Rise and Kill First
Ronen Bergman's 750-page-book (yes) is the first "definitive history of the Mossad, Shin Bet, and the IDF's targeted killing programs." If you don't have an interest in Israel, probably not for you. But if you are interested in Israel, oh my god, you must read this. It's long, yes, but it's stunningly comprehensive and a mix of narrative of Israel's history (told by Bergman) and the missions Israeli secret services took on (told by various people he interviewed). He walks you slowly through Israel's history (and that of the pre-state Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine) and spares no detail of the operations they took out. The book is staggering in its scope, but it never feels too dense.
This is going to be a weird book review, because there are so many passages that I found interesting. Actually, maybe I'll just share them with you, annotated with my thoughts / feelings while reading. It goes chronologically. Citations are kindle locations.
Since World War II, Israel has assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world.
LOCATION: 205. A bold claim; one that undergirds his book.
Israel’s reliance on assassination as a military tool did not happen by chance, but rather stems from the revolutionary and activist roots of the Zionist movement, from the trauma of the Holocaust, and from the sense among Israel’s leaders and citizens that the country and its people are perpetually in danger of annihilation and that, as in the Holocaust, no one will come to their aid when that happens.
LOCATION: 218. This reminded me of my thesis subject, Meir Kahane and the Jewish Defense League; that the Jews, when it comes down to it, will always be alone. And they have to protect themselves.
In the years following the war, the Zionists of the Yishuv would prove, both to the world and, more important, to themselves, that Jews would never again go to such slaughter—and that Jewish blood would not come cheaply. The six million would be avenged.
LOCATION: 401. Again, Kahane.
that never again would Judea fall.
LOCATION: 769. Never Again (See the history of Never Again, that I wrote for JTA.)
In other words, it was charged with not only protecting Israel and its citizens but also standing as a sentinel for world Jewry.
LOCATION: 775. This really interested me: how the Mossad viewed itself (views itself?) as not just protecting Israel, but aiding world Jewry. (See, for example: Operation Solomon, the covert operation to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991.)
Millions of Jews, annihilated because they had no country, gaze at us from the dust of Jewish history and command us to settle and raise up a land for our people.
LOCATION: 1018. It's a myth that the state of Israel was created because of the Holocaust — the forces were turning for Jewish statehood long before Hitler arose — but the Holocaust showed how much the Jews needed their own state. This reminds me of Gideon Hausner's opening statement at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961.
Ben-Gurion again and again spoke of the nightmare that kept him awake at night—that he, the first prime minister, had brought the surviving Jews of Europe to the State of Israel, only for them here, in their own country, to undergo a second Holocaust.
LOCATION: 1229. Of the fear Israelis felt before the Six-Day War.
Why would a man or woman want one of the most dangerous jobs in the world? “There are two groups of warriors,” Kfir said. “One comes from the positive direction, people who are coming to something. The second group comes from the negative direction, people who are getting away from something."
LOCATION: 1865. Okay, this just interested me as a fan of spy stories in general.
“In the whole world,” he said, “there isn’t another army that is as meticulous as the IDF about values and norms of conduct and assuring that innocent people aren’t hurt. But there is a Talmudic precept: ‘If a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first.’
LOCATION: 5480. Oh hellooooo, book title!
Against the mass protests, Israel had responded with all the grace of a clumsy giant trying to repel a swarm of nimble dwarves.
LOCATION: 5709. Honestly a great analysis of the Intifada; Israel did not respond correctly.
And wherever there is gunpowder, there’ll be a pyromaniac to set it alight. This time the pyromaniac was Ariel Sharon.
LOCATION: 8355. On the second Intifada.
If I knew the answer to the question of what killed Yasser Arafat, I wouldn’t be able to write it here in this book, or even be able to write that I know the answer. The military censor in Israel forbids...
LOCATION: 9624. One of the few points in the book where Bergman inserted himself into the narrative; the mystery over Arafat's death still looms large.
Dagan moved into his new office in the Mossad’s main building and hung a picture of his grandfather, kneeling, staring in terror at the German troops around him, minutes before he was murdered. “Look at this photograph,” Dagan would say to Mossad operatives before sending them off on missions....
LOCATION: 9849. Meir Dagan, a former Mossad Director, was one of the main voices in the book.
“He truly believed that every time Mustafa called Mohammed, Moishele was listening in,” an officer from Unit 8200 said. “And that was not necessarily a drastic mistake.”
LOCATION: 10065. A taste of what the types of quotes Bergman got from his interview.
We have a leader who has fought only one fight—the fight for his own political survival. For the sake of that war he has cast us down into becoming a binational state—the end of the Zionist dream."
LOCATION: 10761. On Neyanyahu.
Not for anyone uninterested in the topic; but, if reading those quotes piqued your interest, the book is well worth your time.