Israeli intelligence agency Mossad attempted to turn French spies into double agents during a joint operation in Syria, Le Monde newspaper reported, citing a French intelligence report.
The report, part-published by the French daily, reveals Mossad’s efforts to develop relationships with French spies between 2010 and 2011, in an effort to achieve its goal of turning them into double agents and obtain sensitive information for Tel Aviv.
The attempt apparently began when Mossad and French secret services collaborated to source intelligence data on the Syrian government's chemical weapons program, called ‘Ratafia’.
According to the Le Monde report, Israeli agents took advantage of their relationship with their French counterparts during the operation, and attempted to persuade a number of them to become regular intelligence sources for Israel.
The newspaper noted several incidents highlighted in the report, including one in which a French agent attended a Shabbat dinner at the house of Mossad's Paris bureau chief.
The same agent later stated that he was going on vacation in Dubai, when he actually traveled to Israel, where he spent time with Mossad agents without reporting that he had done so.
Another instance reportedly involved suspicious money that was deposited in the bank accounts of French agents who were part of the Ratafia operation.
Le Monde reports that several agents received large sums in cash and presents from their Israeli counterparts.
Those agents were reportedly transferred to less prestigious roles and had their security clearances frozen after that.
The alleged close ties between the French and Israeli agents were first uncovered by another French espionage agency in charge of information security, according to Le Monde.
That agency has been closely monitoring and documenting their meetings with Mossad members.
All of the Mossad agents involved in the case were identified by name in the report and France has filed a formal complaint against them, according to the Jerusalem Post.
However, Mossad's Paris bureau chief has since returned to Israel, and two Israeli agents implicated in the case have left the intelligence agency and currently work as businessmen in Tel Aviv.
Despite no longer working for Mossad, Le Monde reported that the two agents-turned-businessmen recently tried to reach out to Bernard Squarcini, who served as the head of the General Directorate for Internal Security from 2007-2012 and previously worked with the Israeli agents in Paris.
However, Squarcini – who is being questioned as a suspect in the case – told Le Monde in 2016 that he had met the two “totally by chance.”
Squarcini had previously launched an internal inquiry into whether Mossad was trying to recruit French agents as sources.
However, the agents he placed under surveillance at the time did not include those involved in the Ratafia operation – despite Squarcini reportedly knowing that close ties had developed between his staffers and Mossad operatives.
The French intelligence report recommends investigating Squarcini on suspicion of maintaining unauthorized and unreported ties with Mossad's Paris bureau chief.
The report also calls for further investigation to determine what damage was done to the French intelligence service.
Haaretz reported that a judge appointed by the French has filed an official request with Israel to question the two agents who contacted Squarcini, but that it is so far unclear whether he has received a response.
Le Monde is expected to release two more reports on the revelation.