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After service in an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) special forces unit, author Shabtai Shavit spent 32 years in the Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency), serving as its director from 1989 to 1996. Head of the Mossad is a deeply intellectual memoir that, while focusing on the period when he was the director, also delves into Israel’s story from the War of Independence to 2018, when the book was written.
While reflecting on the actions of Israel’s intelligence services, much of the land’s recent history becomes apparent. From the beginning, Israel has encountered great hostility from its Arab neighbors. The details of her struggle to become a Jewish and democratic nation are the subject of this work.
UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) was formed in 1949 to benefit Palestinian refugees. However, according to the author, this agency essentially serves to perpetuate the status of Palestinians as refugees while receiving many millions of dollars annually. Furthermore, the author states that, if the U.S. should request it, Israel would provide irrefutable evidence that UNRWA is operated by Hamas.
A major stumbling block to any durable peace settlement is the Palestinian leadership’s rigidity in the matter of the “right of return”, which means that all Palestinians—regardless of where or when they were born, their nationality or economic status anywhere—are covered under this right. Today, more than five million people are included in this “right of return” to Israel, a number that Israel will likely never agree to.
Among other things, the author suggests that it may be beneficial to create a new nation, perhaps called “Sunnistan” to be the home of many Sunni muslims who lack a nation. This nation would border an independent Kurdistan, Iraq, and Jordan.
Operationally, the Mossad regards terrorism to be devoid of any rules of war, and any test for intent will reveal the certainty of hostility. Such a situation makes post factum response inappropriate, so targeted killings and preemptive strikes become justified.
And while the Mossad is tasked with determining the capabilities and intent of adversaries, as well as preventing hostility, it is worthwhile to understand that the Mossad’s goal of discovering and implementing pathways to peace is perhaps more important.
It was interesting to learn that, intelligence agencies of various countries regularly maintain communication with one another, even when there is adversity between their nations.
This is a fascinating work that will give readers many insights into the field of intelligence. I am very grateful to Mr. Shavit for his responses to my questions.
32nd Avenue Books: Is the Saudi Initiative of 2002 today any closer to becoming more than a proposal or “a template for negotiations?”
S. Shavit: The Saudi initiative is still valid and on the table. Since it's inception, and every now and then, the Saudi royal family and their administration remind us and the world that they still are waiting to hear from us. The last such a reminder took place within the framework of the Trump Abraham initiative when the Saudi king conditioned his country's joining the initiative with an Israeli announcement of acceptance of their 2002 proposal.
32nd Avenue Books: Are there any changes you would like to see in the relationship between the Mossad and the CIA?
S. Shavit: The relationship between the CIA and the Israeli Intelligence community has never been better.
32nd Avenue Books, Gifts & Toys
June 16, 2021