If you were a European tourist looking for a beach getaway in the '80s, there's a chance your travel agent would pass you a brochure for Arous Holiday Village, located in Sudan along the Red Sea. Arous boasted 15 luxury bungalows and some of the world's clearest water for diving.
You'd hang out on the beach for a week with other guests, like Egyptian soldiers, British troops, Sudanese government officials, and diplomats. You'd head home. You'd never know Arous' true purpose.
In reality, Arous was the front for an operation run by Israel's secret service, Mossad. From the resort, Mossad agents smuggled Ethiopian Jews to Israel. A new movie, Red Sea Diving Resort (on Netflix July 31), brings the incredible real-life story of the Mossad's "Operation Brothers" life — and stars Captain American himself, Chris Evans, as its mastermind.
Operation Brothers dates back to 1977, when Ethiopians began fleeing the war and famine in their homeland. Most ended up in Sudan and other neighboring countries. Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin wanted to rescue the Ethiopian Jews, who are also known as Beta Israel. So, in 1982, the head of the Mossad, Yitzhak Hofi, identified an abandoned hotel in Sudan, right on the Red Sea.
For a fee of $320,000, the Sudanese Tourist Corporation rented the resort to Israeli agents, who posed as a Swiss tourism company. It was a risky move: At the time, Sudan, a Muslim majority country, was an enemy of Israel.
The hotel was entirely staffed by Mossad agents. During the week, they taught windsurfing, cooked meals, and turned over rooms – and actually raked in a profit. On weekends, though, the real work began. At first, refugees were transported via rubber boat. After a run-in with the Sudanese military on the coast, all rescue mission took place with airlifts coordinated by the Arous agents.
In his 1977 book Mossad Exodus: The Daring Undercover Rescue Of The Lost Jewish Tribe, former Massad agent Gad Shimron describes his experience devising and running the Red Sea resort.
"We were shot at; I was arrested and interrogated by Sudanese security. Thank goodness nobody was killed or seriously wounded, but the operations moving the immigrants were definitely dangerous," Shimron told Haaretz. Still, Shimron speaks of these years as the best time of his life. "We lived in a paradise...and we were being paid for it," he added.
In the movie, Chris Evans plays a Mossad agent named Ari Levinson. Ari is an amalgamation of multiple real-life agents. But ultimately, he's a Hollywood creation: Ari is a one-man savior who devises the Arous plan entirely on his own. In reality, Operation Brothers was very much a team effort.
Clearly, Red Sea Diving Resort takes lots of cinematic liberties in telling the story of Operation Brothers. A last-minute plane take-off, just in the nick of time? Check. Flattening of Sudanese law enforcement into villains? Check. Heroic Americans? Definite check.
If you're interested in a riveting — but historically accurate — account of Operation Brothers, read Shimron's riveting book, which reads like an adventure novel.