One of the most daring missions carried out by the Mossad unfolded in Sudan between 1979 and 1984.
It was from there, a remote scuba diving resort on the Red Sea managed and run by Mossad agents, that Israel’s external intelligence agency smuggled thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. This little-known operation is dramatized in The Red Sea Diving Resort, a 130-minute Netflix feature film written and directed by Gideon Raff, the creator of the acclaimed U.S. television series Homeland.
The Israeli government began ferrying Ethiopian Jews from Sudan to Israel after Ethiopia severed diplomatic relations with Israel. Ethiopian Jews, endangered by the chaos and violence that had enveloped their country, trekked to Sudan — an Arab state hostile to Israel — and were housed in a Sudanese refugee camp.
Unable to expedite their departure to Israel, the Mossad proposed an out-of-the-box idea to resolve the problem. The Mossad should lease the abandoned Arous Holiday Village from the Sudanese government and use it as a base from which Ethiopian Jews could be sent to Israel on Israeli ships anchored in nearby international waters.
In The Red Sea Diving Resort, the Mossad agent who comes up with this audacious proposal is Ari Levinson (Chris Evans), an agent who’s loathe to leave even a single Jew behind in Sudan. His boss, Ethan Levin (Ben Kingsley), is at first skeptical of his unorthodox plan, but eventually he warms to it. Levinson recruits a team of agents and off they go to Sudan. They work with a fervent Ethiopian Jewish organizer named Kabede Bimro (Michael Kenneth Williams).
Before their departure, Levin issues a warning: “If this goes wrong, you’ll all be hanging from cranes in Khartoum.”
The corrupt Sudanese official at the Ministry of Tourism is pleased by their venture, but demands $500,000 per year for the lease. He and Levinson finally agree on a smaller but exorbitant sum, with the difference pocketed by the official.
As expected, the resort, though located in a pristine corner of Sudan, is rundown. And much to Levinson’s surprise, it is inhabited by Ethiopian Jews waiting to be transported to Israel.
Quite unexpectedly, a group of German tourists show up at the resort. The Mossad is flabbergasted by their arrival, but Rachel (Haley Bennett), one of the agents, is gladdened by their presence. “It’s the best cover we could ask for,” she smartly says.
Their agitated boss at Mossad headquarters is visibly upset by the prospect that the Israeli base will function as a resort. Unlike Rachel, he doesn’t yet understand the mechanics of Levinson’s brilliant scheme.
As it happens, the resort is already being watched by a CIA agent (Greg Kinnear) attached to the U.S. embassy in Khartoum and by a Sudanese army colonel (Chris Chalk). His suspicions are aroused after Ethiopian Jews in the refugee camp begin disappearing into thin air.
After Levinson and another Mossad agent are temporarily arrested, Levin issues an order shutting down the resort. But since 400 Ethiopian Jews have yet to be ferried to Israel, Levinson devises a plan to get them there.
Filmed in South Africa and Namibia, The Red Sea Diving Resort tends to be limp and static when it could have been pulsating and thrilling. The only real moments of tension occur in the last few minutes. The cast is competent enough, but with the possible exception of Chalk and Williams, the actors do not leave a memorable impression.
Given the exciting material at its disposal, this is a film that had the potential to rise above the ordinary.