Silvana's Reviews > Secret Soldier. The autobiography of Israel's Greatest Commando

Secret Soldier. The autobiography of Israel's Greatest Commando by Moshe Betser
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Jul 11, 08

bookshelves: military-espionage, nonfiction, history, biography
Recommended for: military buffs, Middle Eastern Study enthusiasts
Read in July, 2008

A couple of months ago, I watched a documentary in the NatGeo channel about the Entebbe operation led by the Israeli’s special force, Sayeret Matkal, to rescue Jewish passengers held hostages by terrorist in Entebbe airport, Uganda, 1976.

I am always a sucker for military history with profound political impact, especially with Special Forces involved. I immediately remembered that my boyfriend had a memoir about Moshe ‘Muki’ Betzer, the mastermind behind the operation, and the book included Entebbe operation in it. Gosh, how I love my boyfriend.

To cut things short, I finally able to finish the memoir and was captivated by it. A tantalizing read. Not only Entebbe, by reading this memoir you’ll get a first hand account on the major military events in Israel since their independence, such as the Six Day War (when Muki was in the paratroopers brigade recon unit), the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War (he’s already in Sayeret Matkal then), and my personal favorite, the raid mission to Beirut to assassinate the people responsible for the Munich massacre.

The book is divided into a number of chapters, but those chapters do not always correspond to the events. Some events even got three-chapter description. The storytelling is smooth, probably because Betzer got help from Robert Rosenberg, a journalist, when writing this memoir. People who’re not used to military issues can read this book, for sure.

Muki Betzer is a complicated man. He can be a pacifist (loves gardening and all farming things), but he can also be an action-junkie. He is very confident of the skill, the bravery and the capability of himself and his units, which were always Special Forces, from the paras recon, Shaked southern command and last but not least, the Sayeret Matkal. Yes, THAT illustrious Sayeret Matkal, who can only be matched by US or British Special Forces such as SAS and Delta Force.

With such confidence and his drive of not wanting to become a career soldier, Betzer was not afraid of the bureaucracy. When he wanted something, he’d find his way to challenge his superior or even his superior’s superior, presenting them with his ideas and arguments, which were, lucky for him, turned out to be the better ones. Luckier for him, the military bureaucracy in IDF is not too rigid. Soldiers in Special Forces (as happened also in other countries) are encouraged to speak their minds.

However, IDF was not as invincible as people might think. Major screw-ups happened, with lives at stake. However, as a nation who lives surrounded by their enemies, the Israel military’s greatest power lays in the creativity and improvisation skills, which had been proven since the Palmah started their efforts to protect the people from the Palestinians during the British occupation era. Politicians or even generals, bless them, seemed to make unnecessary mistakes. Those who’re in the fields know better.

As you can expect from a war memoir, lots drama can be found here. What interests me the most is when I read about the aftermath of a mission near Egypt border, Ariel Sharon (he was a general then) found out about the death of his deputy’s son. Betzer described Sharon’s changes of expression vividly. From the verge of tears, suddenly Sharon turned the switch into a solemn face. Betzer said it was the survivor’s wall, which enabled us to remember and yet to continue, by preserving behind its apparently black surface our memories.

Not only drama, of course, but funny, comical things also scattered around the stories in this memoir. In my favorite chapter, the raid in Beirut to assassinate three terrorist masterminds of the Munich tragedy, I giggled all the time imagining Ehud Barak, then Commander of the Sayeret Matkal (along with two other fighters who were unfortunate to have a baby-face and small body), had to wear women clothes throughout the mission. Barak walked to the raid building holding hands with Betzer, both pretending to be lovers. Yikes. If only the Lebanese police captured him, they would find four grenades on his waist, an Uzi slung into an underarm holster, a Beretta in a second holster, eight magazines of thirty bullets and an explosive ‘cleavage’ under the ladies’ jacket. What’s even funnier is that the Lebanese press described him and another fighter as ‘two beautiful she-devils, a blonde and a brunette, who fought of the police and army like dervishes with machine guns’. ROTFLMAO!

Entebbe became the last action told here. The planning took days, non-stop arguments on how to conduct the rescue mission. An important note: Uganda is far from Israel. An eight-hour flight is needed to get there, crossing the border of THREE hostile countries. Moreover, Idi Amin was never predictable. Secrecy was the key and Betzer masterminded almost the whole action plan due to his short involvement in Uganda in previous years. I do not want to spoil the detail here, you should read it yourself.

I absolutely heart this book. Honest, insightful, comprehensive but not boring; it is a perfect blend of heroic actions, failures by both the military and the political side and above all, the heart and mind of a man who wants to protect the land of his people, whether as a farmer in his kibbutz, or as (what he knows best)... a secret soldier.
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