View Full Version : RISE AND KILL FIRST: The Secret History of Israehttps://wwl’s Targeted Assassinations

Bill Moore
09-01-2018, 08:40 PM

Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations
By Ronen Bergman, 2018

This book has been discussed in cursory manner in other threads, but I still wanted to provide my take after finishing it.

Former CIA officer Robert Baer’s stated this book is hands down the best book I’ve read on intelligence, Israel, and for that matter the Middle East. Impeccably sourced and astoundingly well reported, this book is indispensable for understanding Israel’s fight for survival, with a revelation on every page.
I couldn’t say it better, so why try. The only thing I would add is it also a textbook on risk informed decision making and strategy with numerous examples of failures and successes. Perhaps needless to say, it is a also a great historic text on modern Israel. The range of operations covered disrupting Egypt’s advanced missile program in the 1960s by targeting the German scientists who were supporting it, targeting the PLO and other Palestinian terrorist groups to include HAMAS and PIJ, the war against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, Syria, and numerous other events all covered in exacting detail on why certain decisions were made, and in many cases a detailed account of the operation itself. Throughout the book there are several lessons for both intelligence operatives and special operations personnel. It should be considered mandatory professional reading in some of these circles.

While Israel conducted assassination missions in hostile countries prior to the 1972 Munich Olympic Games attack on the Israeli athletes, it was the 1972 Black September terrorist attack that was the game changer. Even prior to this attack Israel would inform European countries such as France of impending terrorist attacks on Israelis in their country, and they refused to do anything about it. When the Israeli athletes were taken hostage, the Israelis immediately began planning a rescue operation but were denied entry into Germany. Two Israeli operatives sent to Germany to provide counsel to the Germans were rebuffed. They alongside as they watched the slaughter and the Germans failed to do anything until the hostages and terrorists arrived at the airport. The German rescue operation was poorly planned and executed and all advice from the Israelis was rejected. “Zamir asked the Germans why there was no force storming the terrorists. He was told that the police were waiting for armored vehicles that were stuck in traffic . . . they did not make even a minimal effort to save lives, or take minimal risks to rescue people—neither or people nor their own. . . A wounded crewman has crawled two hundred meters. He crawled on all fours, wounded, and no one made an effort to rescue him.”

“Once again Jews were slaughtered on German soil as the rest of the world continued with business as usual, as if nothing has happened.” Black September considered the operation a major success, it was like painting the name Palestine on a mountaintop visible around the globe. “If the Europeans wouldn’t even try to stop terrorists on their own soil, Meir and her cabinet decided, the Mossad would be given the green light to do so. On Sep 11, the cabinet authorized the prime minister to approve targets even in friendly countries, without notifying local authorities.” After that the intelligence services produced numerous Red Pages, the document submitted to the prime minister requesting authority to kill a target.

Moving into the future, when Israel targeted Palestinians and Hezbollah in Lebanon, one Mossad officer said, “with Sharon’s backing terrible things were done. I’m no vegetarian, and I supported and even participated in some assassination operations. But we are speaking here about mass killing for killing’s sake, to sow chaos and alarm, among civilians too. Since when do we send donkeys carrying bombs to blow up marketplaces?” Another operative said, “we were teaching the Lebanese how effective a car bomb could be. Everything we saw with Hezbollah sprang from what they saw had happened after these operations.”

This was a recurring theme throughout the book. Many of the operations were over reactions to terrorist attacks, exactly what the terrorist hopes to provoke to mobilize more support for their cause. To be fair, Israel failed to act out of fear of harming innocents and escalating in many cases, and at times this failed. The terrorist they failed to assassinate went on to murder many more Israeli citizens. There will always be a degree of uncertainty on the second and third order effects from operations conducted and not conducted. The decision making was explained in detail in many cases, and it is hard to find fault in most decisions made regarding targeted assassinations. Operations approved by Sharon on the other hand were often atrocities and acts of war that only made the situation worse.

Countering adversary nuclear programs was major topic throughout the book. Israel even conducted a sabotage operation in France (described in detail) where they used explosives to destroy nuclear reactor machines that took over two years to produce. These were intended to go to Iraq. Immediately following the attack, an alleged spokesman for Groupe des Ecologistes Francais telephoned a local paper to claim responsibility, but French intelligence correctly suspected Israel was behind the operation. Israel also authorized the assassination of scientists supporting Iraq’s nuclear weapon program. Many died from poisoning, and others received threatening letters resulting in panic throughout the community. Mossad informed the prime minister these actions would not stop the program, only delay it. The only way to stop it was from the air, which was an act of war. After the aerial bombing, Saddam became more determined and the $400 million project became a $10 billion project and 400 scientists became seven thousand. Israel only uncovered pieces of this large operation and disrupted what they could.

Sharon was increasingly disappointed how risk adverse Mossad became in recent years, so he appointed Dagan to be the director in 2002 to reform the organization. Dagan was hyper aggressive, but not careless. His first order of business was to fix the culture of the Mossad. He started with its case officer section. Dagan described it as a “complete system of falsehood, which deceives itself and feeds itself lies” to convince everyone of its success. For example, they recruit some guy who serves tea in some office near a nuclear facility and claim they have someone inside the Iranian atom project.

Once Dagan put Mossad on effective war footing, he narrowed its mission to two broad targets. One was any hostile country attempting to attain a nuclear weapon. Importation of equipment would be disrupted, facilities seriously sabotaged, and nuclear scientists co-opted, harassed, and if necessary killed. The second target was the Radical Front consisting of Iran, Syria, and their network of proxies, most notably Hezbollah. There was no plans for all out war with Iran or Syria, but the Mossad would target their supply lines.

For Iran, Israel thought through three options: all out war, regime change, or convince the leadership the cost of having a bomb outweighed the benefit. The third option was the only feasible one. Dagan realized their interests intersected with many Arab states who also feared Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. He ordered the Mossad to ramp up its liaison with various Arab countries, and then directed a range of overt and covert activity to impose costs upon Iran, to include targeted killing of their nuclear scientists. For the killings in Iran, all of them were conducted by Iranian opposition forces.

It would take up multiple pages to replicate the tactics used to assassinate Israel’s enemies, they ranged from raids, sniper attacks, poisoning, car bombs, telephone bombs, explosive letters, etc. While mistakes were made in early operations, lessons were learnt the level of sophistication sky rocketed. Except for Sharon directed operations, most operations went out of their way to avoid harm to innocent bystanders. In at least two cases described in the book, the targets were valid, but they backfired strategically because of where they were targeted, and the Mossad took short cuts in their tradecraft based on the narrow window of opportunity to execute the target. In these cases, the Mossad was exposed and it resulted in serious damage to diplomatic relationships. I won't pass judgment, Israel is fighting for its survival, the Palestinians are fighting for a homeland, and number of external actors are supporting terrorism and hope to destroy Israel. While the measures Israel takes to defend itself may at times seem extreme, when we faced an existential threat we fired bombed cities and dropped atomic bombs. I realize when you kill one it is a tragedy and when you kill thousands it is a statistic, but something we should keep in mind before passing judgment.

11-14-2018, 09:15 PM
A review of Bergman's book by an Indian intelligence professional; it is sub-titled:
This is no starry-eyed study of Mossad’s acumen in assassinations, but a catalogue of its horrible bunglings and politically naive judgements too.

(He ends with) Israel Intelligence Community’s rec#ord “has been one of a long string of tactical successes”, says Bergman, “but also disastrous strategic failures”.