Book Review — Rise and Kill First by Ronen Bergman

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This evening I finished Ronen Bergman’s “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations”. Ronen is an Israeli investigative journalist who works as a military analyst for Israel’s largest circulaton daily.

This book details the never-before-reported, behind-the-curtain accounts of Israel’s triad killing squad — the Mossad, Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces. It is a riveting yet deeply troubling inside account of targeted killing programs created and carried out by these agencies. Their successes, their failures, and the price — moral and political — paid by people insistent in keeping Israel safe.

When I read this kind of book, I’m awed at how much research goes into it. Ronen interviewed thousands of people to write this 700-page book. When the head of an intelligence agency says he is disturbed the author was able to get so much information about such secret and sensitive information, then you know the author is in his own class.

While I agreed with the many people who recommended that I read this book, I am concerned that many people don’t find some of the events narrated in this book disturbing. There is blood on every page of this book, most of them innocent lives. That the world sits back and allow these events to happen in real life leaves me nonplussed.

Israel is such a militarized country because it is surrounded by enemy states and the best pathway to Prime Ministership in this country is through being a Defense Minister, and many times the Prime Minister doubles as the Defense Minister. While Israel has a vibrant economy, the book proves that this Jewish state exalts security above all else.

And Ben Gurion — the primary national founder of the State — made sure that the media is brought to more or less conform to the position. Refusing to purge the legal system inherited from the British, Israel has a state of emergency provision that requires that all print and broadcast media submit any reports on intelligence and army activities to a military censor, who vetoed much of the material. So much for press freedom in democratic Israel.

Israel is such a controversial country and there will always be arguments about its founding. Arguments that will be emotional for all parties. The twenty-one hostile Arab nations that surrounded it threatened to destroy it for ‘stealing’ their land, while Israel is resolved to surviving the onslaught, hence the country has evolved a highly effective military and, arguably, the best intelligence community in the world.

Since World War II, Israel has assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world. In many cases, Israel’s leaders have even determined that in order to kill the designated target, it is moral and legal to endanger the lives of innocent civilians who may happen to find themselves in the line of fire. Harming such people, they believe, is a necessary evil.

Some of these operations are absolutely the stuff of legends. And some of them have been made into movies. The Entebbe Raid in which Idi Amin harboured terrorists who kidnapped Israelis was narrated in a heartracing manner in this book. Several other operations like the Operation Spring of Youth, Operation Heartburn, Operation Maveer, etc read like Action movies. The excitement. The Suspense. The Anticipation. They were simply off the hook.

But here’s a spinner: Most reviews I read about this book before I agreed to pick it up centered on how great these three security services of the Israeli state are. Few of them talked about how inept and totally lacking in morals they can be.

You may think I refer to the killing of innocent lives in Palestine, and you will be right. You may think I refer to strategies employed by terrorists to kill recklessly within the Isreali state under the nose of these awe-inspiring agencies, and you will be right. You may even think I refer to the stealing of documents from its own allies, and you will be right.

You may think of treachery within the agencies themselves, and you will be right. Ariel Sharon is such a daredevil and his faceoff with Arafat was on another level. But I refer to how the true condition of an ailing and hardly functioning President was concealed from the Israeli public so that a single man can run rings however he wants. Isn’t this what we see in third world countries?

Like I said earlier, there is so much bloodletting from the main parties in this book that it’s surreal. One top commander said to his crew, that it made no difference which Palestinians was killed in Lebanon, “…they either were terrorists or would become terrorists or they gave birth to terrorists.”

As you read this book you are left confused as to the actual position of the writer. In some cases, he seems in admiration of the targeted killings and the courage the ‘warriors’ took to carry out these assignments, and then in several other places, you get the feeling that he deeply loathes these murderers for the merciless killings. At the end of the day you realize that it’s journalism at its peak.

For me, the book provided me with deep insights into the Middle East situation, but leaves me with questions on how lasting peace can be created in this most volatile region.

I won’t lie, I’m relieved this explosive, riveting book is off my hands.

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