The title of the fast-paced true adventure book, “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations,” comes from the Talmud: “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” The author, Ronen Bergman, is senior correspondent for military and intelligence affairs for Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest daily newspaper, and contributing writer for The New York Times.
Bergman appears to have done meticulous research into Israel’s top-secret security services. He explores the inner workings and personalities of those employed by Mossad, Shin Bet and Caesarea as well as their policy of targeted assassinations against perceived enemies of Israel.
Bergman explained how he was able to gather such information from top-secret intelligence sources. Many wanted to share their experiences as well as their points of view, moral hubris, internal conflicts and their pride in saving Israelis lives, he said.
They told him that gone were the days of being led to slaughter. Gone was the acceptance that Jewish life was cheap. “As Rabin put it, ‘There is no immunity for any PLO element anywhere in the world. The long arm of the IDF will be able to reach and punish them.’” Preemptive strikes were the norm and retaliation accepted policy, he said.
Bergman covers many important events in Israel’s history with a written style that is engaging and thrilling. He shares such events as: targeting Nazis; destroying Iraq’s nuclear facility; assassinating Iranian and Iraqi nuclear scientists; implanting viruses into foreign computers to slow nuclear development; gaining release of U.S. intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard who spied for Israel; targeting terrorists; obtaining intelligence; and manipulating the Lebanon War.
The secret agencies Bergman studied were condemned before the 911 massacre by various presidents and cabinet members, but then admired afterwards. “In one swoop, the complaints against us ceased,” said retired Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council.
The author continues, “Decades of Israel trying to explain its drastic measures to the rest of the world were suddenly made unnecessary.” President Ariel Sharon ordered all the intelligence organizations of Israel to give the Americans everything they had, Bergman said. The Americans were most interested in finding out how the integrated assassination system of all the intelligence arms worked … persistent, ruthless, exacting and efficient.
The author explained that there were many forces, understandably, against his publication of this book. While “Rise and Kill First” is a fascinating read, one cannot help but wonder the price to the secret agencies and assets of publicly revealing such tactics, methods, strategies and names. One might question the purpose of the author. Was the author trying to give history, challenge the inner workings, moralize or just write a real-life thriller and allow consequences to be what they will? This was a constant worry that I, the reader, had as more and more was revealed. Is there anything similarly written about the secret underbelly of the United States? One doubts that it would be published in such exacting specificity. Nevertheless, this book is out and is quite astonishing in its detail.
Ronen Bergman presents “Rise and Kill First” at Prologue to the Book Festival 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29.