by Gamal Nkrumah
Sarkozy’s bad week
As if his marital challenges were not enough cause for concern, “Sarco the Sayan” has suddenly emerged as the most infamous accolade of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The influential French daily Le Figaro last week revealed that the French leader once worked for — and perhaps still does, it hinted — Israeli intelligence as a sayan (Hebrew for helper), one of the thousands of Jewish citizens of countries other than Israel who cooperate with the katsas (Mossad case-officers).
A letter dispatched to French police officials late last winter — long before the presidential election but somehow kept secret — revealed that Sarkozy was recruited as an Israeli spy. The French police is currently investigating documents concerning Sarkozy’s alleged espionage activities on behalf of Mossad, which Le Figaro claims dated as far back as 1983. According to the author of the message, in 1978, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin ordered the infiltration of the French ruling Gaullist Party, Union pour un Mouvement Populaire. Originally targeted were Patrick Balkany, Patrick Devedjian and Pierre Lellouche. In 1983, they recruited the “young and promising” Sarkozy, the “fourth man”.
Ex-Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky describes how sayanim function in By Way Of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer. They are usually reached through relatives in Israel. An Israeli with a relative in France, for instance, might be asked to draft a letter saying the person bearing the letter represents an organisation whose main goal is to help save Jewish people in the Diaspora. Could the French relative help in any way? They perform many different roles. A car sayan, for example, running a rental car agency, could help the Mossad rent a car without having to complete the usual documentation. An apartment sayan would find accommodation without raising suspicions, a bank sayan could fund someone in the middle of the night if needs be, a doctor sayan would treat a bullet wound without reporting it to the police.
And, a political sayan ? It’s rather obvious what this could mean. The sayanim are a pool of people at the ready who will keep quiet about their actions out of loyalty to “the cause”, a non-risk recruitment system that draws from the millions of Jewish people outside Israel.
Such talk sends chills down spines, especially Arab and Muslim ones. Indeed, the revelation did not go unnoticed in Arab capitals or come as much of a surprise. Paris can be a sunny place for shady people. When it comes to intelligence gathering on behalf of Israel, a question mark is immediately raised on the moral calibre of the person in question. But, how does this scandal influence France’s foreign and domestic politics?