The Sayanim: Mossad’s International Volunteers


    The Sayanim are loyal. This is what fuels their mission. The flexibility in their roles give the Mossad a unique operational capability

    The Sayanim

    “Loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”

    -Mark Twain

    In order to understand the operational function of the Sayanim, it would be helpful to give some background context on the Mossad, the agency whom they support.

    The Mossad was established on the 13th of December 1949. As per the official website:

    “Since its establishment, the Mossad has been involved in intelligence collection based on the needs of the State, which are checked and drafted from time to time in what is known as the EEI — Essential Elements of Information. This is done through various means, such as HUMINT (human intelligence) and SIGINT (signals intelligence).  The routine activity is not exposed publicly, for understandable reasons.”

    According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Mossad is one of three Israeli intelligence organizations, the others being the Aman and the Shin Bet – military intelligence and internal security. Apart from the aforementioned, “The Mossad is concerned with foreign intelligence gathering, intelligence analysis, and covert operations”.

    Homeland Security Abroad

    In contemporary times, Israel continues to reunite the worlds Jewish population back to their own ethnic homeland. Centuries of suffering and displacement leading up to the Holocaust caused Jews to live in small pockets scattered across the globe where they could live in a community and preserve their culture. The 1948 establishment of the country of Israel was a major shift in international politics, albeit a controversial one. Many nations remain at odds with the young state, and their list of enemies has no shortage.

    And so, The Mossad seeks to identify foreign threats and to neutralize them before they reach the domestic homeland. The most recent high-profile instance of this took place on the 27th of November 2020, when an Iranian scientist named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated on the outskirts of Tehran. Fakhrizadeh, also known as “the father of the Iranian bomb”, was a key component of Iran’s nuclear program.

    The assassination was no easy feat, however – especially with-it taking place deep within enemy territory.

    In essence, It was reported that the Mossad spent eight months surveilling their target and potential assassination location – all with the help of a “20-plus spy team comprising both Israeli and Iranian nationals”, according to the Middle East Eye.

    When the Mossad claims their routine activity is not exposed publicly, they truly mean it. Throughout their history of international operations, there remains an element of mystery within the agency that separates it from the rest of its spooky cohort, among the likes of the CIA and Mi6. But to draw back on the Fakhrizadeh assassination, there is a likely chance the team of spies involved had some help from a not-so-well-known element of Israeli clandestine operations: the Sayanim.  

    In the Hebrew language, Sayanim translates to mean “helpers” or “assistants”. In the Mossad, the Sayanim are a volunteer network of Jews across the world who are loyal to the nation of Israel and willing to help the agency in their global mission. According to a comparative study of HUMINT in counterterrorism between Israel and France, Amy Kirchheimer writes that Israel has “the challenge of collecting intelligence on a vast array of targets with a comparatively small number of intelligence officers, and the Sayanim network helped the Mossad Katsas (case officers) somewhat lessen this problem.”

    According to Gordon Thomas in his book Gideon’s Spies: Mossad’s Secret Warriors, the Sayanim were a creation of Mier Amit, the Chief Director of the Mossad from 1963-1968. Thomas writes, “Each Sayan was an example of historical cohesiveness of the world Jewish community. Regardless of allegiance to his or her country, in the final analysis, a Sayan would recognize a greater loyalty: the mystical one to Israel, and a need to help protect it from its enemies”.

    The loyalty of the Sayanim is what fuels their mission and none reside on a Mossad payroll. The flexibility and diversity in their roles give the Mossad a unique operational capability with increased protection from detection and a way to avoid budget restraints or accountability.

    Most Sayanim fulfil various roles that can themselves be used to support Mossad operations. For example, Thomas writes, “A car Sayan, running a rental agency, provided a Katsa with a vehicle without the usual documentation. A letting agency Sayan offered accommodation. A bank Sayan might unlock funds outside normal hours. A Sayan physician would give medical assistance – treating a bullet wound for example – without informing the authorities”.

    Loyalty to Israel and pride in its existence is something that unites the Jewish people across the world, especially as its domestic population grows and the displaced Jews slowly populate its contested ancient lands. As long as Israel has enemies, the Mossad will be watching, and their Sayanim will be on stand-by to support them.

    Image: Youtube / Times of Israel (link)

    Michael Ellmer
    Michael Ellmer
    Michael is the Head of Research and Editor at Grey Dynamics. He spent eight years the United States Marine Corps infantry, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in strategic intelligence analysis at Brunel University London.

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