I finally got around reading The Spymasters of Israel by Stewart Steven (1935-2004). It took a couple months to read (it’s not a big book, I just read it on and off) and it wasn’t anywhere on my reading list. Ironically, I finished the book the same day the U.S. accused Israel of spying on them.
How did I end up reading an Israeli intelligence book published in 1980? Procrastination. A friend of mine gave me an entire box filled with all-kind of spy books and one day instead of doing what I was supposed to do I picked up a random book. And random yes it was. Oh you can buy the book for a penny on Amazon.
I think this book is interesting to two kinds of people. Intelligence geek (I’m not) and for Israeli history buff (I’m not but I like history). So that being said, I still enjoyed parts of the book, especially how they pulled off some of their major operations, but it’s almost impossible to recommend. I can’t go “Hey buddy, you gotta read this”. It’s an old book and there are newer books with the recent history of Israel’s intelligence service. I didn’t know anything about the author and just I googled him for the first before writing this. It turns out that Stewart Steven was a controversial journalist with some major success and failures. He was twice responsible for publishing sensational scoops which turned out to be entirely false. On the good side, he managed to take a disastrous newspaper and turned it into a success with major circulation.
Regarding the book, it’s interesting to read about how much of a role the intelligence service played in the creation and formation of the modern day Israel. The State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948. The book gives you a run-down on how Israel went from a backwater country at its formation to a modern developed wealthy society and the role the intelligence service played. There were a lot of major successes and failures. The book goes in-depth about some major operations, counterterrorism, assassinations, and thefts, and other crazy things such as the bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor, the theft of blueprints for French Mirage fighter jets, capturing Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, sending assassination teams all over the world to kill terrorists, rescuing a highjack plane in Uganda and many more. The operation that put Mossad, the primary intelligence agency of Israel on the map, is getting a copy of Nikita Khrushchev’s speech denouncing Joseph Stalin in 1956. That was a famous (and very dangerous) four hour speech painting Stalin as a criminal. The CIA and every intelligence agency in the world wanted a copy of the speech. Israel had a good network of spies within Russia, where there was a highly placed Jewish population. After it was captured it was shared with the CIA then the world. The speech helped the CIA understand the current thinking inside the Soviet leadership, which was very closed and secretive at the time.
Mossad is argumently one the top spy agency in the world (some said it’s the best, but how do you know when your work is supposed to be a secret, the less you are heard of, the better.) How did they get to such an elite level so fast? Because they have a gun pointed at their head (actually multiple guns). Israel is surrounded by neighbors that wish the complete destruction of Israel off the map. That’s the motivator to ensure you are on the top of your game. There’s a sense of urgency to make sure you live another day.
I’m sure there’s tons of book on Mossad and their operations including there most recent ones. If you don’t think Israel will bomb Iran’s nuclear reactor to ensure their survival, well they didn’t hesitate with Iraq.
Note to readers: It’s hard talking about Israel and not having an opinion about what’s going on. I read the book and wrote this post objectively, which is reading a historical spy book, not propaganda. I’m not Pro-Israel or anti-Palestine or this and that. The whole place is a mess and the more you educate yourself the better the understanding of the region. I bet most people wouldn’t be able to point out Israel or Palestine on a map. I wish peace over the region and that everybody would along.