A recently retired agent of the Israeli spy agency Mossad has died along with two Italian spies in a mysterious incident when a boat carrying dozens of intelligence officers capsized and sank in a lake in northern Italy this weekend.
The former agent, who has been named by Italian media as 50-year-old Erez Shimoni, was on the houseboat with 22 other people on Lake Maggiore near the town of Lisanza and drowned after the vessel they were on overturned and submerged on Sunday evening.
A Russian woman — part of the two-person crew — also died.
Italian officials were quick to state that it was a weather-related accident, with no foul play suspected. They also cited another factor and said the boat, named the Gooduria, was carrying eight more people than its 15-person limit at the time of the incident.
The accident drew widespread attention after Rome acknowledged that two of the dead, Claudio Alonzi, 62, and Tiziana Barnobi, 53, worked for the Italian secret services.
According to reports, 19 out of the 23 people on board at the time of the accident were serving or past Italian and Israeli intelligence officers.
Although Italian sources have named the dead Israeli spy as Shimoni, that has turned out not to be his real identity. At his funeral in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, he was referred to only by the initial “M”.
Many Mossad employees, who attended the funeral, hid their faces behind surgical masks at the cemetery as Mossad chief Dedi Barnea praised the man.
Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on Thursday that the area around Lake Maggiore is populated by Russian oligarchs close to the Kremlin, who are involved in alleged supply of Iranian-made unmanned aerial aircraft to Moscow.
The Milan-based newspaper further claimed that the birthday party on the boat was covering up an operational meeting between Israeli and Italian intelligence agents, who had come together to keep a close watch on the Russian oligarchs.
Corriere della Sera also reported that 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.
The dead Russian was named as Anya Bozhkova, 50. She was the wife of the Italian skipper of the boat, which was rented out to tourists for trips around the lake.
Italian and Israeli agents apparently utilized her information to spy on the Russians.
Officials in the Lombardy region claimed that a “whirlwind” made the 52-foot boat overturn and sink, while Italian investigators said a sudden change in weather appeared to be the cause of the accident.
Italian media reports said ten other Israelis were reportedly on the cruise and were said to have been quickly flown back to the occupied territories on a private jet known to be used by Israeli authorities.
They reportedly left in such a hurry that they did not wait to return the rented cars they were using during their trip.
Israel and Italy have been seeking to broaden their ties on artificial intelligence and cyber-security, two areas which may have required input from intelligence services on both sides.
The drowned former Israeli agent, described by those who knew him as a “genius” in the intelligence field, had only recently retired, according to the Israeli broadcaster Channel 12.