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The Truth Behind

The Truth Behind Israel’s Man of Mystery Ze’ev Gur-Arie’s life has the makings of a Hollywood film. The wife of the late Mossad agent honours his memory by telling his intriguing story A dapper Ze’ev Gur-Arie seen during his time as a secret agent for the Mossad. “ • BY PLIA KETTNER People can say whatever they want about him, but life with Ze’ev was certainly never boring,” says Naomi Gur-Arie, referring to her late husband, Ze’ev Gur-Arie. This is undoubtedly an understatement, considering Gur-Arie had been an Israeli spy in Egypt and one of the most colourful and fascinating characters in the history of the Israeli intelligence world. A Hollywood film could be made about the life of Gur-Arie, or Wolfgang Lotz, as he was named at birth. It was a life full of tension, drama and action that could have given James Bond a run for his money. It involved secrets, money, alcohol, and a love of beautiful women, all of which played a role in Gur-Arie’s pro-Israel activity. Later in life, he was recognised as an IDF disabled veteran who died as a result of his operational activity. No one will forget what he did for the State of Israel. Gur-Arie was born in 1921 in Germany to Helene and Hans, who were involved in theater; obviously, he inherited his excellent acting skills from his parents. When he was nine years old, his parents divorced and he remained with his mother. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, the two fled Germany and moved to Palestine. Gur-Arie went to live at the Ben-Shemen Youth Village, where he became experienced in guarding defence patrols on armoured vehicles, as well as how to ride a horse. All of these skills helped him tremendously later in life. “He had no problem getting people to like him – in real life, as well as part of his job,” Naomi Gur-Arie When Gur-Arie was 16, he forged a new identity with a different birth date so that he could enlist in the British military. He served for six years, and when Israel was established he joined the newly formed IDF, where he served in a number of different positions. But the big turnaround came when Avraham Shalom (who would go on to become head of Shin Bet – Israel Security Agency) recommended that he be hired as a Mossad agent, which provided him with the opportunity to put his acting skills to great use. It was in this role that Gur-Arie was able to take advantage of all the skills he’d been honing for years. A good Mossad agent needs to know how to camouflage himself, to be a great actor who knows how to get people to talk so that he can garner information. “He was extraordinarily skillful,” Naomi says with a smile. “He had no problem getting people to like him – in real life, as well as part of his job.” In 1960, Gur-Arie began working as an Israeli spy in Egypt. One day, during a train ride from Paris, where his first wife and son were stationed while he was working for the Mossad, Gur-Arie met and fell in love with a German woman named Waltraud Neumann. Two weeks later they were married, even though he was still married to his Israeli wife, Rivka. To the displeasure of his Mossad handlers, Waltraud accompanied Gur-Arie back to Cairo. He was never one to let others tell him what to do. Gur-Arie’s cover story was that he used to breed horses and he’d come to Egypt to establish a riding club outside Cairo, which became a magnet for senior army and police officers. He used the club to network with elite circles, and in later years he was nicknamed The Spy on the Horse. Egyptian high society was drawn to him like a magnet, and soon enough Gur-Arie had become a close associate of the Egyptian Police Commissioner, the chief of military 16 IDFWO MARCH 2018

intelligence, as well as the officer in charge of the Suez Canal. As a result, Israel gained valuable information about the Egyptians’ means of defence and their missile launching sites in the Sinai Peninsula. When Gur-Arie was finally arrested, it was entirely by accident. In fact, he was such a superb actor that he had not aroused any suspicion whatsoever. In addition to his prominent German appearance, he had cultivated an antisemitic image and would speak bitterly about the Jews. He was arrested because Egypt was in the process of tightening its ties with East Germany and, following the visit of East German head of state Walter Ulbricht in 1965, Nasser decided to arrest 30 West German citizens who were in Egypt. Gur- Arie just happened to be among the detainees. At the time, he was not suspected of being a spy, and there was no question about his front as a businessman. His acting skills had served him well to the end. However, Gur-Arie’s wife and her parents had also been arrested, and that is what made him worry. Gur-Arie did not know the reason behind the surprising arrest, and was convinced that it was because he had been exposed. He decided to play along in order to save his wife and her parents, and so he told the Egyptians that he was a German citizen who had been a Wehrmacht officer, that he had come to Egypt to set up a trading and horse farm, and that he had been seduced with money to spy for the Israelis. He claimed that his wife knew nothing about it. In the end, he and his wife were put on trial, where his cover story still remained intact. The court sentenced Gur-Arie to life in prison with hard labour, while his wife was given three years. In 1968, after serving three years in Egyptian prison, the two of them were released as part of a prisoner exchange deal, and they subsequently moved to Israel and settled in Moshav Ganot. Gur-Arie established another horse farm – this time not as a cover story – but life in the quiet village did not remain calm for long. Waltraud, who had undergone harsh torture at the hands of the Egyptian interrogators, suffered a stroke and died of medical complications. About a year after he was widowed, Gur-Arie met Naomi, who would become his third wife. She was a young, spontaneous woman who worked in a law firm. Gur-Arie meets Israeli President Zalman Shazar (centre-right) during a state ceremony. (Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Centre) “Ze’ev offered me a ride home, and even helped me bring my groceries inside. He was quite the gentleman and very charismatic, but I wasn’t really serious at the time,” Naomi recalled. “I wasn’t one to follow tradition. I was happy to just enjoy myself – getting married was the farthest thing from my mind. This was pretty unusual for those times, but that didn’t bother me at all,” recalls Naomi, who was 28 at the time. “Our mutual friends invited us both out for dinner in a restaurant – an official double date that I wasn’t prepared for. “I loved him very much. He was the love of my life. He just captivated me,” Naomi Gur-Arie He came to pick me up for the meal and then I stayed at his place for three days straight. That’s when I realised that it’d gotten serious. It kind of turned into a joke among our friends, how something so serious had formed so quickly from nothing.” At that time, Naomi still did not know that the man she was spending time with was a famous former spy. “I knew that he had been divorced, and that his previous wife had died,” she says. “But I never made the connection between him and the story about the German spy.” She finally found out the truth behind her husband’s complex past from a mutual friend. “Ze’ev had never been overly generous with details about his personal life,” she explains. “I loved him very much. He was the love of my life. He was so impressive and everyone liked him. He just captivated me.” The two of them lived in the US for a while, and then got married since the US authorities would not extend Naomi’s visa unless she was married. Gur-Arie later developed a number of medical problems, including diabetes, and became blind in one eye. Naomi tried to help him receive status as an Israeli disabled veteran, which she finally succeeded in doing. “I was sure that all his medical problems were the result of his service as an Israeli intelligence officer and the torture he experienced in prison,” Naomi says. “Ze’ev drank huge quantities of alcohol while on duty, because that was the easiest way for him to get people to divulge information. The authorities finally agreed that there was a connection.” After all the hard work Naomi had done for him, Ze’ev left for Germany. He received an offer to write his memoirs and during the trip he met Herma Haddorp and decided to stay with her in Germany. Naomi remained in Israel, still technically married to Gur-Arie since he never agreed to grant a get (Jewish divorce) until the day he died in 1993 at the aged of 72. Despite that, she works tirelessly to honour his legacy. “It’s important to me that people know what he did. He succeeded in gathering quite a lot of important intel for the Israeli government. “Call me crazy, but I loved the man,” she said with a wry smile. Translated by Hannah Hochner. IDFWO MARCH 2018 17