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Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations Paperback – July 9, 2019
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WINNER OF THE NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD IN HISTORY
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY JENNIFER SZALAI, THE NEW YORK TIMES
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Economist • The New York Times Book Review • BBC History Magazine • Mother Jones • Kirkus Reviews
The Talmud says: “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” This instinct to take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people is hardwired into Israel’s DNA. From the very beginning of its statehood in 1948, protecting the nation from harm has been the responsibility of its intelligence community and armed services, and there is one weapon in their vast arsenal that they have relied upon to thwart the most serious threats: Targeted assassinations have been used countless times, on enemies large and small, sometimes in response to attacks against the Israeli people and sometimes preemptively.
In this page-turning, eye-opening book, journalist and military analyst Ronen Bergman—praised by David Remnick as “arguably [Israel’s] best investigative reporter”—offers a riveting inside account of the targeted killing programs: their successes, their failures, and the moral and political price exacted on the men and women who approved and carried out the missions.
Bergman has gained the exceedingly rare cooperation of many current and former members of the Israeli government, including Prime Ministers Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-level figures in the country’s military and intelligence services: the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), the Mossad (the world’s most feared intelligence agency), Caesarea (a “Mossad within the Mossad” that carries out attacks on the highest-value targets), and the Shin Bet (an internal security service that implemented the largest targeted assassination campaign ever, in order to stop what had once appeared to be unstoppable: suicide terrorism).
Including never-before-reported, behind-the-curtain accounts of key operations, and based on hundreds of on-the-record interviews and thousands of files to which Bergman has gotten exclusive access over his decades of reporting, Rise and Kill First brings us deep into the heart of Israel’s most secret activities. Bergman traces, from statehood to the present, the gripping events and thorny ethical questions underlying Israel’s targeted killing campaign, which has shaped the Israeli nation, the Middle East, and the entire world.
“A remarkable feat of fearless and responsible reporting . . . important, timely, and informative.”—John le Carré
“This remarkable account of Israel’s targeted-killing programs is the product of nearly eight years of research into what is arguably the most secretive and impenetrable intelligence community in the world. Bergman, an investigative reporter and military analyst, interviewed hundreds of insiders, including assassins, and obtained thousands of classified documents.”—The New Yorker
“America’s difficult relationship with targeted killing and the dilemmas we may face in the future are beautifully illuminated by the longer story of Israel’s experiences with assassination in its own endless war against terrorism. . . . Americans now have a terrific new introduction to that story with publication of Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First. . . . It moves at a torrid pace and tells stories that would make Jason Bourne sit up and say ‘Wow!’ It is smart, thoughtful and balanced, and the English translation is superb. It deserves all of the plaudits it has already received.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Blending history and investigative reporting, Bergman never loses sight of the ethical questions that arise when a state, founded as a refuge for a stateless people who were targets of a genocide, decides it needs to kill in order to survive. . . . This book is full of shocking moments, surprising disturbances in a narrative full of fateful twists and unintended consequences.”—The New York Times
“Authoritative . . . a chilling portrait of the evolution of the assassination program . . . Bergman has a reputation as an indefatigable journalist who has developed hundreds of informed sources in the defense establishment over the past two decades. . . . Since World War II, Bergman calculates, the Jewish state and its pre-state paramilitary organizations have assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world.”—The Washington Post
“A must-read . . . [Bergman is] Israel’s premier chronicler of the country’s principal spy services—the Mossad (Israel’s CIA), Shin Bet (its internal security organ) and Aman (military intelligence).”—Newsweek
“A textured history of the personalities and tactics of the various secret services . . . makes the case that Israel has used assassination in the place of war, killing half a dozen Iranian nuclear scientists, for instance, rather than launching a military attack . . . [Bergman] says that while the [United States] has tighter constraints on its agents than does Israel, President George W. Bush adopted many Israeli techniques after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and President Barack Obama launched several hundred targeted killings.”—Bloomberg
“Leading any list of notable nonfiction books—Jewish or not—must be Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First, a massive and extravagantly well-sourced history of the use of the tool of assassination by Israel’s intelligence services. . . . One’s mouth is often agape with amazement, even shock, while reading.”—Haaretz
About the Author
- Publisher : Random House Trade Paperbacks; Translation edition (July 9, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 784 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0812982118
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812982114
- Item Weight : 2 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.12 x 1.72 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #13,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on November 18, 2020
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Bergman bluntly tells us – and most readers will agree – that the targets of Israel’s assassinations deserve to die. They have planned and
executed the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of Israeli civilians – men, women, children and infants – as they go about the activities of their daily lives. No cause, no grievance, can ever mitigate such atrocities. And in war, where there is no realistic possibility of arresting and trying the perpetrators, the justice of striking them down is, at least to this reader, not open to serious moral question.
But things are not always so simple, even when the target of an assassination is a terrorist murderer. As in one instance recounted by Bergman, it may happen that, despite the best efforts of counter-terror forces to ensure that the target will be at home alone when the hit occurs, he must be shot in front of his wife and teenage daughter. Unpleasant, says the operative in relating the story to Bergman, but the job must be done. And he does not hesitate to do it.
Infinitely worse, of course, is the loss of totally innocent life that is the virtually inevitable by-product of assassinations carried out from the air or by explosive. As detailed by Bergman, Israel does try to prevent this, and countless operations have been aborted because of the likelihood that unacceptable “collateral damage” will occur. But if no harm to innocents were deemed tolerable, many operations could simply not be carried out.
And that would not be without consequence to innocent Israelis. As Bergman shows, in some cases where operations were called off because of the likelihood of harm to innocent bystanders, the terrorists thus spared have gone on to commit attacks in which dozens of Israeli civilians were killed. That causes one security officer to tell Bergman that although it causes him genuine pain when an Arab child is killed in an Israeli operation, if a child is going to be harmed, he would prefer that the child not be Israeli. Is it wrong, or natural, to care for one’s own people first?
The Israeli government has no doubt about the answer. And although many innocent Arab lives were lost in the unprecedented number of Israeli assassinations that took place in response to the horrific wave of terrorism that struck Israel during the Second Intifada, those operations, together with the IDF’s Defensive Shield offensive in the West Bank, gave the lie to the familiar bromide that there is no military solution to terrorism. The Israelis found one, putting down the Second Intifada by force of arms. In winning that victory, Israel’s program of targeted assassinations played an important part.
More recently, Israel has targeted Iranian scientists working on the country’s nuclear program for elimination. That caused a female Mossad agent to stand up at one meeting and declare that her father was a scientist who had helped develop Israel’s nuclear capacity and ask her colleagues whether they would consider him a legitimate target for assassination by the enemy. Her question did not receive much by way of an answer, but the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists continued.
Unfortunately, the dazzling feat of groundbreaking reportage and riveting narrative achieved by Bergman in “Rise and Kill First” is marred in the book’s final pages by some unaccountable and highly misleading statements about the agreement concerning Iran’s nuclear program (formally known as the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”(“JCPOA”))reached between Iran and six world powers in July 2015. Relating the prior clash between former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the feasibility and wisdom of an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Bergman writes that the JCPOA , which mooted their debate, was
"an Iranian capitulation to a number of demands that the ayatollahs had been rejecting for years. Iran agreed to dismantle the nuclear project almost entirely and to be subject to strict limits and supervision for many years into the future"
In view of the heated controversy then raging in the United States over whether the JCPOA would effectively restrain Iran’s nuclear program, or put it on a glide path to becoming a nuclear-armed power, Bergman’s characterization of the agreement as an “Iranian capitulation” is nothing less than startling. And while one might argue that whether the deal was a good one or a bad one is a matter of opinion, Bergman misstates the underlying facts on which his opinion is based.
Thus, contrary to his assertion, the deal did not require Iran to “dismantle” anything, let alone its “entire[ ]” nuclear project; it only required that Iran mothball centrifuges that exceeded the agreement’s limits during its term. And the agreement provided that its restrictions on Iran’s enrichment of uranium to near-fissile purity would sunset after 15 years, hardly a prohibitive period to religious fanatics playing a long game.
Further, the agreement placed no restrictions on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles, and its research on high speed centrifuges was allowed to continue. As to the latter, even Barack Obama acknowledged that, after the agreement’s sunset, high-speed centrifuges could “[shrink] breakout times [for Iran to construct a nuclear bomb] . . . almost down to zero.”
Bergman refers to none of this in characterizing the JCOPA as an “Iranian capitulation.” Similarly, while asserting (without much explication) that the agreement represented “a double triumph” for Meir Dagan, he fails to mention that the JCPOA was opposed not only by Benjamin Netanyahu, but also by opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, in very strong terms.
The result is that a not otherwise-informed reader could well come away with a false, or at best incomplete, picture of the issues surrounding the Iran nuclear agreement. To me that is a grievous fault, but one paragraph in a book of more than 600 pages cannot affect its overall quality.
Bergman ends his book with a lament that Israel’s intelligence and security agencies have been so successful as to foster “the illusion among most of the nation’s leaders that covert operations . . . could be used in place of real diplomacy.” Toward the end of his life, Bergman writes, Meir Dagan (who is the deserved hero of this book) realized “that only a political solution with the Palestinians – the two-state solution – could end the 150-year conflict.” Ill with cancer, Dagan tried with his last energy to persuade the Israeli public to elect a leadership that would vigorously pursue that aim. But, Bergman writes, his efforts were to no avail:
"Despite the enormous adulation he enjoyed as the ultimate Israeli master spy, Dagan’s speech, as well as the calls of many other former heads of the intelligence and military establishments for a compromise agreement with the Palestinians. . . have all fallen on deaf ears."
One can easily imagine what may animate the longing for peace of retired heroes like Meir Dagan. They have dedicated their lives to protecting Israeli civilians from the remorseless terrorists who would murder them, and that has required them to do terrible things. Reflecting on what they have seen and done, it would not be surprising for them to feel moral qualms and wish there was another way. As one former head of the security service observed in the film The Gatekeepers, “[w]hen you leave Shin Bet, you become a bit of a leftist.”
Being removed from the dirty business of targeted assassinations, the average Israeli voter may see things more dispassionately. What he sees is the Palestinians’ unremitting intransigence, their rejection without counteroffer of generous Israeli proposals for a two-state solution, the Palestinian Authority’s pension payments for the murder of Israeli men, women and children, and the Holocaust denial and gross anti-Semitism of Mahmoud Abbas, the supposedly moderate president of the PA.
What exactly can be done to persuade such people to negotiate in good faith about peace? Ronen Bergman doesn’t say.
Well… with all the above study and dedication to my ancestral homeland… I wholeheartedly say… that this book by Ronen Bergman… is the “Granddaddy”… of books that I’ve read (separately from the Holocaust) about Judaism… Israel… and how *WE*… CAN NEVER… HAVE NEVER…. AND WILL NEVER… allow another Holocaust to take place. This earth-shaking book… is the detailed… explanation…. and proof… (And Reminder) that the Jewish people… will use every means necessary… to insure… ***NEVER-AGAIN**… L’CHAIM!
This book is so well written… and so well researched… both from archives… and filled with exhaustive interviews with Prime Ministers… Mossad directors and front line “foot soldiers”… Shin Bet directors and
“water” carriers… and every level of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). The story goes back to before Israel became a state.. and reports on the underground forces fighting the British and Arabs for the right to live and return to their homeland… and of course overcoming the Nazi’s and the Holocaust. This epic tale… never slows down to take a breath… and continues to May 14, 1948… when Israel finally became a state… and then within hours the new State of Israel was attacked simultaneously by SEVEN ARMIES! Israel wins this war… but their mantra… our mantra… to this day is… “IT’S PEOPLE ARE PERPETUALLY IN DANGER OF ANNIHILATION AND THAT AS IN THE HOLOCAUST, NO ONE WILL COME TO THEIR AID WHEN THAT HAPPENS.” And that core belief… is why the State of Israel survives to this day.
The title of this book was inspired by the Talmud… which says: “IF SOMEONE COMES TO KILL YOU, RISE UP AND KILL HIM FIRST.” Israel’s leaders knew early on that *INTELLIGENCE* and pre-emptive TARGETED… as well as retaliatory strikes… was how they had to operate to survive. They were also prescient enough to realize that intelligence and security outside their territorial borders was just as… if not more important than… within their borders. And that has been proven to be absolutely correct… time… after time… after time.
The author takes you deep within Israel’s security and intelligence forces. Their intelligence capability and performance is without a doubt… one of the greatest in the world. An example of how good Israeli intelligence is… would be in January 2007 when the Mossad had a female operative at a hotel bar in Vienna where the director of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission was staying. She kept him busy talking about his beloved poodles… while an Israeli Mossad team broke into his room and had to unlock a briefcase with time ticking down and the Syrian was coming back to his room… they didn’t have time to look at the documents… they just photographed what was in there… and barely got out SECONDS BEFORE… the Syrian came back to the room. It turns out the pictures were of a nuclear reactor already created in Syria to make nuclear weapons. The Israeli’s shared this with the CIA… AND THE CIA HAD NO IDEA THAT SYRIA HAD THIS CAPABILITY! The plant was ready to go “hot” within six months. When this evidence was verified by the unknowing United States… Vice-President Cheney wanted to attack… but President George W. Bush did not want to do anything at that time. At 3:00AM Thursday September 6th… SEVEN ISRAELI F-151 FIGHTER JETS FLEW WITHIN THIRTY MILES OF SYRIAN AIR SPACE AND LAUNCHED TWENTY-TWO MISSILES AT THE THREE SITES WITHIN THE NUCLEAR COMPLEX… “shortly afterward, American and Israeli satellites hovering above Syria documented the total destruction of the site,” Israel then through a backdoor connection in Turkey… told Assad they wouldn’t publicize it to the world… and he shouldn’t retaliate or among other things they’d let their ally Russia know (along with the world) “that Syria had acted in gross violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it was a signatory”… which Russia didn’t know they signed… and they wouldn’t have to be embarrassed that “Syria had just gotten years’ worth of expensive military research and technology blown up by the Jewish state.”
Personal Heads Up To Readers Of This Review: Syria purchased the nuclear reactor FROM NORTH KOREA… WITH IRANIAN FUNDING!
This book is a classic from cover to cover… and it is written meticulously… many… many… individual events could be full length movies… but no
movie could be as good as this book. I could highlight countless individual stories that appear within… but then my review would be as long as the book… and by the way… this is not a book you will read in one sitting. This book is seven-hundred-fifty-three pages long… including exquisitely detailed… notes… bibliography… and index. Another reason… in addition… to the length… for not reading in one sitting… is it weighs 2 ½ pounds… and even with my Adrenalin running during every read page… my arms got tired from holding the book and I had to take a break.
This book is worthy of being a text book for a master’s degree in Israeli Military and Security History.
Top reviews from other countries
The book is a very well-written and valuable account of Israel’s various intelligence agencies and their use of assassinations and terror tactics against the Palestinian resistance and its supporters over the period 1948-2016. This is the kind of narrative where one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. The author is an Israeli and writes from a liberal Zionist point of view.
The book is substantially sourced from material provided by members of the Israeli intelligence community, some of whom became disillusioned. It is basically a lengthy inventory of extra-judicial killings, interspersed with occasional commentary from those involved in them. Although there is always the danger of misinformation, this is probably as authoritative an account as anyone could hope for at the present time.
The book also provides a broader historical context, looking at the origins of these agencies in various Zionist terror groups, which murdered anti-Zionist Jews as well as other opponents of the future Jewish state. As Bergman puts it, ‘guerrillas, assassins [and] terrorists’ were at the heart of the new Jewish state’s army and intelligence community.
The book exposes the Israeli state’s determination to extinguish all forms of Palestinian opposition, including the political wing of various organisations. Bergman describes the fate of one Hamas intellectual, who was an Islamic theorist and historian, a dentist and a university lecturer. He was murdered, along with some associates and a child playing in the street, when two Apache helicopters fired four hellfire missiles at his car when he was on his way to give a lecture to students at the Islamic University of Gaza. As Bergman makes clear this kind of state terrorism is colluded in by the west.
Another of Israel’s innumerable crimes was the murder of the Palestinian novelist and poet Ghassan Kanafani. This was one of the great cultural crimes of the twentieth century, although it has been largely written out of history, like so much Palestinian suffering. Kanafani was accompanied by his teenage niece when Israeli agents blew up his car, killing them both. The calculated murder of a child, Bergman notes, ‘was never discussed or investigated’.
The book ends by acknowledging ‘the limits of force’. The Palestinians are a people broken by extreme violence but whose spirit of resistance to the dispossession of their land remains intact. By the end of his career the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, was in despair. He believed that the Two State solution could have brought peace and bitterly regretted that this solution was repeatedly rejected by Israel’s political elite and its voters. In its place was the rising power of the global calls for an economic and cultural boycott of Israel, together with the proposal for ‘a binational state with parity between Arabs and Jews’. This would be, said Dagan, ‘the end of the Zionist dream’.
That equality should be seen as a bad thing aptly sums up the Zionist mind-set which lies behind the programme of assassinations which Bergman describes in this highly readable although heavily factual book.
The book is also fascinating it its detail and like a thriller to read. The Israeli use of IEDs and roadside bombs, later copied by the opponents it was used against in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine. The first ever use of drones to kill and the development of real time "war rooms". The detail of many news-worthy items from the past including botched assassination attempts. All of the leaders of Israel were involved in the development and planning of assassinations, since assassination required a "red letter" from the prime minister. Some, like Sharon, Begin and Ehud Barak were involved in planning and executing assassinations before they became ministers.
Anyone who is interested in middle eastern affairs should read this book. Whether you are "pro" or "anti" Israeli policy, this is the best book to give a comprehensive account of this aspect of Israeli policy. He has interviewed and talked to many of the people involved and the book contains much material that is to be found nowhere else.
Then you get the feeling that he despises, these very same men, for killing without mercy.
Whatever your political leanings this book will open your eyes to the "Middle East question " that greater men with intelligence have ever managed to explain.
Simply put this book will leave you with questions , and a respect of these brave men whose lives are lived at 100 miles an hour.
"Israel contested with God and with men yet prevailed" Genesis 32:28.