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Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team Paperback – December 1, 2005
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About the Author
George Jonas was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1935. Following the Hungarian uprising of 1956, he emigrated to Canada. In addition to fourteen books, three of which have become national and international bestsellers, Jonas has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Sun-Times, and other publications. In 1978, he won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best True Crime.
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The author focuses on Avner, the leader of the Israeli unit assigned the task of tracking and killing leaders of terrorist groups responsible for the Munich murders. It's very detailed as to how they were chosen and dives into the underworld tactics of how to travel undetected and hitting your target, and most importantly, getting away with it. It reads like a fast-paced action novel, at the same time it educates readers as to what agents must do undercover and avoiding detection. I found it interesting how an important job was assigned in such a low-key fashion, but then, so goes the way with choosing the right people for the job at hand.
If you enjoyed the movie as I did, you'll love this book.
David Lucero, author
The as-told-to story of Avner, the team leader's pseudonym, "Vengeance" details how the team is formed and begins work in Europe. With massacre perpetrators mostly dead, the hits are aimed at those higher up: those who hatched the plot, the leaders of international Palestinian terror.
Some, openly terrorists, live in hiding or in countries sympathetic to terror. They travel surrounded by bodyguards. These are considered hard targets. The Israeli team is not given permission to go to Arab or Communist countries.
But some are soft targets: Palestinians with covers as journalists, diplomats, intellectuals or professors, whose involvement with terror remains secret - the Sami Al-Arians of the 1970s. Trusting their covers, they live openly in cities like Paris or Rome, walk the streets alone, have fixed addresses, and generally don't carry guns or take attention-getting secret-agent precautions.
The hit team - assembled at the government's highest levels and severed from Mossad to preserve deniability - flounders at the outset. They can't locate their prey. Their big break comes through a chance contact: Avner reconnects with a childhood acquaintance, now a hanger-on of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, who, believing Avner to be a radical terrorist, introduces him to bigger wheels in the underworld of terror.
Avner discovers that terror, a big business, has developed a certain amount of outsourcing - organizations that, for hefty sums of money, secure safe houses, deliver arms, supply explosives, provide lookouts, do surveillance, arrange transportation, help with getaways and bury bodies. Providing networks terrorists couldn't possibly match, they free the latter to plan hits and getaways without worrying about logistics. The support networks also provide an extra cut-out level for the terrorists. They aren't picky about who they work for. Most important for Avner and his team - cut off as they are from Mossad and its resources - they even leak information on other terrorists' whereabouts.
Tapping into these networks - penetrating the terror world by impersonating terrorists - Avner hits the gold mine allowing his team to find and kill Israel's enemies.
At first they are so successful they marvel at how easy it is to find and kill a man. Almost too easy. Later, snags emerge. The hard-to-find people are still hard to find. A couple of missions don't go smoothly. Their Mossad liaision hints they're not moving fast enough. The team begins to press, attacking with less planning and caution. They are compelled to involve themselves - and their precious underworld contacts - in a major Israeli commando raid in Beirut, blowing the team's cover.
Their mood darkens as three team members die, two by assassination, leading survivors to wonder if they've been sold out by the very people who sold others out to them.
Yes, they contemplated the morality of it all - having to become terrorists, complete with constantly changing fake passports and shadowy changes of address - to fight terrorists. But their conclusion is that they're not like terrorists at all. Terrorists kill schoolchildren - the infamous Ma'alot massacre comes to mind - while the hit team kills terrorists, delivering justice crude, justice extralegal, but justice nevertheless. At the explicit orders of Israeli Premier Golda Meir they avoid killing bystanders, family members and anyone not on their hit list. By and large, they are successful. They go outside their orders only marginally: assassinating a Dutch hit woman who seduced and killed one team member, probably on behalf of the Palestinians, and assassinating a PLO replacement for an earlier target.
Avner's greater concerns are more specific. He is haunted by insecurity as a "yekke", an Israeli Jew with German roots, in Israel, a country dominated by "Galicianers", or Polish Jews, who, Avner feels, form a ruling clique reserving power and privilege for themselves. He and his teammates are all "yekkes", picked because they can blend in in Western Europe, but they all worry about being left hanging once their mission, and usefulness to the state, conclude. Avner's own father is a former Mossad agent, now embittered by his treatment. Avner worries the same thing will happen to them.
Gloom and paranoia set in as his teammates die. At mission end he returns to his wife and baby and decides he's had enough of this kind of life. His fears materialize when his superiors, refusing to let him go, take back $100,000 that had accrued in a Swiss bank as his pay. Avner accuses them of threatening his family in an effort to force him back into the fold - and notes his own countervailing "I know where your children go to school" threats against an Israeli security man in New York City he suspects of involvement.
Finally they leave him in peace, but penniless and forced to take menial jobs. Avner's decision to go public about his mission is clearly payback for this, a quest for recognition, and maybe for some money as well..
Avner and Jonas conclude the mission in the end presents no moral dilemma. Yes, the terror world replaces the dead terrorists and, yes, terror continues. But the people who were killed, deserved it. A message is sent that attacks on Israel and Jews no longer go unpunished, and that the Jewish state will go after those responsible, wherever and however.
He and his teammates ponder the morality of what they're doing because they are indeed normal human beings, not, unlike their adversaries, hardened killers. They ultimately believe in their mission. They see themselves as disciplined soldiers fighting for a democratic state. They fight an extralegal war because the world, again and again, has offered little or no justice for Jewish terror victims while encouraging, tacitly or actively, their murderers. In the 1970s Palestinian killers are let go, again and again, by appeasing Western governments, and commit more murders. Israel has no choice but to pursue them alone, by any means necessary, to show the world no one can strike with impunity at Jews ever again.
The book is convincing, possessed of details large and small about how teams of this sort operate. You can't help but be fascinated in learning Mossad's technique for doing a hit. Each step is developed with supreme calculation and attention to detail: small caliber, low power, quiet weapons, with safeties never used, rounds left unchambered, weapons never drawn until it's time to shoot, no shooting except to kill, and shots always fired in pairs.
Particularly convincing are details about bureaucratic infighting. The team, say, balks at participating in Beirut, not only because it will jeopardize their own work, but because, having taken the risks and done the work to plan an operation, they want to be the ones to do it and get the credit, secret though it is, inside Mossad - quite recognizable human behavior.
Overshadowing the book is the whole question of whether Avner is who he says he is, whether the book is true; is distorted; or is an out-and-out lie. Israel can't be expected to acknowledge its truth, if it's true; even few people within Mossad were party to it; and outside intelligence experts would have no way of assessing the truth of what is explicitly an ultrasecret mission.
Jonas says he believes Avner, in the end, not because of his own attempts at verification, but because Avner knew how the light switch in the lobby of a particular Roman apartment building worked. The detail most straining credibility, in my opinion, was the terror outsourcing network; it's a deus ex machina, these shadowy all-powerful guys who are on your side if you can pay them and know how to find them. And Avner stumbles over them because of a chance relationship with a childhood friend. It's so convenient, maybe too convenient. But it is still plausible.
At the end, this book is vivid and compelling, one you can't put down.