The Red Sea Diving Resort the Mossad Used to Bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel

March 6, 2020 | Raffi Berg
About the author:

In the 1980s, trying to help Jews fleeing war-torn Ethiopia make it to the Jewish state, the Mossad purchased an abandoned hotel on the Sudanese coast and turned it into a front for their operation. From there, the agents found Ethiopian Jews who had traveled, usually on foot, to Sudan, and then transported them to Israel. The story was told in fictionalized form in the Netflix film The Red Sea Diving Resort, but the journalist Raffi Berg has recently written a historical work about the affair, based on extensive research and interviews with the participants. He discusses the story in an interview with James Sorene:

[T]he Ethiopian Jewish community [had] existed for centuries, driven by an ancestral longing to return to the lands of its forefathers, which these Jews did not call the land of Israel but rather “the land of Jerusalem.” They expected that the day would come when they would leave Ethiopia and return to Israel.

It is a common misperception that the Ethiopian Jews were “rescued” by the Mossad. Even the Mossad people don’t like that terminology, and Ethiopian Jews themselves do not like this term, either. There is a very good reason for this, and that is the fact that these communities were indeed agents of their own fate. The Ethiopian Jews [embarked on a] tremendous odyssey, on foot, from Ethiopia across the border into Sudan, and it was a hellish journey. They climbed over mountains, through deserts and jungles and across rivers, with very few provisions. About 16,000 Ethiopian Jews made the journey, and around 1,500 did not make it to Sudan.

At first, small numbers of Ethiopian Jews were being smuggled out of the Khartoum airport and passed off as non-Jewish refugees. As the number of Ethiopian Jews began to increase quite drastically, [a Mossad agent interviewed by Berg, who goes only by the name “Dani”], had to conceive of ways in which he could scale up the operation. He suggested ceasing to rely on the airport and instead using the Israeli Navy, which could transport the Jews from Sudan’s coast. When he was trying to identify sites for a suitable landing bay, Dani stumbled across this abandoned diving resort. If the Mossad could get hold of it and turn it into a Club-Med style resort, it could be used as a legitimate base for operatives to live and work at in the daytime and carry out “people smuggling” operations at night.

Read more on Fathom: