A retired Mossad agent, who died earlier this week when a tour boat full of Israeli and Italian intelligence figures capsized, was buried Wednesday at the military cemetery in Ashkelon.
Though Israeli officials have not released the man’s name, Italian media reports identified him as 50-year-old Erez Shimoni. He died Sunday on Italy’s Lake Maggiore when the tour boat he was on with 22 other people sank in sudden stormy weather.
Senior Mossad officials, including the head of the spy agency David Barnea, were at the funeral.
The Ynet news site reported that, aside from Barnea, other officials wore medical masks and baseball caps, apparently to conceal their faces from the public. Israeli media blurred footage broadcast from the funeral.
“He was a man of values, a true friend, a dedicated and loyal person,” Barnea said at the funeral, but while reportedly only referring to the deceased by the Hebrew letter “Mem” and not using a name.
“You worked in secret throughout your adult life — even after your death we will not be able to tell publicly about your many significant and beneficial actions for the people of Israel. To all of us,” he said and praised him as specializing in “pioneering fields and methods of operation.”
— ynet עדכוני (@ynetalerts) May 31, 2023
Barnea said he became acquainted with the agent through their many years of service together in the Mossad, describing him as “a professional of the highest level, with a pleasant demeanor, loving people, kind-hearted, calm and quiet” with an ever-present dimpled smile.
“He was a man of the people, there were always old and young, foreigners and Israelis around him, and he knew how to speak to everyone in their language, literally, and in a calm and respectful manner,” Barnea said.
He noted that he was an avid sailor.
“The magic of the water attracted him. It is heartbreaking when you think that he actually met his death in stormy waters.”
Former Mossad agent Mishka Ben-David told the Kan public broadcaster that one possible reason why Israel has not officially named the man is that he likely was using an alias abroad and that Erez Shimoni is not his real name. Ben-David also cast his doubts on the official claim that the boat was hosting a birthday party.
“The Mossad lost a dear friend, a devoted and professional worker who for decades dedicated his life to the security of the State of Israel, even after his retirement,” the spy agency said in a statement. “The Mossad mourns the loss and shares in the family’s sorrow.”
Italian media reported Wednesday that the Mossad has asked for clarifications from Italian authorities about how the accident happened. Claudio Carminati, the captain of the Gooduria tour boat, has been arrested on suspicion of causing the deaths of his passengers. When it sank, the boat was carrying 23 passengers when it could only legally hold 15. The captain’s wife was among the dead.
Corriere della Sera on Wednesday quoted Carminati as saying, “It was 30 seconds, then the apocalypse came, the boat immediately capsized and we fell into the water.” He insisted that there was no prior warning that the weather would turn bad.
Media outlets were also delving into the supposed activities of the people on board the boat, with some outlets suggesting the official claim of a birthday party was covering up an operational meeting between Israeli and Italian intelligence agents.
Italy’s security service has admitted that two of the dead — a 62-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman — were its employees.
“The two employees, belonging to the intelligence department, were taking part in a convivial meeting organized to celebrate the birthday of one of the group,” it said in a statement.
The Corriere della Sera daily newspaper reported Tuesday that the gathering was a working meeting of intelligence agents. The newspaper said the Israelis had not initially planned to board the boat but did so after a meeting they were participating in went longer than expected and they missed their flight home.
According to reports, 19 out of the 23 people on board were serving or past Israeli and Italian agents.
“It was an opportunity to exchange information between agents of the two countries,” La Stampa reported.
The boat was reportedly just 100 meters from the shore when it went down. Survivors where reportedly either picked up by other watercraft or swam ashore.
Ten other Israelis were reportedly on the cruise and were said to have been quickly flown back to Israel on a private jet known to be used by Israeli authorities. Flight tracking sites showed the plane set off from Tel Aviv on Monday morning, arrive at Milan airport and soon set off back to Ben Gurion Airport. They reportedly did not wait to return the rented cars they were using during their trip.
AFP contributed to this report.