It was 1962 when I first got to know Sam. We were both in the same Literature class. Year twelve. We were both prefects. He was a good bloke but hard to get to know. After school I went to Uni to do Law and he did engineering, because ‘Father says it’s going to be big’. I lost touch with him for a long time.
Full name was Samuel David Mosman. Claimed to be British – not Australian. He spoke with rather an affected accent and we, at our school in Melbourne thought him a little aloof. His father was Swiss – he said, and his mother was the daughter of a certain Colonel Something or other – he said. None of us ever actually met his family and he had quite a story around him, so he said. His father had been ‘in the war’ and his mother had helped airmen who’d been shot down over Germany if they were trying to escape through Switzerland. Or so he said and I think most of us took him at his word.
In 1974 my wife and I were in Europe on the compulsory Australian tour of Europe. We had a baby son who was worth the hassle because he got us through checkpoints that other couples said were difficult. Anyway we were in Northern Italy and I picked up an English Language newspaper with huge black headlines;
‘Mossad Spy Trial.
He stole a fighter plane.’
There was a photograph of the Spy, and there was no mistake. Sam Mosman! It was Mosman all right. There was no mistaking the photograph. I read further;
“Israeli spy steals plans for fighter plane from Swiss company.”
This I had to see. My wife wasn’t all that interested so she went back to England with the baby and stayed with a couple we knew from Melbourne who had a flat in Praed Street just off the Edgware Road. I went to Switzerland and sat in on the trial of my now very best mate.
The story unfolded right in front of my eyes. Sam insisted on speaking only English because he was protesting his innocence but I could see that whenever anyone spoke French he understood everything, and on a few occasions there were comments made in Hebrew or Yiddish and he knew exactly what they were saying.
In 1969 the War of Attrition fought by Egypt and Lebanon against Israel followed the Six Day war of 1967. During this war the Israelis lost about sixty planes and they went to France to get replacements. The French had supplied their original planes- the Mirage III. Israel ordered and paid for thirty new Mirage Vs but before they were supplied they raided Lebanon and President De Gaulle got cross and placed an embargo on all sales of weapons to Israel. France and Lebanon go way back. So the Israelis didn’t get their planes, which worried them because the Arab states were flexing their muscles and beating their chests. And it could all have had something to do with oil.
Now here is where Sam comes in. Sam hadn’t told us any lies, but he hadn’t told us all the truth. His father was Swiss and his mother was British but they were both Jewish and in actual fact they were all three of them Israeli citizens. They had come to Australia so that Sam could do Engineering at Melbourne University and he then got a job at the Government Aircraft Factory in Fishermen’s Bend, a suburb of Melbourne.
What follows is a brief summation of evidence from Sam and other witnesses for both the prosecution and the defence.
The French embargo came into effect in January of 1969. Sam was a bit older than me and so I guess he was about twenty seven at this stage. By May of that year he had a job in a Swiss factory which was making Mirage Jets for the Swiss Airforce. The French Dassault company had all the plans and they had given the Swiss firm -Federal Aircraft Factory – at Emmen a license. Samuel Mosman, using his experience from the Aircraft factory in Melbourne very soon acquired a position in the blueprint section. His main task (for the Israelis) was to photocopy the plans but this was a huge task and he invented a scheme to get around this.
He went to his supervisor and explained that the blueprints were of such value that they would possibly become the target of espionage. His solution, he told his superiors, was to transfer all blueprints onto microfilm plates and they could then be easily secured in a safe. He would organise to have all blueprints copied and then the original prints would be incinerated.
To make the process even more secure he would be personally responsible for burning the originals. Furthermore he would insist that no other person would be given that onerous task. And so Samuel Mosman, secret agent for the Israeli spy organisation, Mossad, placed heavy rolls of blueprints in the back of his old and large Mercedes car, drove to the incinerator, which was located outside the office of the chief of security, took out heavy rolls of newspaper which he had put under the back seats of the car late the previous evening, and burnt the old newspapers. The original blueprints for the Dassault Mirage were hidden under the back seats of the car and when he left in the evening his car was routinely stopped and weighed on a weighbridge and everything was OK’d.
After dinner each night Samuel would go over the border into Germany to visit his ‘fiance’ who was another agent and the plans were handed over and made their way to Tel Aviv.
Samuel was found guilty and give a nine year sentence. His activity took place a couple of years earlier.
I was given permission to talk with him, but only for about five minutes. This was before he was officially found guilty. I asked him why he had done it.
He looked up at me with strong unwavering eyes. “Once a Jew, always a Jew. I did it for my country, like you’d do it for yours.”
Then he smiled and thanked me for coming. That was 1974.
Earlier, in 1971, the first of many Israeli Nesher fighter planes, bearing a striking resemblance to the French Mirage, was handed over to the Israeli Air Force and by 1973 there were enough to play a crucial role in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.