Contrary to a widely held perception, the Mossad was not engaged in a global manhunt for ex-Nazis during the 1950s and 60s; the spy agency had bigger fish to fry: protecting Israel from the hostile nations that surrounded it. Andrew Nagorski, in an excerpt from his new book The Nazi Hunters, tells the story of how Eichmann came to the attention of Israeli intelligence:
On September 19, 1957, Fritz Bauer, who . . . was then attorney general of the West German state of Hesse, arranged a meeting with Felix Shinar, the head of Israel’s reparations mission in the Federal Republic of Germany. To make sure it was as hush-hush as possible, the two men met at an inn just off the Cologne-Frankfurt highway.
According to Isser Harel, the Mossad director [at the time], Bauer came straight to the point. “Eichmann has been traced,” he told Shinar.
When the Israeli queried whether he really meant Adolf Eichmann, Bauer responded: “Yes, Adolf Eichmann. He is in Argentina.”
“And what do you intend to do?” asked Shinar.
“I’ll be perfectly frank with you, I don’t know if we can altogether rely on the German judiciary here, let alone on the German embassy staff in Buenos Aires,” Bauer responded, leaving no doubt that he distrusted many of his country’s public servants and was worried that someone would tip off Eichmann if they learned he was in danger of arrest. “I see no other way but to talk to you,” Bauer continued. “You are known to be efficient people, and nobody could be more interested than you in the capture of Eichmann.” Then he threw in a word of caution: “Obviously I wish to maintain contact with you in connection with this matter, but only provided that strict secrecy is kept.”