Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Ronen Bergman doesn’t really care how horrifying, ugly or demonizing a reality may be; if it’s the truth, it will find its way into the light. From its statehood in 1948, Israel has been in constant conflict with its neighbours as well as various terrorist organizations hell-bent on wiping the country from the face of the Earth. The Israelis have been forced to take rather drastic and aggressive measures to ensure their survival, and targeted killing programs were part of those. In his book Rise and Kill First, Bergman details the sordid history of the Mossad, Shin Bet and IDF’s assassination programs.
Table of contents
Ronen Bergman Delves into a Murky Past
While the land of Israel has been standing for thousands of years, officially-speaking the country has only acquired its modern statehood in 1948, making it not even a hundred years old at the time of writing this article. Despite its very short existence, neighboring countries around it seem to have been consistently seeking its extinction from the face of the Earth, leading to numerous wars and conflicts the ripples of which are still going strong to this very day.
Understanding what took place in the country since its short inception is nothing short of a herculean task, especially considering the vast net of secrecy covering the government’s actions. Undeterred by veils and red tape, investigative journalist Ronen Bergman took it upon himself to chronicle in his book titled Rise and Kill First one of the country’s more controversial subjects, something they can no longer deny: targeted assassination programs.
To make it clear, this is not a work of fiction by any stretch of the imagination, and thus begins at a logical place and proceeds onward in a rather orderly manner. Ronen Bergman starts at the country’s inception and attempts to explain the mentality of the people, their ideals, religious and otherwise, which condone the killing of those who come to kill you.
He attempts to trace the early roots of conflict which led to consistent attacks on and from Israel for the past decades, to provide an all-encompassing context for the meat of the course. After establishing the setting, so to speak, Bergman gets down to the truly interesting part and describes in great detail the various assassination campaigns led by Israeli military and government agencies throughout the years. More than that, he also interviews quite a few people who were surprisingly willing to speak out in regards to their firsthand participation in those events, how they have affected them for the rest of their lives.
To make it strictly clear, this isn’t an attempt to glamourize or justify the killing programs and all the consequences they have brought with them. This is an impartial work of investigative journalism seeking to bring us facts in their purest and most neutral forms, allowing us to mould our own opinions rather than having them shaped for us. In other words, this is definitely not some kind of propaganda piece, if that was something you were worried about.
Reaches Hitherto Unknown
As one might expect, there isn’t much information to have surfaced in regards to those killing programs, with the Israeli government quite understandably trying to keep a lid on these sorts of activities. We didn’t know much more than the official versions of events, and even those left quite a bit to be desired.
I’m not sure how he managed it, but Ronen Bergman actually succeeded in obtaining the cooperation of some of the most highly-visible figures in country’s government, including former prime ministers Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, as well as current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Additionally, he conducted numerous interviews with former and current special forces members, some of which participated in the killing operations by the Mossad and the Shin Bet.
In other words, in Rise and Kill First Bergman went closer to the source of truth on this matter than anyone else in the world, and in one book has managed to gather the thoughts of a very exclusive circle of people, an opportunity I doubt they allow to happen very often. While of course these people do speak carefully and certainly aren’t keen on telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, their insights nevertheless prove themselves invaluable and for the most part feel honest and truthful.
I had the impression that if lies were told, they were lies of omission more than anything else, and while in some situations it would be damning, I believe it’s already much more than anyone could have expected from government representatives discussing dark killing programs. Every one of the interviews offers something unique and interesting, an additional peace of the puzzle paving our way to as complete a picture as possible.
The Human Side
Rise and Kill First definitely spends quite a lot of time detailing the various missions undertaken by the agencies, explaining the motivations behind them as well as the results and their ultimate consequences. With that being said, I was extremely glad to see the author decided to place just as much of a focus on the people responsible for those acts and the ways in which they were marked by their deeds.
It’s all too easy to forget that behind the scenes and mission protocols stand people just like you and I, with dreams, ideals and psyches which can be broken. Witnessing how these people have lived out their years with the weight of their actions was, for me at least, just as interesting as all the specific and accurate details explaining the inner workings of the Mossad and the Shin Bet.
Naturally, people process these sorts of events differently from one another, and while some have no problem sleeping at night or justifying to themselves what they had done was necessary, there are others haunted eternally by their deeds. It does raise the question as to how necessary these assassination programs are in our modern times, and whether they might end up doing more harm to Israel and its people than anyone else.
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While it can certainly be argued there was a time when Israel did not have a choice but to pursue violent and aggressive methods in ensuring its survival, is it still the case today? Truth be told, this is one of those questions we might only find the answer to once it’s too late.
The Final Verdict
On the whole, Rise and Kill First is, in my opinion, a prime example of what investigative journalism should strive to be, one centred on a topic I find extremely alluring with all the secrecy and mysteries surrounding it. While there is still much more light to shed on the issue, Ronen Bergman does as good of a job as possible at getting the ball rolling and bringing us the facts about Israel’s secret killing programs, the people behind them, and the operations they have undertaken. If this topic even remotely interests you then I guarantee you will fall in love with what Rise and Kill First has to offer; I can do nothing but highly recommend it to anyone.
during the presidency of George W. Bush, the United States of America carried out 48 targeted killing operations, according to one estimate, and under President Barack Obama there were 353 such attacks.― Ronen Bergman, Rise and Kill First
Ronen Bergman is an investigative journalist and author from Israel, as well as a senior political and military analyst for the country’s largest daily circulation, Yedioth Ahronoth.
He has written for various publications including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Ronen Bergman also published numerous books, including Authority Granted, Point of No Return and The Secret War with Iran.