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GIDEON'S SPIES by Gordon Thomas


The Secret History of the Mossad

by Gordon Thomas

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-19982-1
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Forget (largely) about the “history” part; this is an anecdote-rich, if sometimes factually questionable, series of tales about the extraordinary derring-do of Israel’s vaunted elite foreign intelligence service. Prolific British journalist Thomas (Enslaved, 1991; Chaos Under Heaven: The Shocking Story Behind China’s Search for Democracy, 1991; etc.), whose 38th book this is, spent over 100 hours interviewing Mossad heads and agents, as well as others whose lives have been affected by the agency, including Yasir Arafat (a frequent assassination target before the 1993 Oslo agreement). To his credit, he delves into the organization’s more significant bungled operations, including the mid-1970s killing of an innocent Arab waiter in Norway who was thought to be one of the PLO perpetrators of the 1972 Munich massacre of Israel’s Olympic team. Thomas also provides readers with a good sense of how the Mossad trains its operatives in the field and of how extensively Israeli agents have infiltrated even the most apparently inaccessible parts of the Arab world. (It was a Mossad case officer in the Iraqi desert who, days before the 1991 Gulf War began, discovered that Baghdad had far more SCUD missiles in advanced positions than the CIA knew.) For the most part, though, Thomas contributes to the mythologizing of the Mossad by portraying an endlessly resourceful, often ruthless service that seems straight out of a James Bond film. How many of his tales are true? As Thomas doesn’t document, aside from a short list of “primary interviewees” and other sources, it’s hard to say. Nor does he build credibility by getting certain basic facts wrong or by occasionally offering hyperventilating prose. In short, this fun read, while containing much juicy ready-for-film-adaptation material, should be approached with a skeptical eye by readers interested in serious history.