“Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations” by Ronen Bergman— Israel’s Targeted Killing Programs

Bergman, Ronen. “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations”, Random House, 2018.

Israel’s Targeted Killing Programs

Amos Lassen

We learn from the Talmud that if someone comes to take a life, we have the responsibility to “rise up and kill him first.” Self-defense is an instinct that is part of most Israelis who will take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people. We saw this in 1948 with the creation of the state and protecting the nation. The Israel intelligence community and the armed forces see this as the main priority. They have relied on targeted assassinations to stop the most serious threats and these have been used countless times, on enemies large and small, both in response to attacks against the Israeli people and preemptively.

Journalist and military analyst Ronen Bergman takes us inside the targeted killing programs and shares successes, failures, and the moral and political price we pay for the men and women who approved and carried out the missions. The stories are riveting and sometimes you have to remember that you are reading nonfiction here. Bergman has written this book with the 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 Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad (Israel’s 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 suicide terrorism once thought to be unstoppable.

Much of what we read here has never been in print before and we get behind-the-scene accounts of key operations, that are based on hundreds of on-the-record interviews and thousands of files to which Bergman has received exclusive access. We go deep into the heart of Israel’s most secret activities. Bergman takes us from statehood to the present though the events and ethical questions underlying Israel’s targeted killing campaign, which has shaped not just Israel but also the Middle East and the world.

We have the details of the history and the largess of Israel’s use of killing as an instrument of defense and foreign policy. Bergman also debates the effectiveness and morality of his subject. Nearly eight years of research went into “the most secretive and impenetrable intelligence community in the world.” We also become aware of America’s difficult relationship with targeted killing and the dilemmas the world might face in the future especially with the rise of terrorism being what it is.

Bergman brings together history and investigative reporting while keeping the ethical questions that come into being when Israel, a nation that was founded as a place for those with no state, for those who had lived through genocide needs to murder in order to survive. “Since World War II, the Jewish state and its pre-state paramilitary organizations have assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world.

We meet the personalities and learn of the tactics of the various secret services and we see that Israel has used assassination instead of war. We also learn that 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.

This book takes us behind the scenes and puts events in context that shows their relevance to the survival of Israel. The events are filled with the clarity of truth. Much of what we read here was never meant to be seen making it all the more exciting. The survival of Israel has been possible because of the improbable success of suspenseful operations that involved boldness, planning, and intelligence together with intense preparation that made it all possible.

We are pulled into the difficult tactical, strategic and moral dilemmas that the decision makers had to deal with along the way and there are some very big questions here about the moral and practical costs of a justifiable program of sabotage and assassination as an alternative to wider wars among nations.

Bergman explains why the Israelis found it necessary to use targeted assassinations for the safety of their people and as we read our emotions get a workout. On one hand we are very proud of what Israel has been able to do while on the other hand we are disappointed that Israel had to use murder in order to defend herself.

This is a big book at over 700 pages yet I could not stop reading and am halfway through my second read.