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

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  3,097 ratings  ·  319 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
Hardcover, 784 pages
Published January 30th 2018 by Random House
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Michael Silverman If you're interested in Israeli intelligence / Israeli military / Israeli politics, this is a must read. Obviously nothing gets through Israeli…moreIf you're interested in Israeli intelligence / Israeli military / Israeli politics, this is a must read. Obviously nothing gets through Israeli censorship that they don't want you to see, but even so, it is not a black and white description of good vs evil. Indeed, at times Israeli action is shown in a less than favorable light.(less)

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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 ...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 ...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; ...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 ...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
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
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
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
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
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.
David Quinn
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
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
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, ...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
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
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 ...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
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 ...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 ...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.
Reko Ukko
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I recently had a chance to visit Israel, out of the blue, and have to admit that my knowledge of the region from the past few decades is pretty non-existant (my main interest goes back to the crusades...) - It was an englightening experience and coming back from the trip, I had a fair amount of questions that were raised by the stuff you see in-between. The heavy security. The fact that a lot of people I met had been in active military operations. The general mindset. The stuff read between the ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Engaging history of Israel's use of targeted assassinations to combat its enemies from its early struggles for independence through its ongoing conflicts with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Bergman's account draws heavily on interviews with many of the principal Israeli decision-makers and concludes by asking whether Israeli's impressive tactical successes have resulted in an overall strategic failure. The book raises fundamental questions that are not easily answered and that are relevant to ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beset on all sides.
There will always be a war.
Know more than they do.
Dovie Rosenberg
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Rise and Kill First opens with a history of the founding of Israel from the perspective of underground organizations in Mandatory Palestine. Critical for the defense of the Yishuv, these groups were the precursors to Israel's modern security and intelligence establishment. The "dirty work" they performed has often been glossed over for apologetic reasons, and Bergman is worth reading for these initial chapters alone.

From those early days, Israeli leaders debated who could be legitimately
Adam Rosenbaum
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Rise and Kill First" is both a phrase from the Talmud and also the name of a new tell-all book by Israeli journalist and military advisor Ronen Bergman. I found it both fascinating and horrifying. Bergman chronicles the evolution of Israels' state sponsored "targeted killing" campaign, (assassinations). Behind the scene details are chronicled as hundreds of killing missions are retold. It's gripping stuff, the details, both the successes and failures (there were plenty). The highly regarded ...more
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's a fascinating history of not only Israel's use of targeted killings, but also of the Jewish state from inception to today.

As for the policy, to be clear, since its inception Israel has made strategic use of assassinations to preserve security, against both combatants and political foes, of both state and non-state actors. This has been largely successful, with a fair number of notable fiascoes. And while there were considerable legal and moral qualms, the program nevertheless progressed.

Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Lest we forget, all things ongoing are rooted in deeply complex histories, and while the echo rings true of how one person’s “terrorist” is some other’s “freedom fighter”, just as much as any soldier can be a war criminal when accountability is marshaled, all the euphemisms in any language cannot justify cold-blooded murder, be it by poisoned toothpaste, a suicide bomb-vest, or drones wielding smart munitions. Just last week an NPR reporter in Gaza mentioned with sadness the “tit for tat ...more
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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
“Dagan had no love for the media. “I’ve reached the conclusion that it is an insatiable monster,” he would tell me later, “so there’s no point in maintaining a relationship with it.” 2 likes
“policy. The lessons that the new Jews of Palestine learned from the Holocaust were that the Jewish people would always be under the threat of destruction, that others could not be relied upon to protect the Jews, and that the only way to do so was to have an independent state. A people living with this sense of perpetual danger of annihilation is going to take any and all measures, however extreme, to obtain security, and will relate to international laws and norms in a marginal manner, if at all.” 1 likes
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