Israeli spy dramas fuel interest in joining secretive Mossad agency

Screenshot of Apple TV's Tehran, which in some ways mirrors real-life events in the Middle East  - Apple TV
Screenshot of Apple TV's Tehran, which in some ways mirrors real-life events in the Middle East - Apple TV

It is often considered the most secretive and ruthless of all spy networks, emerging briefly from the shadows to confront Israel's enemies before vanishing once more.

But a wave of nail-biting spy thrillers on streaming websites, as well as last month’s high profile assassination of an Iranian scientist, have placed Mossad firmly in the public eye.

Former spies in the elite intelligence service say it is always on the lookout for recruits as it adapts to new dangers in the region, and that television programmes such as Apple TV's "Tehran" and Netflix's "The Spy," are fuelling applications.

“When people see the James Bond movies, or Tehran, they want to be a part of it,” former Mossad agent Avner Avraham, who says it was 007 that first drew him to the service, told the Daily Telegraph.

“You can travel, the government pays you, it's fun, it's sometimes dangerous and you are very proud to serve your country...and so people want to join," said Mr Avraham, who worked as a Mossad officer for 28 years.

“Tehran” in particular has some parallels with events unfolding in the real world today, as it features a young, female undercover Mossad agent on operations in the Iranian capital.

On November 27, Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was gunned down near Tehran in an ambush that seemed to have been plucked straight from the script of the Israeli spy series, which was first broadcast on public network Kan.

Avner Avraham, a former Mossad officer, left, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  - Avner Avraham / Spy Legends Agency 
Avner Avraham, a former Mossad officer, left, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - Avner Avraham / Spy Legends Agency

Iran has repeatedly blamed Mossad for the killing, which allegedly involved a remote controlled machine gun, though Israel has declined to comment on those claims.

Mossad’s current director, Yossi Cohen, recently embarked on a hiring spree, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and increased the agency’s budget by several billion shekels as it faces a growing threat from Iran.

Mr Cohen has spent more time in the public eye than is usual for Mossad chiefs, having played a key role in securing historic normalisation treaties between Israel and Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

He is said to have secretly visited the United Arab Emirates at least once before that deal was struck, laying the groundwork for what came to be known as the Abraham Accords.

According to the Washington Post, Mossad is increasingly in competition with Israel’s booming tech industry, which is picking up some of the country’s brightest minds after they finish compulsory national service.

But Mr Avraham stressed that, unlike during his days in Mossad, it no longer needs to be a lifetime career.

“Today is different, they don't want you to stay all your life and you don't need to. You can come for a few years, and then walk away to develop special programmes,” he said. “You can develop ideas [learned in the service] and make a lot of money.”

Mossad recently launched a new website, which Mr Avraham helped to design, that features the dramatic tagline: “Suddenly, I’m finding myself doing things that you maybe only see in the movies.”

Visitors are able to fill out a questionnaire to help recruiters decide whether they are cut out for the agency.

Since leaving Mossad, Mr Avraham has founded his own network of former agents, Spy Legends Agency, which provides public speaking services and strategic advice on the latest security issues.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind spy speakers' bureau,” added Mr Avraham, who hopes to spend more time offering its services abroad once the coronavirus pandemic draws to a close.