Israeli secret service agents ran an entire fake luxury beach resort in Sudan as a front for its operations in the 1980s, according to a BBC investigation.
A group of Mossad agents were tasked with smuggling thousands of Jewish refugees in Ethiopia, known as Beta Israelis, from Ethiopia to Israel in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Thousands of Ethiopian Jews were stranded in Sudan, a Muslim-majority nation hostile to Israel. The agents had to smuggle the refugees across Sudan, then sailed across the Red Sea or airlifted to Israel.
And because Sudan and Israel were enemies, both the Ethiopian Jews and Mossad agents had to keep their identifies hidden.
An unidentified senior agent involved in the mission told the BBC:
"A couple of Mossad guys went down to Sudan looking for possible landing beaches. They just stumbled across this deserted village on the coast, in the middle of nowhere.
"For us it was a godsend. If we could get hold of this place and do it up, we could say we're running a diving village, which would give us a reason for being in Sudan and furthermore for roaming around near the beach."
Arous tourist village, located on the Sudan's east coast, consisted of 15 bungalows, a kitchen, and dining room that opened out to a beach and the Red Sea.
The Sudanese International Tourist Corporation built the site in 1972 but never opened it because there was no electricity, water supply, or a road nearby.
Satellite imagery of a plot of land roughly where the Arous resort used to be.
Posing as employees of a Swiss company, Mossad agents rented the site for $320,000 (£225,000) in the late 1970s. They secured deals for water and fuel, and smuggled air-conditioning units and water sports gear into Sudan to build the diving resort.
An undated brochure of the resort boasted of "attractive, air-conditioned bungalows with fully-equipped bathrooms," "fine meals," and a variety of water sports gear available to rent.
Mossad agents posed as the resort's managers, and female agents were put in charge of day-to-day operations to make the hotel look less suspicious. They also hired 15 local staff — none of whom knew the true identities of their managers and colleagues.
Hotel guests included Egyptian soldiers, British SAS troops, foreign diplomats, and Sudanese government officials — none of whom, too, knew of the true identity of their hosts.
Gad Shimron, a Mossad agent who worked at the resort, told the BBC: "We introduced windsurfing to Sudan. The first board was brought in — I knew how to windsurf, so I taught the guests. Other Mossad agents posed as professional diving instructors."
He added: "By comparison to the rest of Sudan, we offered Hilton-like standards, and it was such a beautiful place, it really looked like something out of the Arabian Nights. It was unbelievable."
The diving storeroom, which was out of bounds, contained hidden radios that the agents used to keep in contact with their headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The resort was keen to showcase its proximity to the sea and water sports equipment.
The Mossad agents would leave at night for their rescue operations from time to time, telling local staff that they'd be out of town for a few days.
They would then drive to a refugee camp hundreds of miles away where Beta Israelis were waiting, and bring them back to a beach near Arous. They then transferred the refugees to Israeli SEAL teams, who took them to a waiting navy ship, and on to Israeli territory.
After one of the operations almost got busted, Israel decided to send jets to covertly airlift the Ethiopians to Israel instead.
The agents abandoned the resort in 1985 after years of running it. The military junta in charge of country at the time started scouring the country for Israeli spies, and Mossad's head in Israel ordered the agents to leave.
The Mossad agents evacuated the resort in a hurry, while guests were still staying at the hotel, an unidentified agent told the BBC.
"They would have woken up and found themselves alone in the desert," they said. "The local staff were there, but no-one else — the diving instructor, the lady manager and so on, all the Caucasians had disappeared."
The agents transferred at least 7,000 Ethiopians to Israel over the course of their operations at Arous.
Travel writer Paul Clammer wrote in his his 2005 guide to Sudan: "Arous Resort was closed when I visited... Though the colourful, relatively fresh paint gave them a cheerful look, the whole place was in disarray: Beach bungalows had toppled roofs, quads were rusty and jet skis left unattended, all suggesting the place was abandoned in a hurry."
Arous' website, referenced in some travel guides, is now defunct. Business Insider tried calling two phone numbers linked to the resort on April 19, 2018, but the lines were dead.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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