Help can come from the unlikeliest of places, particularly when spies and assassinations are involved.
In the 1960s a number of former Nazi scientists were assisting Egypt develop advanced rockets, which then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser threatened to use against Israel.
There was even evidence that Israel’s strongest enemy was building 900 rockets and possibly planning to fit them with nuclear or chemical warheads.
The Mossad refused to accept the threat lying down. Instead, it began a campaign called Operation Damocles, targeting the German collaborators.
One, a 49-year-old CEO named Heinz Krug whose company provided military hardware, mysteriously disappeared from his Munich office without a trace. Wild theories have been proposed for what happened to him over the decades, but they pale in comparison to the newly-revealed truth.
Through interviews with former agents, the Forward discovered that Krug was assassinated by a top SS officer who was working with the Mossad.
Otto Skorzeny, a former lieutenant colonel in the Waffen-SS, was one of his unit’s most outstanding leaders. Hitler himself presented him with the country’s top medal after Skorzeny rescued Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from captivity.
Due to his high position and notoriety, the Nuremberg prosecutors charged him with war crimes. Skorzeny was acquitted during his first round of trials, then managed to escape and resettle in Spain, under the fascist leader Francisco Franco. He remained there for a number of years, with temporary breaks to work for other despotic regimes.
The Mossad never forgot Skorzeny and considered kidnapping or killing him several times, as it did to other high-profile Nazis. As the threat of unconventional weapons from Egypt grew, though, it came up with a better way to handle the fighter.
Two agents posed as German tourists and “coincidentally” ended up at the same bar he was patronizing. Their attempts to win his confidences appeared to be succeeding — until he pulled out a gun and declared, “I know who you are, and I know why you’re here. You are Mossad, and you’ve come to kill me.”
The pair still managed to surprise Skorzeny by explaining that they didn’t want to kill him, but rather to offer him a job. Skorzeny agreed, on the condition that Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal remove him from the list of war criminals at large.
Skorzeny’s participation allowed the Mossad to step up its efforts against the scientists in Egypt. Prior to his enlistment, Israel had focused on threats and a few mail bombs. These scared the scientists but not enough to make them abandon their project.
Like his coworkers, Krug suspected that Israel would come after him and so he sought protection. Unfortunately for him, he chose to appeal to the man he remembered as a legendary Nazi commando: Otto Skorzeny. The precise details of their meeting are unknown except that they went into a forest near Munich together and only Skorzeny came out again.
The increasing publicity over Operation Damocles soon threatened relations between Israel and West Germany, and Ben-Gurion ordered the operation ended. Even so, it had done enough to convince the remaining Nazi scientists to end their work in Egypt. By 1967, Egypt was forced to abandon its domestic rocket program.
Skorzeny went on to live out the rest of his life in Spain, finally dying of cancer in 1975.
As a final twist, he never learned that the Mossad was unable to grant him the payment he had demanded in exchange for his services. Despite Israel’s pleas, Simon Wiesenthal refused to remove Skorzeny’s name from his list. Instead the Mossad forged a letter from the Nazi hunter and gave it to Skorzeny.