In 1980, he played a key role in secreting a homing device in Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility so Israeli bombers could target it unerringly.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he dived daringly into Beirut’s harbor and blew up the underwater communications cables connecting Syria and Egypt.
With help from a promiscuous secretary, he infiltrated NATO headquarters in Brussels disguised as a French lieutenant colonel. Then he ushered in a Syrian chemical weapons scientist ready to spy only for the French and debriefed the unwitting spy there for six hours.
In Israel security circles this week, the buzz is deafening. Who is the pseudonymous author “Gerald Westerby,” the man now using these claimed exploits as the basis for a book of business advice for executives who believe “business is not a metaphor for war, but war itself?”
Just as important, did these fantastic, Bond-like hair-raisers really happen the way he describes?
At least the first part of this mystery seems to be clearing up.
The author appears to be Jerry Sanders, a 45-year-old former Mossad agent from the United States who is now a partner in a high-tech medical equipment firm in San Francisco. His book, “In Hostile Territory — Business Secrets of a Mossad Combatant,” is due out next month from HarperCollins.
In an interview with The Jewish Week Tuesday, Sanders denied it. He added, though, that he has received numerous calls about his alleged connection to the book.
“I don’t know what it’s all about,” he said.
But Wednesday, Sanders’ business partner confirmed that Sanders was the author in an interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot. What’s more, said his partner, Asher Shmuelewitz, Sanders wrote the book in consultation with the Mossad.
That, however, raises some serious questions about the accuracy of some of Westerby’s stories. Several of the exploits, for example, occurred when Sanders was only 21 and presumably still in the Israeli army, or at most, just out.
That would seem rather early to have been working as a Mossad operative in Beirut under the cover of being a “senior financial analyst” for an international monetary organization. Yet Westerby describes this as already “a subject I actually knew something about, having had international banking experience in a prior life.”
Nevertheless, according to Shmuelewitz, “I read the book that my partner [Sanders] wrote. … The book was written as a business book with general examples from the Mossad.”
But he cautioned, “I don’t know if the grandiose things in the book took place. He doesn’t usually talk to me about this.”
Victor Ostrovsky, an ex-Mossad agent who wrote his own tell-all tome in 1990, told The Jewish Week his inquiries also revealed Sanders was the author.
“I did my own checking,” said Ostrovsky, who now lives in Canada.
In fact, in “By Way of Deception,” Ostrovsky’s scathing critique of Mossad, written very much without Mossad consultation, Sanders, identified as Jerry S., shows up in more than two dozen of the 437 pages. Described as a slim-built American attorney with a beard, moustache and grayish hair, Sanders is said to have entered Mossad’s training program in 1983, the same year as Ostrovsky. He plays something of a heavy in Ostrovsky’s book, where he is charged with a variety of serious misdeeds ranging from the personal to the operational.
“The last I heard of him,” Ostrovsky writes of Sanders, “he was planning to start an operation in Yemen to see if he could bring some Jews into Israel.”
“In Hostile Territory” opens with an account of Westerby’s mission to Yemen, where he was sent to bring a Yemenite Jewish family out to Israel, and the nightmare of logistical challenges he overcame in doing so.
Westerby’s book also seems to go out of its way to take a swipe at Ostrovsky. In its only footnote, he is referred to as “a failed con man” and “a failed man in a failed life,” who through his book aimed “to harm Mossad and … ultimately the state of Israel.”
Accurate or hyped, several of the stories Westerby recounts will certainly interest the governments on which he spied. Among his claims:
* That a Mossad operative bribed Syrian President Hafez Assad’s son, Basil, with $14 million to get him to convince his father to release Syrian Jews. According to Westerby, the plan died with Basil’s untimely death while driving his Mercedes in 1994. One problem: Assad had already allowed most of Syria’s Jews out by then.
* That he and other Mossad agents infiltrated Logistique, a French firm that helped Iraq transport soldiers and war materiel during its war with Iran. Once in Baghdad, the Mossad agents succeeded in sabotaging many of the shipments.
* That the Mossad ran a mostly legitimate, financially lucrative international placement agency out of Paris that also placed Mossad engineers in Pakistan’s main nuclear research reactor, welders in Libya’s chemical warfare factories and phone technicians with the ArabSat satellite consortium.
Ostrovsky challenged some of Westerby’s accounts as “ludicrous.” While Westerby, for example, carried off an impersonation of a French colonel successfully enough to fool the would-be Syrian spy in NATO headquarters, Sanders, according to Ostrovsky, doesn’t speak French at all.
Such apparent inconsistencies could indicate Sanders really did not write the book — or simply that he grossly exaggerated in some cases. However, it is clear Sanders has had something like this project in mind for some time.
In an interview two months ago with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Sanders spoke of drawing on his experiences in Israeli security organizations to teach business executives how to succeed with “aggressive techniques.” He also noted his experience as an Israeli navy commando — another past career he shares with Westerby.