Thursday, January 10, 2013

Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman

A basic history of Israel's intelligence community is presented in Dan Raviv's and Yossi Melman's Spies Against Armageddon.  The book touches on every major tumultuous event in Israel's brief existence and tells a hidden story of espionage, betrayal and assassinations.  There are some salient features worth mentioning.  The book discusses the essence of good intelligence gathering, how a democratic country justifies targeted killings and explains why Jonathan Pollard received such a disproportionate sentence in comparison to other spies who sold American secrets.

Good espionage is founded on the principle of finding reliable opposition to existing adversaries and paying for information.  Israel has been incredibly successful in ferreting out people willing to offer information about people (governments) they despise.  Nurturing the opposition bears much fruit in intelligence gathering.  The ability to place Israeli spies like Eli Cohen in enemy high places is highly unusual and rarely effective.  As a matter of fact, countries that find out that Israel has forged their passports to enable spying in other countries retaliate diplomatically.  The most effective way is to find an asset in the targeted country and nurture the asset.

Because Israel has many hostile adversaries that declare its illegitimacy determined to 'liberate' it and use tactics of terror to wage battles, conventional warfare has proven ineffective as a response.  Israel has met this unconventional war on its own terms and has deemed those who plan and perpetrate suicide bombings, and terrorist attacks against civilian populations as combatants of war. A proactive strike against a combatant or targeting them for execution has been adjudicated with approval.  The authors point out that targeted killings is not very common in the grand scheme of the Mossad and is only approved in extreme cases.

The case of Jonathan Pollard has baffled many on different levels.  How could someone so unstable be given high security clearance?  How could someone go rogue in the Israeli intelligence community to 'handle' him without approval?  Why such a harsh life sentence for espionage against an ally.  (The infamous Walker spy ring got less than 30 years for selling material to the US adversary, the Russians!?)  The book makes a claim that the US needed to send a message that it would not tolerate such abuse of Jewish Americans on the part of  Israel.  I did not find this reason so convincing in contrast to 6 former Attorney Generals advocating Pollard's release for time served.  I have always felt that somehow Casper Weinberger overreacted in writing a damning brief that over-ruled the original plea bargain.  In his memoir, Weinberger hardly mentions the Pollard affair.  One would think there would be more to say about something supposedly  called 'the worst breach of national security ever!'

This book was a very interesting read because it uncovered a hidden world of espionage smoothly connecting to conventional politics.

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