Editor’s Note: WorldNetDaily international correspondent Anthony C. LoBaido made two recent trips to Iraq and Israel, as well as forays into Jordan and Turkey in pursuit of this story.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — As new Prime Minister Ariel Sharon takes power in Israel, a half-century-old intelligence operation may be nearing completion, one which seeks to bring a sense of closure to the biblical Babylonian captivity, after Israel’s Mossad spy agency smuggled out a few dozen Torah scrolls from Iraq.
It is an operation that deals with both treasured manuscripts and something far more valuable — Jewish believers still trapped in Iraq by Saddam Hussein’s police apparatus.
Hussein wanted to destroy the Torah scrolls — some of which are hundreds of years old — but was unable to complete that task.
The existence of the 30-some scrolls was made known last year when the chief rabbi of Israel used one of the smuggled scrolls in a religious festival in the city of Afula.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau explained to the Israeli media that “one branch” of the Israeli intelligence apparatus — either Shin Bet (akin to the U.S. FBI) or the Mossad (Israel’s version of the CIA) carried out the smuggling operation.
Mordechai Ben-Porat, the director of the Center for the Heritage of Babylonian Jewry, also acknowledged that the smuggling operation had been carried out, but he denied the involvement of Israeli intelligence. Ben-Porat is an important figure in Israel. He grew up in Iraq and acted as sort of a “Harriet Tubman” figure in helping to smuggle out almost all of the Jews living in Iraq between 1949 and 1951 — over 100,000. He did this by horseback on his own, before gaining assistance from Israeli intelligence. When these Jews returned to Israel en masse in the 1950s, they brought with them about 390-405 Torah scrolls. However, they left between 40-50 in a secret hiding place in Baghdad.
When Saddam discovered the hiding place of the scrolls while looking for new places to hide his own weapons of mass destruction, Israeli intelligence was forced into action to save the remaining documents.
Since 1995, Ben-Porat has masterminded the trek of the few remaining Jews in Iraq to return to Israel — about 160 in all. Most of these Jews went on to live in Holland or Great Britain. Iraqi border agents were bribed to let the Jews pass through unharmed into Jordan.
Between 24 and 36 Iraqi Jews are still trapped in Baghdad and other cities, the Mossad station chief in Jordan told WorldNetDaily. This community is extremely important to Israel. Why? Because it is a remnant that can directly trace its lineage back to the Babylonian captivity of 586 B.C. Until 1914, almost a third of the citizens in Baghdad were Jews descended from those who lived in exile.
This smuggling operation was carefully executed. Mossad agents based in Kurdistan, Ankara and Istanbul bribed Iraqi army officers to carry out the scrolls through Jordan. In Amman, Israeli intelligence agents then paid off Palestinian and Iraqi “businessmen” for the cache.
The Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs then gave various synagogues around Israel the chance to review the scrolls.
Noam Ben Yehuda, a Mossad intelligence agent based in Cyprus, told WorldNetDaily that the success of the smuggling mission was paramount to the intelligence services.
“Being a good Jew is important to us, as much as being a good field agent,” he said.
He said finding the Torah scrolls and returning them to Israel was “the final link in completing the work begun by Ben-Porat so long ago. Sure, there are still a handful of Jews left in Baghdad. But the whole operation led by Ben-Porat may be the single greatest achievement in the history of the intelligence services in our nation.”
Boon to Orthodoxy
The successful smuggling operation and ongoing intelligence mission to bring the remaining few dozen Jews home from Iraq will no doubt bring feelings of pride to most Jews — and Orthodox Jews in particular. The number of Orthodox believers is growing both around the world and in Israel. Orthodox birth rates range between seven and 10 children per family. Yeshivas, day schools and synagogues are also seeing their membership rolls on the rise. The Orthodox Jews in Israel have won control of around one third of the Israeli parliament’s Knesset seats.
David Eidensohn, who serves as a consultant to Gannet papers on Jewish issues, told WorldNetDaily, “In America, when I grew up in the ’50s, there were about five students in the Washington, D.C., Yeshiva and 80 students in the top rabbinical seminary in Lakewood. Today, there are many thousands in these places who are ultra-Orthodox. It is an exponential explosion fueled by high birth rate and a swarm of ‘returning Jews.’”
Israeli citizen Abu Youssef told WND, “Many Israeli governments headed by the Labor Party have fallen when they tried to tamper with Judaism. This is the main reason Barak lost his mandate to be prime minister. Without Judaism, there is no reason for the state of Israel to exist. Jews are welcome in all the countries in the world. Had Barak not tried his secular revolution nor let the Arabs obliterate Jewish history on the Temple Mount, he may have remained prime minister.”