Inside holiday resort run by spies that's inspired Netflix film The Red Sea Diving Resort

Inside holiday resort run by spies that's inspired Netflix film The Red Sea Diving Resort


With its cluster of whitewashed villas overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, Arous Holiday Village was an idyllic destination for sun seekers.

The desert oasis on Sudan’s coast attracted guests in their hundreds, wooed by the glossy brochure offering fresh food and wine and ­“spectacular coral reefs” that were a diver’s paradise.

Tourists flocked to Arous, delighting the ­government which leased it to ­European tycoons.

But, unbeknown to the guests, the authorities and most of the staff, the resort was a fake – set up by the Israeli secret service as a front for one of its most breathtaking missions.

By day, undercover Mossad agents took guests on scuba-diving trips or taught them watersports and even managed the resort’s team of local staff.

But at night they would carry out secret operations in the same boats – smuggling out thousands of Ethiopian Jews stranded in refugee camps in Sudan and ­evacuating them to Israel.

Experienced spy Gad Shimron was sent to Sudan shortly after the operation began

If the Israeli-hating authorities had found out, the spies would have been executed. The operation was so secret the agents didn’t even tell their own families. And once the mission was over after four years, the fake resort was abandoned overnight, leaving its Sudanese staff stunned.

The incredible story is being told in a Netflix film, The Red Sea Diving Resort, directed by Gideon Raff and starring Captain America actor Chris Evans and Ben Kingsley.

But in an exclusive interview, one of the three Mossad agents who pulled off the top secret mission insists what really happened during the operation even seems too far-fetched for Hollywood.

Gad Shimron, 69, was sent to Sudan shortly after the operation began.

He says: “It ended up being one of the highlights of my entire career.

“It was just a brilliant cover story. All of us who participated understood that we were taking part in something really special and unique. Not your normal intelligence operation, but a ­humanitarian mission to save people.

Gad Shimron, no 69, was recruited for the operation on the day he supposed to leave the intelligence agency after nearly a decade

“It was extremely high risk and much could easily have gone wrong. The fact that it was a success was because, to be honest, we were all half-crazy operatives.

“Out of eight of us, only three were Mossad, the rest were what we called ‘foreign legion’, guys who had been recruited ad hoc with no training. There was not a paragraph in the operations book that was not broken. But it was the only way to do it.

“The joke was that if it had been carried out by a real ­professional operational unit, they would have sat down for half a year to plan, invested 30 million dollars and executed a perfect operation, at the end of which 30 Jewish refugees would be saved. We made decisions on the spot, broke all the rules, and saved 12,000.”

Operation Brothers began after Israel’s PM Menachem Begin heard about a long-lost Jewish tribe, Beta Israel, which longed to return to their homeland. They had suffered famine and ­persecution in Ethiopia.

Thousands had fled on foot for refugee camps in Sudan, a harrowing month-long journey across barren desert. Around 1,700 Jews died along the way, victims of starvation, exposure and bandits. But saving the Beta Israel was a huge challenge, as Sudan and neighbour Egypt were sworn enemies of Israel.

A land evacuation would have been impossible, so in 1982 Mossad began scouting the Sudan coastline where the Jews could be picked up and transported to Israel via the Red Sea.

Gad Shimron, who is one of the three Mossad agents who pulled off the top secret mission, insists that what really happened during the four-year mission even seems too far-fetched for Hollywood

It found a group of 15 empty villas built by Italians in 1972, but later
abandoned when the local authorities failed to provide the promised access road, and water and electricity.

Mossad agents posed as ­entrepreneurs from a Swiss travel firm eager to create a new getaway destination.

For £261,000, they leased the complex for three years and with it, official “protection” from the Tourism Ministry.

They spent the first year renovating it, kitting it out with equipment, including the first windsurfing board in Sudan and recruited 15 local staff.

Only the diving storeroom was out of bounds – in it were concealed radios the spies used to keep in regular contact with headquarters back in Tel Aviv.

Yola Reitman was a deep-sea diving instructor with experience in tourism who was recruited by Mossad.

She said: “It was an offer I could not refuse. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not only to serve my country, but to save thousands of Jewish lives.”

At night the agents drove hundreds of miles south to pick up Jews from the camps, and bring them to a beach, where they would be handed over to special forces and taken by Zodiac dinghies to an Israeli ship.

Once the mission was over, the fake beachfront resort was abandoned overnight, leaving its Sudanese staff stunned

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The rescues didn’t always go smoothly. One night, while transferring refugees on to the dinghies, the Israelis were caught by troops looking for sheep smugglers.

Gad, who tells the story in his book Mossad Exodus, says: “There were eight boats, I was in the last one to leave. I managed to get it into the water before the shooting started.

The mission leader started shouting, ‘Hey, you idiots, we’re working with the Sudanese tourist board, taking divers to see the charms of the Red Sea at night.”

Another night, while Gad was driving to collect refugees, he was caught by the security services and interrogated.

He says: “I played the ­European idiot, pretending I didn’t understand what was going on. I kept to the story, that we were tour guides, helping the Sudanese ­government bring in foreign tourists.” Gad was eventually released.

The spies did such a good job managing the resort it became a popular destination and turned a profit.

But one British visitor caused alarm after appearing to become suspicious about the real identity of the spies.

Gad says: “He was a journalist. He was asking too many ­questions. On the second day he was diving and grabbed a rope covered in razor sharp barnacles, and cut his hand so badly he had to leave for treatment. And we were very happy.”

Operation Brothers came to an abrupt halt in 1984 when an Israeli politician foolishly bragged publicly about the mission, causing outrage in the Arab world.

The spies fled the resort overnight, leaving the tourists alone in the desert. But they had helped around 12,000 Jews flee to Israel in one of history’s largest rescue operations. Gad describes the mission as “one of our finest hours”.

Gad is still in contact with many of the Jews he rescued. And he says they are the real heroes.

He adds: “What they went through during months to fulfil a 1,000-year-old dream of coming home to Zion, ordinary people wouldn’t have survived for even a few days. They had to live in those camps and hide from everyone the fact they were Orthodox Jews, that was a far greater feat than anything we did.”



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