In the late 1970s, the Mossad launched one of history's most audacious missions: Operation Brothers. Their goal? To rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews facing violence and bring them safely to Israel. In this deep, three-part retelling of the first True Spies story, Sophia Di Martino meets Mossad operatives Daniel Limor, Rubi Viterbo, and Gad Shimron, who worked undercover to lead the covert evacuations. We also hear from Takele Mekonen, one of the thousands of Jews saved during the operation. In Part Two, Dani Limor and Ferede Aklum press on, despite growing uneasiness back in Israel. But a stroke of misfortune puts the men behind bars - and the mission at fatal risk.
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True Spies Episode 145 - Exodus, Part 2: Passports and Prison Cells

++Content Warning: This episode contains references to sexual violence.

NARRATOR: This is True Spies, the podcast that takes you deep inside the greatest secret missions of all time. Week by week, you’ll hear the true stories behind the operations that have shaped the world we live in. You’ll meet the people who live life undercover. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? I’m Sophia Di Martino, and this is True Spies, from SPYSCAPE Studios, Exodus, Part 2: Passports and Prison Cells.

DANIEL LIMOR: Once you are in the field and you have a mission, if the people who are in charge - those who send you to the field - do not trust you, you better leave... You cannot carry on your mission. 

NARRATOR: Sudan, 1979. Mossad’s Dani Limor has been in the country undercover for two months. His mission - to find and rescue Ethiopian Jews fleeing from persecution and a bloody civil war - has so far come to nothing. And now, for the first time since his arrival, he’s managed to connect with headquarters who tell Dani precisely what he doesn’t want to hear.

DANIEL LIMOR: “Dad wants to see you urgently.” Meaning, my boss wants to see me urgently. That means I have to leave.

NARRATOR: With little progress to report, Dani knows that returning to Israel would likely see headquarters abandon the mission; leaving the Ethiopian Jews to an uncertain fate. But having found the man who sparked Mossad’s search two months ago - Ferede Aklum - Dani can’t bring himself to abandon the one Ethiopian Jew he has found. So, Dani uses some deception on his own team.

DANIEL LIMOR: I said, “Look, I cannot go now. You tell Dad I am very busy. And that I cannot leave now. I am in the middle of things that are happening.” Actually, nothing happened.

NARRATOR: But headquarters are adamant. “You’ve got no choice,” is the reply. Dani knew what that meant - it was code for a direct order from the top. Ignoring it would mean an automatic dishonorable discharge. Dani says he will come back. Knowing that he won’t.

DANIEL LIMOR: After that conversation, I told Ferede that I need to go over to Europe to discuss some matters and I’ll be absent for a week. 

NARRATOR: “And what if you don’t come back?” Ferede asks.

DANIEL LIMOR: I said, “I'll come back.” He said, “But if you don't come back?”... “I will come back. I'll come back.”

NARRATOR: “I’m not going to abandon you. Jews don’t leave Jews,” Dani adds. 

DANIEL LIMOR: All my life. Since the moment I left, I came to Israel as a young man, 16 years old, I always felt that whatever I do, first of all, I'm willing to pay the price.

NARRATOR: Reluctantly, Dani leaves Sudan. But not for Israel. Instead, he stops in Paris, offering headquarters a compromise. On an encrypted line, Dani speaks to the head of the Mossad himself, Yitzhak Hofi. “You have no results,” Hofi says, “Come back now.” “Give me one more month,” Dani pleads. The line goes quiet… then, “You have one week.” But Dani is not done. “Can we say two weeks?” “Fine. I don’t want you to stay a day longer unless you find Jews.”

DANIEL LIMOR: And so I went back.

NARRATOR: Back in Sudan, Dani goes to a pre-arranged spot outside one of the camps to rendezvous with Ferede. In the distance, Dani spots him with two men.

DANIEL LIMOR: And those two guys, they looked like, wow, they hadn't eaten for weeks. Really looked bad. 

NARRATOR: Upon meeting them, Dani can hardly believe it.

DANIEL LIMOR: They were two Jews that he found. 

NARRATOR: And more than that, they knew others in the camp. Dani had two weeks to find Jews or the mission was over. Now, on his first night, there they were. The mission was back on. Dani and Ferede load the Jews into their Land Rover Defender and, under the cover of darkness, transport them 400 km to a hostel in Khartoum. They tell them to stay in their room and not make a sound. Ferede would come and provide for them each day. At around the same time, back in Ferede’s village in Ethiopia, a stranger appears at his mother’s hut. Upon greeting her the stranger says he has news from Sudan.

DANIEL LIMOR: He was an Ethiopian smuggler who spoke Arabic perfectly so he could go anywhere. He pulls out a photograph of Ferede, the son she has not heard from in five months. “Have you seen him?” she asks. “Yes,” the stranger replies, “He is safe in Sudan and in contact with Israel.” Ferede’s mother learns that the smuggler has come to bring her other sons to Sudan on Ferede’s orders. He thought that before we called everyone to come, we wanted to test to see how his younger brothers would do it, walking this huge distance.

NARRATOR: Immediately Ferede’s younger brothers agree to make the journey. That day, disguised in traditional Muslim clothes, the smuggler takes the boys across the border. Evading both rebel and government soldiers for over a week, the group eventually arrives in Gedaref. Three days later word gets to Ferede in Khartoum 400 km away. That night, the three brothers are reunited. But for Dani, there was still a problem. While he knew it was now possible to get Ethiopian Jews into Sudan, he had no way of getting them out. But then...

DANIEL LIMOR: The solution for this method of evacuation, as many other things that happened in this operation, came because life is life. 

NARRATOR: Dani often took a room at one of the only Western-style hotels in Khartoum, both to try and meet potentially useful contacts and also to catch some respite. One day, outside the hotel, he notices a motorbike.

DANIEL LIMOR: Now, I was always a bike man. In Sudan, I noticed that there were no bikes. No bikes at all. Not big. Not small. Not medium. Nothing. 

NARRATOR: Dani stares enviously at the motorbike.

DANIEL LIMOR: With my mouth open, probably. And here comes the owner.

NARRATOR: In a thick French accent, the man asks if he likes it.

DANIEL LIMOR: So I say, “Yes, I like it very much.” And then I told him in French, “How did you bring it? What are you doing here?” So he says, “I'm working for the UNHCR.”

NARRATOR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This man, a Belgian, was the organization’s number 2 in Sudan.

DANIEL LIMOR: He was in charge of the relocation of refugees. His job was to obtain - from countries around the world but essentially Western Europe - entry visas, as many as possible. 

NARRATOR: Dani knew this was a golden opportunity.

DANIEL LIMOR: And slowly but surely we became friendly. 

NARRATOR: After a few days, Dani starts to visit the Belgian in his office. Through his cover as an anthropologist, Dani asks how the refugee relocation scheme works. He even considers telling the Belgian outright what he was really doing in Sudan. But then he learns his boss was from Egypt, a Muslim country that Israel had an improving but still testy relationship with.

DANIEL LIMOR: I couldn’t know if this guy would be hostile or friendly. So, you have to be careful. You have to be prudent.

NARRATOR: So Dani devises another plan.

DANIEL LIMOR: I will learn how he does it and I will try to do it clandestinely.

NARRATOR: The Belgian would contact embassies asking how many refugees they would take. Once a number was agreed on, he would provide them with a list of names and purchase airline tickets. In turn, the embassies would issue a request for passports and exit visas for these names from the Sudanese Interior Ministry. The Belgian even took Dani to the Ministry itself, three times, to see how the final documents were stamped and collected - but more importantly, who stamped them.

DANIEL LIMOR: My idea was that he sees my face with the Belgian. He knows that the Belgian guy is a senior [member] of the UNHCR as well, so if I am with him, probably I am working with him. 

NARRATOR: But it was hugely risky. Sudan was officially an enemy of Israel, bent on the destruction of the Zionist state. Dani knew that if the Sudanese caught him in, literally, Zionist activity - trafficking Jews - he would likely be killed But by this point, he was all in.

DANIEL LIMOR: And so I did what I needed to do and without any second thoughts.

NARRATOR: He rings headquarters, asking his boss to contact all embassies the Mossad had good relations with in Khartoum. They should accept all refugee relocation requests - that is, all requests from a man named Antoine. “The rest I’ll take care of,” Dani says. 

NARRATOR: A few days later, Dani’s boss contacts him. Several embassies - including the Swiss, the French, the Germans, and the Greeks - are on board. Or at least, their intelligence agencies are. In turn, they would instruct their diplomats to do as asked, the latter not knowing they would be issuing false passport requests to Sudanese officials. Ferede gives Dani the names of 16 Ethiopian Jews he has found in the camps. Stating his name as Antoine, Dani goes to each embassy and collects the passport requests. Then, he heads to the Sudanese interior ministry itself.

DANIEL LIMOR: It was like a pilot [test to] see how they react.

NARRATOR: There, he meets the same official he had encountered several times with the Belgian.

DANIEL LIMOR: I was lucky because this guy did not engage in any conversations and not because he didn't know English. He knew English. It was just this type of arrogance, ‘You don't talk to these infidels.’ And so, that was my luck. I didn't need to do any small talk with him. So I said ‘good morning’ in Arabic and I put my list on his table. He looked at me for just a fraction of a second. Then he counted the names and he went to the cupboard. He brought me 25 passports. That was it! 

NARRATOR: Once stamped, Dani took the passports to show Ferede. He could hardly believe it. “We have a system!” Dani shouted. That month, May 1979, they took the first 16 Ethiopian Jews to Khartoum airport. None of them had been on an airplane before. But, with Dani and Ferede’s instructions, they approached the desk, checked in, and slipped out of view. After landing in Greece, they took a connecting flight to Israel. Ferede’s brothers were among them. Two months later, another 16 Ethiopian Jews arrived in the promised land. Most broke down in tears upon landing. Others kissed the ground, while one even ate the soil under his feet in fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

DANIEL LIMOR: The process was complete and was perfect. 

NARRATOR: Now knowing they could get Jews out, Ferede made a bold decision.

DANIEL LIMOR: He sent this emissary to his family. And it took some time and we didn't get any answers. We were worried that maybe the messenger was intercepted, something happened. And he says, “Look, I'm going to walk into Ethiopia to the closest Jewish village.”

NARRATOR: Dani was under orders - at no point was he to cross the border out of Sudan. But headquarters didn’t need to know.

DANIEL LIMOR: And I say, “Okay if you go, I'm going also.”

NARRATOR: But both of them knew a white man would attract too much attention if seen so Dani came up with an idea.

DANIEL LIMOR: Paint me. I’ll dress local. And we walked at night. At night nobody could see that this was fake.

NARRATOR: Ferede covered Dani with charcoal and they set off.

DANIEL LIMOR: He thought, “I will slow him down because they walk very quickly.” I was a former paratrooper so I can walk quickly and long walks, too. And it was like a challenge.

NARRATOR: After three nights, they arrived in a Jewish village far in the northwest of Ethiopia. Ferede tells the village elders about the route to Israel, imploring them to bring their people across the border.

DANIEL LIMOR: But suddenly, Ferede sees that they're looking at me so he wets his finger and he does across my cheek. And - oop - white appears. And he tells them, “Okay, this is a white brother.” 

NARRATOR: The villagers had never even heard of white Jews. Let alone see one.

DANIEL LIMOR: So this was the beginning of the coming of people from another direction.

NARRATOR: With Jews now coming into Sudan from several different areas of Ethiopia, the system needed improving. Dani leased two compounds on Khartoum’s outskirts, housing up to 70 people in each. But while the route out of Sudan via the airport was working, it could only take so many.

DANIEL LIMOR: For every 20 people, 30 people, we get 30 passports, but actually we have 50 or 60 or 70 people or more. 

NARRATOR: So Ferede offered a solution.

DANIEL LIMOR: He was a creative guy. 

NARRATOR: “Why don’t we try family passports?” Ferede says. “That way, several Jews could get out on just one.” It was a risk to Dani, but an acceptable one.

DANIEL LIMOR: The first one, we took two adults and three children. It was not the parents with the children. We created a family photo and everything, names, and so on. 

NARRATOR: Dani goes with the ‘family’ to the check-in desk and presents the document. Immediately the official looks bemused. “What is this?” he asks Dani.

DANIEL LIMOR: So I told him, “Look, we are the United Nations. We are very sensitive to the environment. And in order to manufacture paper, you need to cut trees. So it's a lot of paper. So it's a lot of trees. We are trying to spare the trees. So we are now using a family passport.”

NARRATOR: Still looking a little bemused, the official pauses.

DANIEL LIMOR: I don't know what would have happened if he had called his superior. Probably that would be a problem. But he didn't.

NARRATOR: The official stamps the passport and the family head through security. Dani tells the Belgian from the UNHCR the same story.

DANIEL LIMOR: I told him, “Look, the question of the environment, the question is real. I mean, if we can spare some trees, it's good for the planet.” And on the other hand, maybe take even more people.

NARRATOR: Even he buys it.

DANIEL LIMOR: He went to the authorities and said this and that. But actually, it became official. 

NARRATOR: Ferede had just multiplied the number of Jews they could rescue by at least several times. The more they used the family passport, the bolder Dani became.

DANIEL LIMOR: The most chutzpadik one was one passport with 15 persons. The parents and 13 children. The family photo was small. So you actually could not see anything, it was like little dots on the photograph. And it passed.

NARRATOR: The passport was so bold that to this day the Mossad have it displayed in their private museum - a memento to the often crazy lengths Dani went to complete his mission. By this time, Dani felt it was only right that Ferede was made an official Mossad agent with a salary.

DANIEL LIMOR: He's doing the same job as me, maybe even riskier.

NARRATOR: Headquarters agrees on one condition: Ferede must come to Israel to complete basic training. Dani argued it wasn’t necessary.

DANIEL LIMOR: I told them, “Come on, what course? You're not serious. He can give you a course because of the conditions of their lives, many things that he did as a young Jewish leader were things that were clandestine in some way.”

NARRATOR: But headquarters insisted. And, with that, Ferede Aklum went to Israel, fulfilling a boyhood dream. Overcome with excitement, and with money now in his account, Ferede does something he’s never done before.

DANIEL LIMOR: The first thing he did, he bought a car. 

NARRATOR: But there was a problem.

DANIEL LIMOR: He never learned how to drive before leaving Sudan. 

NARRATOR: Ferede was now Mossad however, and given a driving license along with his first paycheque.

DANIEL LIMOR: So he went to the car dealer. Paid for the car, a brand new car. And about five kilometers later, he went into a tree. Total loss. 

NARRATOR: Despite the incident, headquarters soon understood Dani’s point. There was no need to train Ferede. He was capable enough. Within a week, he was back in Sudan.

DANIEL LIMOR: It was totally superfluous, but he had stepped on Israeli soil and that gave him super motivation, and he came back full of energy.

NARRATOR: And he wasn’t the only one. Other Ethiopian Jews were now coming to Sudan also - lots of them - but with the evacuation program ramping up, there was a problem. One day, Dani and Ferede go as usual to the ministry to collect passports. But this time, the trip was anything but usual.

DANIEL LIMOR: I went in, as I always did, went up to the first floor, knocked at the door, opened the door. Nobody there. I went to the neighboring offices and said, “Where is this one?” He says, “Ah he went out, I don't know when he comes back.” So okay, there's nothing for me to do. I go back to the car. And as I exit the building, in front of my eyes, I see Ferede being dragged by the collar of his shirt by a civilian policeman.

NARRATOR: Throwing Ferede into the back of his unmarked car, the plainclothes policeman drives off. Dani runs to his jeep in pursuit.

DANIEL LIMOR: And immediately, I saw that he was going to the police headquarters. He reached the police headquarters. The guy raises the barrier and before he has time to lower it, I go inside the courtyard. 

NARRATOR: Hauled into a windowless room, Ferede’s worst fear has come true. The Sudanese have caught him. But then, the door opened. In walked not a policeman but Dani. He had pushed past the guard straight into the building.

DANIEL LIMOR: If I let him out of my sight. Anything could happen. Anything.

NARRATOR: Ferede tells Dani he tried to bribe the policeman en route to the station, which backfired.

DANIEL LIMOR: And the guy said, “Oh, so you are attempting to bribe a Sudanese police officer?” He accused him of bribing. 

NARRATOR: Shortly after however, another man walks into the room.

DANIEL LIMOR: This officer was huge.

NARRATOR: The officer shouts at Ferede in Arabic - “A refugee without a passport in Sudan trying to bribe a policeman?”

DANIEL LIMOR: So Ferede says, “I'm sorry I don't speak Arabic.” 

NARRATOR: Instantly, the officer punches Ferede.

DANIEL LIMOR: I thought he was going to cut his head off. 

NARRATOR: Dani knows he must do something.

DANIEL LIMOR: Instinctively, I went to the officer, “Why are you hitting him?! What has he done to you?”

NARRATOR: The officer slams Dani against the wall. “You don’t speak,” he says, “You go.”

DANIEL LIMOR: “I know I can go, but I don’t want to go. I'm going only if he's coming with me.”

NARRATOR: The officer replies...

DANIEL LIMOR: “Oh, so you want to remain, you want to stay. Take them to the cell. Both.” 

NARRATOR: And with that, Dani and Ferede were in prison.

DANIEL LIMOR: It was almost dark. No windows, nothing. It's a question of survival because as soon as I saw who was in the cell. These were not refugees or something. It was criminals, blue-collar criminals. And I thought, “Well. They're going to get fresh meat. Ethiopian guy, white guy. Fresh meat.”

NARRATOR: Dani’s Mossad training kicks in.

DANIEL LIMOR: My first thought was to put my, our, backside against the wall. You don't want to be in the center of that place. 

NARRATOR: A stench pervades the cell. To take his mind off it, Dani goes to light a cigarette.

​​DANIEL LIMOR: As soon as I took out the pack of cigarettes from my pocket, it was taken over by someone. 

NARRATOR: Calm, Dani spots an opportunity.

DANIEL LIMOR: I saw a guy. You could see that he was in charge.

NARRATOR: Dani sees he has his cigarettes.

DANIEL LIMOR: I said, “Can I have one cigarette from my pack?” He gave it to me. And then I said, “You want to have a constant supply of cigarettes and bread and drinking water?”

NARRATOR: Dani hands him 10 Sudanese pounds, a large sum, and tells him to call the guard and ask for it. Then Dani offers him a deal. He’ll keep giving him money for cigarettes, bread - whatever he wants. There’s just one thing he wants in return.

DANIEL LIMOR: Protection. I don't want to worry at night that something will happen to my brother, to myself. 

NARRATOR: The prisoner agrees, telling his henchmen to look out for the white man and his Ethiopian friend. To Dani, the deal was simply - the sort of thing he had learned to value over years of being a true spy.

DANIEL LIMOR: You put as many assets on your side as you can. 

NARRATOR: With the immediate danger of the cell negotiated, Dani turns his attention to getting Ferede out of it altogether but it seems almost impossible.

DANIEL LIMOR: I was not very optimistic about the result. And Ferede was sure that it was the end.

NARRATOR: “Just leave me,” Ferede says, “you can still get out.”

DANIEL LIMOR: And I said, “What?! You're hurting, you're vexing me. What do you mean, leave? If it was a different situation, would you leave me alone in this cell?” 

NARRATOR: Several days go by. Each night, they take it in turns to sleep. They witness rapes, attacks, and death. But Dani’s deal with the cell’s alpha male is holding. They are left untouched. Eventually, they are let out into the prison courtyard. Surveilling the perimeter, Dani spots the policeman who arrested Ferede but he’s not alone. He’s talking to someone, someone Dani knows.

DANIEL LIMOR: I recognized the driver of the head of the UNHCR office. He knew that I was a friend of the deputy, the Belgian guy. I'd seen him several times. 

NARRATOR: The driver rushes over to Dani, asking what he is doing inside.

DANIEL LIMOR: I told him, “Look, it's a misunderstanding. And he works for me as an interpreter. And then they arrested him.”

NARRATOR: The driver says he will see what he can do. But after several days, there’s bad news. The Sudanese will not release Ferede. He is Ethiopian and, worse than that, not a Muslim.

DANIEL LIMOR: He will stay here for the rest of his life. 

NARRATOR: Even the head of the UNHCR in Sudan himself went to the prison, but still no luck. Not one to give up however, Dani speaks to the driver again.

DANIEL LIMOR: Who was this guy you're talking to? This is the policeman that arrested Ferede. 

NARRATOR: “He is my cousin,” the driver says.

DANIEL LIMOR: “Ahaah! Your cousin. Good.”

NARRATOR: Dani tells him to get all charges against Ferede dropped. Whatever the price. Two days later Dani is pulled out of the cell and marched in to see the commanding officer. The bribery charge against Ferede has been withdrawn. But...

DANIEL LIMOR: “You have to pay a fine of such-and-such sum and you have to pay for the food and the water” - for these days that we spend there - “and then you will be freed.” 

NARRATOR: Dani paid the sum, 300 Sudanese pounds, to the officer and the same amount again to the policeman who accused Ferede of trying to bribe him. The irony of the exercise wasn’t lost on anyone.

DANIEL LIMOR: Now, this is the best joke that you can ever hear. “Tried to bribe a Sudanese officer.” 

NARRATOR: Ferede was brought out of the cell and, after 11 days, both he and Dani were released. As a Mossad agent, Dani knew it was mandatory to report any sort of imprisonment in an enemy country. He also knew that once headquarters found out they would terminate the mission so he never reported it.

DANIEL LIMOR: I only told my head of the division long years after both of us were not in the service. And he agreed with me that - had I told him at the time that I was arrested and even I told him we came out and nothing happened and we are not being followed or we are not under surveillance or whatever - he would have said, “Doesn’t matter. Out, you and Ferede.” So he agreed that, in retrospect, the fact that they didn't say… probably he would have done the same.

NARRATOR: Life in the field. Dani was prepared to do whatever it took to get the job done, including ignoring Agency rules.

DANIEL LIMOR: I always said to people that asked me, “How can you do that? They will fire you. They will do these things?” I say, “Okay, so they fire me. I mean, I have to do it. That’s it.” 

NARRATOR: Getting straight back to work, and with the numbers of Ethiopian Jews swelling, Ferede brought in help. Forming what became known as ‘The Committee’, Ferede recruited trusted male Jews to be organizers in the camps. Ferede would tell them how many were to be evacuated and they would arrange everything, leading the groups to Dani to traffic to the airport. Over the first six months of 1980, some 600 Ethiopian Jews were smuggled out of Sudan on refugee family passports, landing in European countries before being taken to Israel. While only a fraction of the total number of Beta Israel, Dani and Ferede’s improvised evacuation system was working well. That is, until August 1980. Hearing that there might also be Jews in Port Sudan, some 900 km away, Dani and Ferede went to look. Finding nothing, they returned to Khartoum and visited one of the two compounds Dani had rented to house the Jews.

DANIEL LIMOR: We arrived. Knock, knock. Nothing happens.

NARRATOR: Dani knocks again.

DANIEL LIMOR: Nothing happened. 

NARRATOR: Both he and Ferede knew something was wrong. Signaling for them to retreat, Dani walks back to the car.

DANIEL LIMOR: And then - oop - the door opens and two guys, each one with a pistol, jump out. Then one pushes me against the wall and he puts the gun like this in front of my nose and starts shouting in Arabic.

NARRATOR: Keeping his cool, Dani grabs the end of the pistol.

DANIEL LIMOR: And I slowly pushed it outside my face.

NARRATOR: “We’re from the United Nations,” Dani says, before turning his back to the men and getting in the car.

DANIEL LIMOR: If he fires, he fires! What can I do?

NARRATOR: With Ferede hiding unseen in the passenger footwell, Dani floors it. Knowing the entire mission may now be compromised, he heads to the second compound.

DANIEL LIMOR: And without knocking at the door. I just went up the three-meter wall.

NARRATOR: From there, Dani sees a Committee member inside the gate. Immediately, he tells Dani that the secret police have found the first compound. And more than that, they have Ferede’s picture. Dani knew it was over. Ferede was ‘burned’. His photo would now likely be at every border crossing and checkpoint in the country.

DANIEL LIMOR: So I want him out.

NARRATOR: But how?

DANIEL LIMOR: Now it's the middle of the night. I put Ferede in a place to wait for me. It was up in a tree. His decision.

NARRATOR: Dani tries to think. He had good relations with several of the airlines at Khartoum airport and one person in particular - a ticket agent at Swissair.

DANIEL LIMOR: At the time they used to write the tickets.

NARRATOR: Having bought so many tickets personally from the agent, Dani had gotten to know her.

DANIEL LIMOR: For her, I was a very good client. Once I took her home from the office so I knew where she lived. 

NARRATOR: Dani drives to her house and knocks on the door. Her father opens it, asking Dani, “What do you want?”

DANIEL LIMOR: “I'd like to speak to your daughter.” 

NARRATOR: “What? Now, in the middle of the night?”

DANIEL LIMOR: And I started to explain, “Look, I have a guy, who’s very sick, has tuberculosis, and I have already vaccinated him and so on and so on. But I need to get him out tomorrow. I found a place in Switzerland where he can be taken care of.” 

NARRATOR: Hearing the clamor downstairs, the ticket agent appears at the door. Unsure, she pauses, saying nothing.

DANIEL LIMOR: So the father says, “It's important.” Okay. We come. Five minutes later, I had her, two brothers, and the father, all of them in the car. And we go to the office she opens (mimics writing, makes the ticket). 

NARRATOR: Taking the ticket, Dani then mentions the VIP lane at the airport.

DANIEL LIMOR: Those VIPs, ministers, or whatever, they don't go through Customs and through police control. Nothing. They come with the car up to the stairs. And they go up to the plane and that's it. I want the same thing for him because I don't want him to go through the airport coughing and contaminating the whole thing. 

NARRATOR: “Absolutely not,” the agent says. But again, her father intervenes, agreeing to do it. Dani hands the agent 50 Sudanese pounds to give to the VIP lane guard and drives back to Ferede’s hiding place. From there, they drive to the airport. The guard opens the gate and they approach the plane.

DANIEL LIMOR: And I told Ferede, “Now you're going to be coughing all the time until you're out of Sudanese airspace.” 

NARRATOR: Standing at the top of the passenger step, Dani and Ferede embrace. The stewardesses can’t believe their eyes - someone hugging a man with tuberculosis.

DANIEL LIMOR: We kissed three times like they do in Ethiopia. 

NARRATOR: After 18 months together, Ferede and Dani rescued over 600 Ethiopian Jews, survived Sudanese prison, and became brothers. Eventually, both also lost their marriages to the mission. After saying their goodbyes Ferede flew off to the promised land. Where he lived for the rest of his life becoming a champion for the Beta Israel cause. 

DANIEL LIMOR: And that was the end of the story of Ferede.

NARRATOR: But despite all he had been through, and now having lost his partner, Dani was determined to continue. The challenges were simply part of the job to him.

DANIEL LIMOR: These types of intelligence Agencies... One thing I can tell you, real life is totally different. It can be very frustrating. You're not drinking a martini with the olive and taking out your gun and shooting someone. Never happens. If you have to eliminate someone who is endangering something, okay, but most of the time you're doing things using your mind, thinking, and taking risks, but you're prepared to take those risks.

NARRATOR: But still, Dani couldn’t continue alone. Knowing he couldn’t replace Ferede, he recruited a team of people to fill the role. One of them was Takele Mekonen, also an Ethiopian Jew.

TAKELE MEKONEN: We hear that Jews from the Tigray region arrived in Sudan and came to Jerusalem. The rumor is spreading in the village like a fire. The information gets all over Ethiopia. And we say that is our chance.

NARRATOR: Aged just 16, Takele and two of his school friends had decided to walk across the border.

TAKELE MEKONEN: We know it's a very, very dangerous journey because of the Derg government. Almost half of our journey is controlled by the Derg militaries, and half of the journey is the desert, a very hot desert through Sudan. And we thought that it would take two weeks.

NARRATOR: In fact, it took more than four.

TAKELE MEKONEN: We are talking about 600 kilometers. It’s very, very exhausting, physically and also mentally.

NARRATOR: Eventually, however, Takele and his friends arrived in one of the refugee camps.

TAKELE MEKONEN: We don't have anything. We don't have anything to eat. No vegetables, no meat, nothing, nothing, nothing... And it is a really, really horrible refugee camp. And we start to be sick. A lot of us are very sick - dysentery and malaria.

NARRATOR: Growing desperate, they decide to move on to another camp.

TAKELE MEKONEN: We know that the Tigray Jews were in Sudan but we don't know where.

NARRATOR: Eventually, Takele arrived at Gedaref camp. There he found other Jews who took him to meet with the Mossad operative.

TAKELE MEKONEN: Dani comes with his jeep. We're shocked. It's a miracle. Dani with his jeep in the middle of the desert, like an angel!

NARRATOR: Dani makes Takele one of the junior Committee men, organizing Jews in the camps while arranging their escapes.

TAKELE MEKONEN: And he said, "I come back next week. You have to bring to this point any Jews." That’s the order that we get and we start at that point working with Dani.

NARRATOR: The word is out. Scores of Ethiopian Jews flock to Sudan every day with the hope of being spirited to Israel by Dani and The Committee. But the mission is becoming a victim of its own success.

DANIEL LIMOR: So many people began to arrive from Ethiopia that we could not cope with that number on this trail to Khartoum. 

NARRATOR: Dani knew he needed another, larger evacuation route. He had thought of using the sea before. But the logistics were difficult. From the main refugee camp, Gedaref to Khartoum, was 400 kilometers. From Gedaref to the coast, however, was 900 kilometers.

DANIEL LIMOR: That's a huge distance and you cannot do it in one night. And there are also roadblocks.

NARRATOR: Roadblocks were often the biggest issue.

TAKELE MEKONEN: When the lorry stopped, we are jumping out of the lorry and speaking to the policeman and they beat us - always they beat us. They beat me a lot, you don’t imagine. 

NARRATOR: With no other options, however, Dani concluded that the sea may be the only way.

DANIEL LIMOR: This is what prompted my reconnaissance trip along the coast. 

NARRATOR: Having now recruited two new Mossad agents to the mission, Dani set off for the coast.

DANIEL LIMOR: We started going northwards from Port Sudan along the coast, not on the road. On a dirt track... It was a very hot day. We didn't have any air conditioning in the car. It was really, really, really very hot.

NARRATOR: On the horizon, Dani spots something.

DANIEL LIMOR: It seemed like a mirage.

NARRATOR: Getting closer, he makes out several white bungalows with red-tiled roofs. All are built in a Mediterranean style. Pulling up, Dani spots a bedouin guarding the area.

DANIEL LIMOR: He took me for a tourist. And he showed me everything. The rooms. The en suite, the showers, and toilets, and the diving gear. 

NARRATOR: It was an abandoned diving resort.

DANIEL LIMOR: And he told me that, if I was thinking of renting the place, the keys were with the director-general of the Ministry of Tourism in Khartoum.

NARRATOR: Dani goes straight to meet with the director-general, Colonel Magoub.

DANIEL LIMOR: He didn't know how much to ask. So he's telling me, “Okay, how much do you want to pay per year?” I said, "It's your property. You have to tell me and then I will tell you."

NARRATOR: Half a million dollars, the colonel says, per year.

DANIEL LIMOR: Okay. That's a sum. I have to get him down. I said, “200.” 

NARRATOR: No way, the Colonel replies - “300”.

DANIEL LIMOR: I look at the waiting room and I say, “But sir, I don't see anybody else waiting, queuing for the leasing of this place.” 

NARRATOR: The Colonel pauses. “Fine! $250,000 a year.” Dani agrees.

DANIEL LIMOR: I even had him sign a paper with his name and his title because I wanted, back home, the people to believe me, that this is true. This is not something that I dreamed of. 

NARRATOR: Dani now has the perfect cover to bring more agents into Sudan, and potentially get more Jews out. Next time on True Spies, one of the most daring cover operations in the history of espionage begins.

DANIEL LIMOR: We, of course, also did some promoting in travel agencies in Europe that specialized in diving in exotic places and so on. And when we opened officially, we started having clients and we, of course, were thrilled. It was really something totally strange for us.

NARRATOR: But then, disaster strikes...

DANIEL LIMOR: Except for one boat, the beach was empty. And that boat was stuck in the sand. It was the last boat, so it was full of people trying to push it back and it didn't move. And one of the soldiers in front of me, he started running toward the boat with his Kalashnikov ready to shoot. So, before I could do anything, he shot.

NARRATOR: I’m Sophia Di Martino. Join us next week for the third installment of True Spies: Exodus.

Guest Bio

Daniel Limor (pictured) is immigrated to Israel from Uruguay at the age of 16 with the Youth Aliyah. He was drafted to be a paratrooper in the IDF and became an officer and served for 25 years in the Mossad. He was head of Mossad field undercover operations for the clandestine Aliyah of Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s.

Ferede Yazezew Aklum was a Mossad agent and Zionist activist who helped 900 Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel. He continued being an activist in Israel following his own Aliyah and died on a trip to Addis Ababa in 2009.

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