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Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services.

Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services. lan Black, Benny Morris. Grove Weidenfeld, $24.95. After Israeli agents scooped the world intelligence "community" by coming up with a copy of Khrushchev's "crimes of Stalin" speech, after the Israelis unexpectedly thrashed the Arabs in 1967, and after commandos swooped into Uganda's Entebbe airport to rescue hostages held by Arab and German hijackers, novelists and scriptwriters fell madly in love with the idea of the Israeli secret agent. Romanticizing him as invincible, with God forever on his side, few of the writers knew what they were talking about-except John Le Carre in Little Drutiznter Girl, which authors Ian Black and Benny Morris call "the best literary treatment of Israeli intelligence." That's how shrouded in mystery and myth are the Aman (the Israel Defence Force's intelligence arm), Mossad, and Shin Bet-the three Israeli agencies described in this exhaustive and engrossing book.

Ian Black, author of Zionism and the Arabs, is The Manchester Guardian's man in Israel; Benny Morris is an Israeli diplomatic historian and journalist and the author of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Question, 1947-1949. Despite official censorship and secrecy, they managed to base this book on secret reports, declassified files of cable traffic and interrogations, the Hebrew press, interviews, and speculation. The result is rather impressive-neither an expose nor as sensationalistic as former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky's recent book, By Way of Deception, which Black and Morris praise for its descriptions;

----> Al, a Mossad secret unit supposedly used for espionage operations in the United States, and Kidon, an "assassinations unit." <----

No wonder legions of writers have been drawn into the web. There's murder and sex and intrigue; Israeli spies in the Soviet Union and Soviet moles in the Israeli defense ministry; Mossad agents in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq; assassination teams and alleged death squads; and even, we are told, agents spying on the right-wing Herut and left-wing Mapam at home. And everywhere else, old scores to settle, one way or another. It's hardly surprising, then, that after reading a declassified Shin Bet interrogation of a prisoner, Israeli commentator Yigal Sama wrote: "If someone were to take everything that's been written about the Palestinians in the State of Israel since the beginning of the conflict-details of lives, families, daily routine-literature will lag far behind the archives of the security forces."

Yet the ultimate effect of this new book is to further undermine the myth of the infallibility of the Mossad and Shin Bet. As the Intifada powerfully illustrates, policy-by-intelligence has inevitable limitations. There are some political gulfs, it seems, that even the best secret agents can't bridge.

In 1973, the investigating commission scrutinizing the conduct of the Yom Kippur War ("Israel's grand intelligence failure") excoriated Aman for failing to "correctly evaluate" the warnings of Egyptian and Syrian preparation for war. Actually, there were two unsung heroes, one of them a junior intelligence officer who reported that the Egytians were set to cross the Suez Canal and was promptly rebuffed by his superiors; the other, an Aman senior officer who alerted his superior to the coming war and was told: "Stop assessing and stick to your job, which is collecting intelligence."

Israel's greatest intelligence disaster, according to the authors, was the invasion of Lebanon, of which a Shin Bet official later said, "In order to stay sane and stay alive, you had to do things that were unacceptable." There were plenty of intelligence miscalculations and blunders, as the Kahan investigating commission reported. But it was also true that just before the invasion and doubtless during the war, "intelligence facts were being selectively marshalled to suit the grand political and military design."

* There were other failures as well: the Pollard case, in which key Israelis gave the Americans just enough material to incriminate Pollard, but it was wrapped in so many lies that the Americans quickly lost faith in the Israeli version," and the Iran-contra affair, in which Mossad was "shut out of the picture completely," casting Israel "in a vital [but] a supporting role." At one point, George Shultz had to remind Robert McFarlane that "Israel's agenda is not the same as ours, and an intelligence relationship with Israel concerning Iran might not be one upon which we could fully rely"-a warning that apparently fell on deaf ears.

Black and Morris blame Israeli intelligence for failing "to read the changing political and psychological map of the enemy camp" before and after the outbreak of the Intifada in 1987. The agencies infiltrated, monitored, pursued, deployed, and smashed, yet "tactical virtuosity is one thing; "strategic blindness another." The Shin Bet, often performing brilliantly, was drawn reluctantly into the civil war. Still, its success has not diminished the bitterness felt by Palestinians or moderated their intense desire for independence. "Like the IDF," Black and Morris wisely conclude, [Shin Bet] had growing doubts as to just how long it could manage without the achievement of that most elusive of goals, a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict."

-Murra Polner
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Author:Polner, Murray
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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