|Buy Now at Amazon.com||Review by Elliot Goldenberg|
Published in 1990 - and first appearing in England in 1989 under the title, The Imperfect Spies - the book is a birds-eye view of Israel's intelligence apparatus and its fascinating (and sometimes rocky) history. To get their story the authors interviewed Israeli intelligence veterans, including the heads of agencies, and even met with former directors of the CIA as well as "other old hands at the clandestine game to see how Israel's spies are really perceived - not by the newspapers, but by professionals worldwide."
Spycraft, which Newsday once called "the world's second oldest profession," is, indeed, practiced all over the world, but Israel has set the bar - at least that's the perception. AMAN, Israeli military intelligence; Shin Bet, the equivalent of our FBI; and the Mossad, Israel's version of our CIA, are dissected by the authors as they take off the gloves in a no-holds-barred attempt to reveal the good, the bad and the ugly of how Israel employs the "trades."
The authors note, in the Prologue, that the intelligence community of any government has the task of preventing "harmful surprises" - such as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990. Not surprisingly, President George H.W. Bush - a former CIA director himself - wanted to know why the CIA was in the dark when Iraq crossed the Kuwaiti border in a lightning strike that seemingly took everyone by surprise.
Raviv and Melman, while taking some clean shots over the bow, therefore understand, all too well, the need for Israel - a tiny country surrounded by enemies- to excel at the game of espionage, and to do it better than anyone else. Simply put, Israel's survival clearly depends on it. It can be argued that the ends, therefore, more often than not justify the means. And in their extraordinary book, Raviv and Melman, act as impartial referees: detailing Israel's intelligence successes, as well as its blunders - including those that sometimes lead to the deaths of innocents caught in the middle.
Among the many successes the authors highlight is the theft of the blueprints for the French jet fighter Mirage, a plane which would become the prototype for Israel's Kfir fighters, the capture of one of Hitler's top henchman, Adolph Eichmann in Buenos Aries, and the seizure of Entebbe Airport in a daring commando raid to rescue Israeli hostages held by Palestinian and German terrorists with the consent of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
Perhaps the greatest success of all, the authors note, came in 1967 with Israel's stunning triumph in the Six-Day War as the product of top-notch intelligence.
Failures (or at least perceived failures) include the inability to foresee the Yom Kippur War, in 1973, as well as the mistaken identity murder of a Moroccan waiter in Norway by an Israeli hit team. The Israeli operatives believed the victim was the head of the Black September terrorist group.
The Pollard spy case - on which I have written two books - was both a success and failure of Israeli intelligence, depending on how it's viewed. Raviv and Melman cover the complex case extensively, and I can assure the book's readers that the information the authors have gleaned is, for the most part, quite accurate.
Arrested in 1985, the so-called "Year of the Spy," Jonathan Pollard, a former civilian U.S. Naval Intelligence analyst, received a life sentence, in 1987, for passing classified information to Israel. Pollard may have been in the center of the web, but there were other names as well and one name that kept coming up was that of Amiram Nir, Prime Minister Shimon Peres' young advisor on counterterrorism who became a friend and close ally of U.S. Lt. Col. Oliver North. As noted by Raviv and Mellman, Nir also had a business relationship with Adnan Khoshoggi, a Saudi arms dealer, who worked with the Americans and the Israelis, and was alleged to be one of the world's wealthiest men. Among his many escapades, Khashoggi was involved in weapons sales and shipments from the U.S. to Iran - with Israel as the go-between - and was a key player in what became known as Iran-Contra.
Meanwhile Nir, as pointed out by Raviv and Mellman, has his fingerprints virtually everywhere and had access to a potpourri of things of interest to the Israelis. In October 1985, a month before Pollard's arrest, it was Nir, then Israel's counterterrorism coordinator, who, after the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship (and the murder of wheelchair-bound American Leon Klinghoffer), informed the Americans that Israel was intercepting and recording every word spoken by radio between the Palestinian hijackers and their PLO controller, Abul Abbas, safely on shore in Egypt.
Wrote Raviv and Mellman, Nir felt at the time that he could "start laying plans with North for an around the world crusade against international terror."
When Iran-Contra later unraveled, however, with Nir and North in the middle of it - and with a trail, the authors say that led to the oval office - tough questions were being asked. Noted Raviv and Mellman: "The American press and public demanded to know about President Reagan's involvement. Did the president authorize trading arms for hostages? And did he permit North to violate the congressional ban on aid to the Contras by using Israeli arms dealers and their Swiss bank accounts to divert the profits made off the Iranians?"
One man who came out of Iran-Contra relatively unscathed, Raviv and Mellman note, was Vice President George H.W. Bush, the former head of the CIA. It was at the King David Hotel, Raviv and Mellman allege, that Nir met with Bush and gave the vice president a briefing on the then ongoing deal with Iran.
A few years later "the only person who might conceivably been able to damage Bush politically," the authors write, "died in an airplane crash." Indeed, three weeks after the 1988 presidential election - won by Bush - Nir lost his life - some say mysteriously. Raviv and Mellman write: "Amiram Nir perished in a small Cessna T-210 bound for Mexico City from a tiny airport in Urupan. It crashed in bad weather 110 miles west of the capital."
According to Raviv and Mellman, the Mexican police said the Israeli (Nir) whose body they found had rented the Cessna under the name "Pat Weber." Note Raviv and Mellman: "Amiram Nir took to his grave in Israel the remaining secrets of Irangate."
All in all, this book is a treasure trove of information, and although the authors no doubt have their own biases, they seem to leave them at the door. As is pointed out, again and again, Israel remains unique in the overwhelming support of its citizens for its secret services, of which, the authors say, "they know so little."
"Despite a constant state of war (certainly the case in 1990 when this book was published) Israelis have usually slept well at night," the authors say, "confident that they are being defended both by the army and by clandestine agencies who are considered second to none."
In fact, the authors point out that a secret U.S. study, discovered and released by Islamic militants who seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, concluded that "Israel's intelligence and security services are among the best in the world."
It's hardly a surprise, therefore, that, when in need, the U.S., historically, has turned to those who have had the best HUMINT (human intelligence) in the Middle East - the Israelis. As Raviv and Mellman note, "from its earliest days the State of Israel had earned a reputation for success in the field of espionage and covert action."
Just how the Israelis did it, why they did it so well - and their failures as well as their successes - is the essence of this wonderful book.
|Buy Now at Amazon.com||Review by Elliot Goldenberg|