Paris has become a center of operations for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, according to an article published this week in French newspaper Le Monde.
The article, titled "The Mossad's shadow hovers over Paris," cites senior French intelligence officials, one of whom claimed that "The city is the Mossad's playground. The Chinese and the Russians may be our enemies, but let us not forget the Israelis and the Americans are also conducting themselves with great aggression."
"Our ability to respond to their actions is limited because they rush to use the 'diplomatic card' and complain to the French prime minister and president's offices," the French intelligence official vented.
"France's hands are tied" since it depends on Israel "in many sensitive issues," he said. The French, he added, were "also limited in our ability to prevent some elements in the Jewish community in France from aiding them (the Mossad) with planning and logistics."
One operation the French intelligence officials say was led from Paris was the assassination of Hamas senior official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied it was behind al-Mabhouh's assassination.
According to Le Monde, the Mossad set up a makeshift operations room equipped with computers and secure phones at a hotel room in the French capital's Bercy neighborhood—not far from the French Finance Ministry and other government buildings.
While only two of the 11 foreign agents who allegedly took part in the daring assassination—"Kevin" and "Gail"—reportedly arrived in Dubai on an Air France flight from Paris, foreign media has so far believed the operation was led from Austria or another European location. Le Monde, however, reports Israel's control and command center was in the heart of Paris.
The January 2010 assassination caused international outrage and a diplomatic crisis with Britain over the use of European passports.
France also complained to then-Mossad director Meir Dagan about the use of forged French passports.
According to Le Monde, the French were concerned Hamas would suspect France took part in the assassination.
Paris sent two senior agents to meet with Dagan in Jerusalem. "We'll stay friends, but there'll be a price to pay for this," they told him. The price is believed to have been a halt to the exchange of information between Israeli and French intelligence.
"It was a way to send a message that this was an intolerable line crossing," said the head of the French police's investigations department.
Speaking to Yedioth Ahronoth, the Le Monde article's writer, journalist Jacques Follorou, said French intelligence officials were outraged by the alleged use of French passports, seeing it as a "provocation."
In addition to Al-Mabhouh's assassination, the article examines many other operations that Le Monde claims the Mossad and other Israeli elements conducted from French soil, including: a joint Israeli-French attempt to recruit a Syrian agent who tried to buy chemical weapons, an Israeli company's attempt to wiretap Council of Europe meetings in Brussels, and operations of the company Black Cube, which had offices in Paris's Place Vendôme.
The Mossad, according to the Le Monde report, also tried to recruit French intelligence agents as double agents during a joint operation in 2010. As a result of that alleged incident, Le Monde claims the Mossad station head in Paris and another employee in the Israeli Embassy had to leave France.
The reason the Mossad—like many other foreign intelligence agencies including the CIA—has turned Paris into its center of operations is because it hosts many international conference and frequent visits of African leaders. Furthermore, the city is home to many foreigners.
Another reason, according to a source in French intelligence, is that "France dedicates most of its espionage activities to the fight against terrorism, therefore it doesn't have enough manpower for counter-espionage."
While the Mossad, according to Le Monde, continues operating in Paris with relative freedom, a source in the French Foreign Ministry admitted that "the Israelis are a little bit more cautious than before." They no longer carry out assassinations on French soil and don't use the help of the French Jewish community as often.