The Mossad spy agency cancelled at the last minute a plan to capture notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele in Argentina in 1960, a former top commander told AFP on Monday.
Rafi Eitan, who is now an Israeli cabinet minister, said the Mossad tracked down Mengele in Buenos Aires while planning the May 1960 capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the main architects of the Holocaust.
"Mengele was living in Buenos Aires at the same time as Eichmann. We discovered Eichmann first and we later found Mengele," Eitan told AFP.
The Mossad agents in Argentina headed by Eitan knew Mengele's address and had taken pictures that determined "beyond any doubt" the identity of the former Nazi who had escaped to south America under a new name after World War II.
Several days after Eichmann was snatched and put in hiding in Argentina before being secretly transported to Israel, then-Mossad chief Issar Harel quickly put forward plans to catch Mengele, Eitan said.
"I opposed the plan and said that the two operations should not be carried out together because of the risk of losing Eichmann and because we did not have sufficient knowledge for the Mengele mission," he said.
Harel agreed to scrap the plan until after Eichmann was brought to Israel, and both the Mossad chief and Eitan intended to return to capture the Angel of Death, said Eitan, now 82.
But after the successful capture of Eichmann was made public, the mission was aborted.
"It was impossible to keep Eichmann a secret for long because too many people knew about it when we returned to Israel.
"After Eichmann, I returned to Argentina but Mengele was gone and we lost his tracks. We continued searching in Brazil and Paraguay and were able to find him again and take his pictures. But we were never able to put our hands on him."
Mengele earned the nickname "Angel of Death" for his cruel human experiments and for sending tens of thousands of Jews and gypsies to gas chambers and crematoria at the Auschwitz death camp.
He died in Brazil in 1979 and his identity was later confirmed when his DNA was compared to that of his son in 1992.
Eichmann was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by an Israeli court in 1961. He was hanged the following year.