Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations

All victimologies fuel nationalism and all nationalisms contain the capacity for genocide.

As Maj. Kong noted: “Anti-Semitism is as natural to Western civilization as anti-Christianity is to Jewish civilization, Islamic civilization and Japanese civilization.”

Different groups have different interests. Much of the time, life is war over scarce resources. It’s rare that one group rises in power without other groups losing power and hence access to scarce resources.

Politics is war by other means.

From the New York Times Book Review:

“We were too busy and hungry to think about the British and their families,” one assassin told Bergman, recounting how he shot a British officer on a Jerusalem street in 1944. “I didn’t feel anything, not even a little twinge of guilt. We believed the more coffins that reached London, the closer the day of freedom would be.”

Many men who fought in the Zionist underground later became establishment figures in Israel, including Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin; they imported guerrilla methods into the security apparatus they helped create. Assassinations offered a tactical method for a tiny country with rudimentary defenses. The Holocaust, Bergman writes, reinforced the sense that the country and its people would be “perpetually in danger of annihilation.”

Meir Dagan, the spymaster who led the Mossad from 2002 to 2011, kept a photograph in his office of a bearded man in a prayer shawl, kneeling in front of German troops. Whenever Mossad operatives were about to carry out a particularly sensitive mission, he would invite them to his office and explain that the man pictured was his grandfather, shortly before the Nazis murdered him. “Most of the Jews in the Holocaust died without fighting,” Dagan told Bergman. “We must never reach that situation again, kneeling, without the ability to fight for our lives.”

…Another wild card is a belligerent Ariel Sharon, who keeps turning up in this book — first as an army commander, then as minister of defense and eventually as prime minister. Bergman describes Sharon as a “pyromaniac,” and his obsession with killing Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as verging on monomaniacal. In his hunt for Arafat, Sharon almost had the Mossad shoot down a plane of 30 wounded Palestinian children by mistake; he even countenanced the downing of a commercial airliner if Arafat were on it. As Bergman bluntly states, this would have amounted to “an intentional war crime.”

But Sharon was just one man, and today there is a bigger institutional problem that Bergman traces, having to do with Israel’s security apparatus getting more technologically savvy and ruthlessly efficient. Instead of taking months or years to plan a single killing, the Mossad and its domestic counterpart, Shin Bet, are now capable of planning four or five “interceptions” a day. “You get used to killing. Human life becomes something plain, easy to dispose of. You spend a quarter of an hour, 20 minutes, on who to kill.” This quote is from Ami Ayalon, who as the head of Shin Bet in the late ’90s helped shepherd the organization into the digital age. He also told Bergman: “I call it the banality of evil.”

The irony of Ayalon’s inflammatory language — an echo of Hannah Arendt’s line about Nazi functionaries — is as pointed as it is jarring. This book is full of shocking moments, surprising disturbances in a narrative full of fateful twists and unintended consequences. As one naval commander says, “Listen, history plays strange games.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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