sort of fact from deception is extremely difficult."[8]




  1. ^ Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy (1990) By Way of Deception. The Making of a Mossad Officer. St Martin’s Press, New York. ISBN 0-312-05613-3
  2. ^ a b c d "Ex-mossad Agent Files Suit, Claiming On-air Death Plea". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 12 February 1995. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  3. ^ a b c d e Morris, Benny (1 January 1996). "The Far Side of Credibility". Journal of Palestine Studies. 25 (2): 93–95. doi:10.2307/2538192. ISSN 0377-919X. JSTOR 2538192.
  4. ^ a b c "Israeli Officials Start Campaign to Discredit Mossad Book Author". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 11 September 1990. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Wise, David (7 October 1990). "What Did Mossad Know, and When?". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  6. ^ Victor Ostrovsky Art Gallery
  7. ^ a b "Author of Best-selling Mossad Book Encounters Hostility on Tv Talk Show". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 22 October 1990. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  8. ^ a b c Quandt, William (May–June 1995). "Reviewed Work: The Other Side of Deception: A Rogue Agent Exposes the Mossad's Secret Agenda by Victor Ostrovsky". Foreign Affairs: 186–187. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  9. ^ a b Cohler-Esses, Lawrence (17 April 1998). "Cloak & Dagger Man Uncloaked". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  10. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (14 September 1990). "Column Left: Suppression Only Lends Credence : Israel's attempts to stop publication of a damning book are backfiring". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  11. ^ Cohen, Roger (14 September 1990). "Ban on Mossad Book Is Overturned". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  12. ^ Gleditsch, Nils Petter (August 1992). "Reviewed Works: By Way of Deception. The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer by Victor Ostrovsky, Claire Hoy; The Imperfect Spies. The History of Israeli Intelligence by Yossi Melman, Dan Raviv". Journal of Peace Research. 29 (3): 362. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  13. ^ Christison, Kathleen (Spring 1991). "Reviewed Works: The Imperfect Spies: The History of Israeli Intelligence. by Yossi Melman, Dan Raviv; By Way of Deception. by Victor Ostrovsky, Claire Hoy". Journal of Palestine Studies. 20 (3): 126–128. Retrieved 11 January 2024.

External links[edit]