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Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  4,454 ratings  ·  463 reviews
The first definitive history of the Mossad, Shin Bet, and the IDF’s targeted killing programs, from the man hailed by David Remnick as “arguably [Israel’s] best investigative reporter”

The Talmud says: “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” This instinct to take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people is hardwired into Isra
Hardcover, 784 pages
Published January 30th 2018 by Random House
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Steven Z.
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When the state of Israel achieved nationhood in 1948 it was seen as an ethical and moral experiment because of the role the Holocaust played in its creation, along with its dominant Jewish culture. Residing in a geographical region that had nothing but hatred for the new state it would be difficult to expect Israel to maintain the high standards that were expected of it. The difficulty would morph into a nation that had to protect itself from invasion, and once that was beaten back it had to dea ...more
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2018
This is a really remarkable history of the violence undertaken by the modern Zionist movement, starting all the way back from Mandate Palestine, the wars against the postcolonial Arab states, and ending with the present conflict between Israel and the Iranian-led "Axis of Resistance." The author gets incredible access to the people involved in executing military and clandestine operations on behalf of the Mossad, Shin Bet and AMAN over the past several decades. The story starts even before the c ...more
Gokulakrishnan Saravanan
My feelings after reading this book is sense of despondency on the Israel’s political establishment. Title of the last chapter succinctly captures the result of Israel's targeted killings: ''Impressive tactical success, Disastrous strategic failure''.

The author could have easily turned this book into Israel’s glorification/bashing. But his even handedness made this book such a great read. Since this book deals with so much military operations, after a certain point of time, it could have easily
Joseph Stieb
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dang. This is a phenomenal book that is eye-opening in so many ways. Going all the way back to early Zionism, this book charts Israeli covert action against its myriad enemies. The programs Bergman describes have been one of Israel's major national security tools. They fit with an Israeli focus on pre-emption, massive retaliation, as well as a national sense that no one will save the Jews except themselves. The extent to which the Holocaust permeates the history of this program is remarkable; th ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Badass Israeli Assassin....this is an archetype that has glued itself to the public imagination. More cunning, more professional, more stylish than their bumbling goody two shoes gentile counterparts, there are many grains of truth in this image. Since its creation, the state of Israel has developed a highly sophisticated paramilitary capability to annihilate the enemies of the Jewish people from Buenos Aires to Damascus and those who decide out of ideology, greed or callous disregard to giv ...more
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Four stars for a general reader, five for those of us really interested in Israel.

The title is taken from a line in the Talmud, “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,” and is used as justification for everything from retribution/revenge murders (assassinations,) to preemptive kills, to blowing up Iran’s nuclear reactor. It is, I suppose, good advice, especially if you’re surrounded by enemies, and facing an existential crisis every day. It has, however, proven to be very diff
Marcella Wigg
My favorite book of the year so far!

I've been looking for a comprehensive history of Israel's targeted assassinations since the clumsy video-recorded assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai made headlines worldwide in 2010, and finally, I have found it: a truly comprehensive, journalistic, and enlightening look at the history of Israel's targeted killing program from the days preceding the 1948 foundation of the state to nearly the present day. Rise and Kill First was everything I wanted to
Alex Givant
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is much better than Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service, has more details about more operations and most important - talking about political situation and decisions made that lead to assassination. Both books are highly recommended, but if you're planning to read only one - pick this one. ...more
May 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Informative in many ways, but NOT in one HUGE way

This book is great for documenting how Mossad (foreign intell), Shin Bet (domestic intel) and Aman (military intel) combined to fight a variety of threats from various Palestinian groups, including Fatah and Hamas, plus Hezbullah in Lebanon, and Syrian and other support for some terrorists.

It documents types of operations, targets, successes, some slip-ups, organizational lapses and overhauls, and other things. Philosophies of all three groups, of
Shuey Mirkin
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This book is a monumental achievement, and will leave your head spinning. The sheer chutzpah and courage of many of Israel's intelligence operations over the last 80 years was incredible to read about, but Bergman does much more than tell incredible stories about crazy assassinations. He is able to weave these stories into a narrative about the larger questions of Israel's existence and survival, and he doesn't shy away for tackling the morally disturbing aspects of some of the things that ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Among general pop culture, there are some perceptions and stereotypes of spies by nationality. The British are either suave and smooth talking, or morose, depressed arse covering beuracrats, but ones who take gathering useful intelligence seriously. The Americans are either the Christians In Action who can’t help but make a bad situation worse, or are blundering and violently jingoistic and incomptent with their militarized approach to the gentleman’s game. The Russians are the gl
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't know how Ronen Bergman got so many of Israel's top intelligence leaders, past and present, to talk to him for this book but the story it reveals is unbelievable even to someone who follows what is going on on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the (American) news media.

The story begins shortly after the conclusion of WWII and the defeat of Nazi Germany, when a secret Jewish group undertakes to secure a Jewish nation and execute revenge on former SS officers and British operatives that
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This must have been an incredibly difficult book to write considering the extreme secrecy surrounding Israel's military and security forces. To his credit, Bergman cites many former sources within the establishment who have both positive and negative opinions to express. While the reporting generally felt balanced it's only from the Israeli perspective.

The early stories of assassinations felt a but one-dimensional but considering they date back to the late 1940s the author probably didn't have
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
...the intelligence community's very success fostered the illusion among most of the nation's leaders that covert operations could be a strategic and not just a tactical tool--that they could be used in place of real diplomacy to end the geographic, ethnic, religious, and national disputes in which Israel is mired. Because of the phenomenal successes of Israel's covert operations, at this stage in its history the majority of its leaders have elevated and sanctified the tactical method of combatt
Helena Kõrge
Feb 14, 2021 rated it liked it
3 stars = I liked it. But holy shieet, this is a heavy one.

Am I the only one who didn't know just how standard targeted killings are, how embedded they've always been in the governing of Israel? Bergman explains in detail the Israeli rationalisations for such assassinations (‘no one will help if we are not ruthless ourselves’. Ahem, Holocaust). Yes, the name of the book is also rather telling.

At various points I felt myself getting angry for all the murders of innocent Jewish people and so these
Stijn Zanders
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-read-2019
A book that reads like a James Bond movie in every chapter. Often even stranger than fiction.

It is incredible how active the IDF, Shin bet and Mossad have been since the beginning of the state of Israel. They have been conducting assassinations ever since, often sparking bigger fires than the ones they wanted to extinguish. Has it really been effective though?

A quote in the end of the book summarises the book perfectly:
"Dagan (former Mossad director) came to the conclusion that only a political
David Bennatan
Sep 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
The book is absolutely packed with information. It also a very easy read, very clear and quick moving.
The problem is that the author always inserts his opinions and it seems that just about every operation by the intelligence services was a mistake. He never criticizes the enemies of Israel. What they do is just a given. He's entitled to say that the actions by Israel were counterproductive but the idea that Israel should not have retaliated is really hard for me to fathom. I do agree that what
A superbly written overview of, not only Israel's targeted assassinations, but also of her secret intelligence services in general. A subject that is naturally difficult to research, Ronen Bergman has done his homework and spoken to the right people (or, at least, the ones who would answer his questions) to uncover this fascinating story, and gives as many details of the operations as he can, both successful and not so. The cast of characters also doesn't disappoint, spies being what they are, a ...more
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
OK as a start this is the best thing that I have read in 2018. The book is a masterpiece detailing how the israeli assassinations worked even before 1948 and going through the history of multiple operations of Mosaad and other agencies. The book is telling successes, failures and the moral challenges that faced these operations. It was surprising to me that that Mossad even had such challenges.
As an Arab the book gave me a new perspective of how the israelis saw the challenges facing them, how t
Oct 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book full of covert assassination attempts, some successful and others not, by one of the more active countries in the game, Israel. It was also a good overview of the history of Israel, beginning before the current state was established. Best of all, the writing wasn't dry, so it was easy and fun to read. I really enjoyed the pictures of the actors involved. The only reason this fell short of a five star is because I got to the end... well, what I thought was the end, and there was ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating look at spy craft.
Ward Larsen
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent History of Mossad

This book is a comprehensive history of targeted assassinations since Israel achieved statehood. It brings to light the successes and flaws of such strategies. Not light reading, but a heavy dose of reality.
Jan 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
A well-researched and interesting work. Bergman begins by noting that the state of Israel and its intelligence and military forces have assassinated more people than any country in the Western world. The late Meir Dagan seems to have been his primary source for the book.

The author really emphasizes how difficult it is for any operation to go entirely smoothly, and how accepted the doctrine of targeted killing became in Israeli society. He writes that Israel attempts to “change history” through t
If I only ever had this type of book to read, I wouldn't be able to do anything else. Engaging, fascinating stuff about which you have no idea. Assassinations at the behest of governments happen all the time! Today, some people are plotting the death of someone who's upsetting the order they want to impose. This book makes me think of the famous quote by Clausewitz: "War is the continuation of politics by other means". Now substitute "targeted killing" for "war". This book is pretty long and ver ...more
Budd Margolis
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of the very best academic intense history of any national intelligence entity ever comprised. Throughout this book, we are faced with the many moralities of decisions to take life and the results some of which were effective and some counterproductive. You are presented with background and political intrigue and often wonder at how organizations can run amok with hubris and ignorance, vengeance and desperation and then emerge with miracles and victories.

This is not a work of pro
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, israel
This is a very detailed history of Israel's targeted assassination program, and to a lesser extent of its intelligence services. Ronen Bergman was able to interview many of the figures involved, and it's sobering and fascinating reading. Bergman doesn't shy from a moral judgment of the program: that although it was superficially successful, it came at a huge moral cost, and that Israeli leaders became overly reliant on it as a tool to avoid first war and then political negotiations. At the same ...more
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a real page turner, and it was really an extraordinary detailed, inside view of some major events in modern israeli history. The stories were captivating and i was surprised that he was allowed to reveal so many of the details and internal debates of the men making history and saving lives. I think he does an OK job of honing in on the moral complexity of needing to use force and power and violence to defend the people of Israel from the evil that has surrounded the country since its in ...more
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is an unpleasant topic and a more unpleasant reality for Israel. The author is even handed in his dislike for assassination but recognizing Israel's necessity for doing them. Most valuable for me was it gave me a better understanding of the real and evolving threats Israel has faced and faces today. I now understand better the threat Iran poses to Israel and the world. I understand better how the threat to Israel has evolved from conventional war by attacking neighboring nations to asymmetric ...more
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
Recommended to Laura by: NYTimes book review?
Shelves: non-fiction
One of the surprises in this book was the number of times Israel's intelligence community (the Mossad, Shin Bet, et al) completely botched a job. Going into the book I had unconsciously imagined that Israeli spies and commandos were complete masters of the field, and my pre-conceived image was only brought into my conscious mind as the book began tearing it to shreds. I don't know if it was more fun reading about the failures or the successes; either way I was fascinated. ...more
Brendan Grubb
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
First of all, I would like to start with a sincere thank you to Canada and Mexico both (to my knowledge) for not posing a significant existential threat to the U.S. (where I live) and for not playing host to terrorist organizations.

With that out of the way, into the actual review.

Wow, Ronen Bergman did his research. I think that is one of the most impressive things about this book to me. He committed to covering the history of Israel's intelligence agencies from the very beginning, and the resu
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Bergman was born in 1972, and grew up in Kiryat Bialik. His mother was a teacher and his father was an accountant. He is the youngest of three children. As a boy, he was a reporter for a youth television show.

He studied law at the University of Haifa, and graduated cum laude from its law school. He is a member of the Israeli Bar. He also studied history and international relations at the Universit

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