Ronen Bergman’s fascinating new book begins with a quote from the Babylonian Talmud: ‘If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.’ This is a well-known Jewish saying that contrasts with the Christian adage of offering the other cheek. Evil, the message is, should be eliminated rather than contained. According to Bergman, a journalist who specialises in Israeli intelligence and military affairs, this same approach characterises Israel’s response to its enemies.
Rise and Kill First focuses on the assassinations launched by the Mossad, Israel’s agency for intelligence and special operations. There would seem to be no connection between its publication and Sacha Baron Cohen’s new comedy series, Who is America?, in which Baron Cohen stars as Erran Morad, supposedly a former Mossad agent. Nevertheless, both this book and Baron Cohen’s series feed on the mythology surrounding the Mossad, and at the same time help to preserve and intensify it.
According to Bergman, those who staff the Mossad themselves believe in the myth that they are invincible. In the opening chapter, Bergman reports how in 2011 Meir Dagan, shortly after resigning as head of the Mossad, explained that through a combination of assassinations and preventing the import of