Since World War II, Israel has used assassination and targeted-killing more than any other country in the West. Some plans were more elaborate. Inspired by the movie “The Manchurian Candidate,” the Israelis spent three months in 1968 trying to transform a Palestinian prisoner into a programmed killer. Within five hours of being released to carry out his mission, he had turned himself in to the local police, handed over his pistol and explained that Israeli intelligence had tried to brainwash him into killing Arafat.
Poisoned toothpaste that takes a month to end its target’s life. Armed drones. Exploding mobile phones. Spare tyres with remote-control bombs. Assassinating enemy scientists and discovering the secret lovers of Muslim clerics.
A new book chronicles these techniques and asserts that Israel has carried out at least 2,700 assassination operations in its 70 years of existence. While many failed, they add up to far more than any other western country, the book says.
Ronen Bergman, the intelligence correspondent for Yediot Aharonot newspaper, persuaded many agents of Mossad, Shin Bet and the military to tell their stories, some using their real names. The result is the first comprehensive look at Israel’s use of state-sponsored killings.
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Mr Bergman writes that Mr Arafat’s death in 2004 fit a pattern and had advocates. But he steps back from flatly asserting what happened, saying that Israeli military censorship prevents him from revealing what – or if – he knows.
The book’s title comes from the ancient Jewish Talmud admonition, “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” Mr Bergman says a huge percentage of the people he interviewed cited that passage as justification for their work. So does an opinion by the military’s lawyer declaring such operations to be legitimate acts of war.
Despite the many interviews, including with former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, Mr Bergman, the author of several books, says the Israeli secret services sought to interfere with his work, holding a meeting in 2010 on how to disrupt his research and warning former Mossad employees not to speak with him.