Sometime last year, I watched Christiane Amanpour interview Ronen Bergman on his book, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations. In the interview,Bergman talked about how the Mossad (Israel’s CIA), the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security organ) and AMAN (Israel’s military intelligence) went about aiding perceived enemies of Israel cash in their chips early.
Bergman talked about a particular incidence. On the instruction of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Air Force had scrambled two F-15s to blow up a chartered plane thought to be transporting the hated Yasser Arafat. The F-15s circled the plane waiting for final confirmation orders to shoot it down. Turns out it was not Yasser Arafat on board but his brother, Fathi Arafat, a doctor. He was escorting thirty wounded Palestinian children to Cairo for treatment.
The intel was wrong. The strike was called off.
It was a gripping expose.
I was filled with righteous indignation. Even if Yasser Arafat was onboard, that was a commercial flight, for Pete’s sake! They were going to shot down pilots, crew and children on account of one man? Not cool, Israel. Not cool.
Well, turned out Ariel Sharon didn’t give a hoot.
On no less than five different occasions had F-15s and F-16s been scrambled on his instructions to shoot down commercial airliners thought to be transporting Yasser Arafat. Only internal sabotage by his military officials, galled by the order and fearing war crime charges against Israel, ensured the missions failed.
By the way, when you pray for luck, pray for the the Yasser Arafat-type of luck. Given how badly Ariel Sharon had it in for the man, that Mr Arafat died of natural causes is nothing short of a miracle. As we like to say around here, his mother wasn’t dozing in heaven.
I have always loved spooks stories. So after watching Christiane interview Bergman, I went out and bought the book.
Two words: don’t be an existential threat to Israel.
OK, that’s seven words. What I meant to say was: mind blown.
How the Israeli government allowed the book to be published beggars belief. The book gave details of many of Israel’s covert operations and the names of principal actors and agents involved in them, many of whom are still alive!
Assassination through poisoned toothpaste. Check. Assassination of nuclear scientists associated with Iraq and Iran’s nuclear programs. Check. Car bombs, letter bombs, photo bombs. Check. Sidling into hostile and friendly countries to eliminate, abduct or blow up targets. Check. Check. Check.
The book was a scintillating read. However, I doubt that families of the many dearly departed on account of Israeli bullets, knives or bombs would find it so. Not if you learned that your beloved was dumped into the Mediterranean from 30,000 feet.
The book was also a good history class on the crises in the Middle East. It delved into the creation of the State of Israel, Israel’s fraught relationship with its neighbours, the Intifadah, the emergence of the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah. It traced the emergence of terrorism and its principal architects and proponents. It x-rayed the Iranian Revolution and how Iran came to be a force in the Middle East and a thorn in the flesh of both Israel and the United States.
No doubt the very strong hand of Israel on its perceived enemies was borne out of centuries of Jewish persecution. This drives Israel to ‘rise and kill first.’
“The Talmud says: ‘If someone comes to kill you, rise and kill him first.’ This instinct to take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people is hardwired into Israel’s DNA.”
OK, let’s pause here. What does a spy book have to do with my travel through Europe?
Well, it sowed a seed.
It was quite simple. To understand a man you need to understand his past and his fears. So, I thought to myself: what if I visited some of the historic sites of Jewish persecution in Europe? Better to see something once than to hear about it a hundred times, isn’t it?
It was a very entertaining thought. I already had a US vacation planned and was going to fly through Europe anyway. Why not stop over for some gulag history and haunting memories on my way to divine cuisine in The Big Easy?
I liked the sound of the thought very much. So, I planned the trip and off I went.
Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Budapest, Vienna and Krakow. Six European cities in 9 days. Then I skipped over the Atlantic for some R and R. New York, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans.
You can’t be broke if you don’t check your bank account.
Since most human beings suffer from the grand delusion that people are dying to read whatever drivel they write, I’m sharing memories of the trip in separate blog posts. See links below. Maybe it might inspire you to have some sense and not travel, the consequence of which is some seriously expanded mind.
Hopefully, not from visiting coffee shops in Amsterdam.
Please click on cities below for account of each trip.