They called him the "Green Prince," because of his royal Hamas pedigree and in deference to the signature color used by Islamists. But Mosab Hassan Yousef was also Israel's most valuable spy inside Hamas—and certainly the most successful one. Over more than a decade, he prevented dozens of suicide bombings and assassination attempts by the Palestinian Islamist group, saving hundreds of lives in the process.
Yousef's remarkable memoir, Son of Hamas, begins with his childhood in Ramallah—a youth marked by close family ties amid the Israeli "occupation." Yousef's father, an imam educated in Jordan, rose to notoriety in their hometown. In 1986, he—along with six other men, including wheelchair-bound Gaza cleric Sheikh Ahmed Yassin—formed Hamas at a secret meeting in Hebron. The first intifada broke out the following year, and Yousef did his share, throwing rocks at Israeli civilians and military vehicles. His personal transformation took place after his first arrest in 1996, when he was approached by Israel's General Security Service, the Shin Bet. His subsequent discovery of Christianity only served to solidify his new calling.
The stories of Yousef's subsequent exploits would make for a great work of fiction, were they not fully corroborated by the Shin Bet. The Ha'aretz newspaper's Arab affairs correspondent, Avi Issacharoff, quotes Yousef's Shin Bet handler expressing genuine admiration for his most valuable asset: "So many people owe him their life and don't even know it. People who did a lot less were awarded the Israel Security Prize. He certainly deserves it. The amazing thing is that none of his actions were done for money. He did things he believed in. He wanted to save lives."
Infiltrating the upper echelons of Hamas came relatively easily to Yousef, because of his father's stature. He used the access in good stead; during the second intifada, Yousef supplied crucial intelligence that led to the arrests of several key Palestinian leaders—among them, Ibrahim Hamid, a Hamas commander in the West Bank, and Marwan Barghouti, accused of orchestrating numerous attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers, including the deadly Passover Massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya on March 27, 2002. Moreover, since he accompanied his father to meet with Yasser Arafat prior to the start of the so called "al-Aqsa" intifada, Yousef can corroborate the premeditated nature of the uprising, which was the product of a deal brokered by Arafat and Yousef père, rather than a spontaneous response to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount.
Yousef's tale illustrates the importance of HUMINT, human intelligence gathered by agents in the field working their sources, on which Israel's security forces have relied so extensively since the state's founding. If anything, the need today is even more pressing; with the Gaza disengagement in 2005, Israel lost much of its nascent human capital in the Palestinian Territories. In this intelligence vacuum, individuals like Yousef have become supremely important in the Israeli government's tireless quest to protect innocent lives.
The one person whom Yousef would not help capture was his father. Upon learning about his son's activities, Sheikh Hassan Yousef released a statement from his prison cell saying that, although it might have been possible for the Israelis to recruit his son, Mosab had no access to the movement's secrets, and must have been "blackmailed" into cooperating by Israeli security forces. More recently, the Sheikh wrote a letter from jail saying that he and his whole family "inclusively and exhaustively denounce our eldest son."
Yousef himself retired from the spy business and fled the West Bank in 2007. He now lives in California, a devout Christian. But no good deed goes unpunished; despite his extensive contributions to counterterrorism, in 2009 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) opposed Yousef's request for political asylum, and initiated proceedings to deport him on terrorist charges. It was only after his Shin Bet handler came forward to testify on his behalf, and after his cause was taken up directly by a number of champions in Congress, that the government dropped its objections to Yousef's requests for political asylum. As of this writing, the "Green Prince" has been granted "tentative" refuge in the U.S.
Happy ending notwithstanding, Yousef's tale is a cautionary one. Over the years, the U.S. government time and again has welcomed Islamist radicals with open arms, even as it has turned against the very heroes that have tried to keep it safe. Yousef's book is a remarkable story of courage and conviction in the face of radicalism. His subsequent experience at the hands of U.S. authorities is a timely reminder that—when it comes to the struggle against radical Islam—America still has a great deal to learn about who its friends really are.