Spies of no country : secret lives at the birth of Israel

by Friedman, Matti,

Format: Print Book 2019.
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Summary
Featured in the New York Times , Wall Street Journal , and NPR

Award-winning writer Matti Friedman's tale of Israel's first spies has all the tropes of an espionage novel, including duplicity, betrayal, disguise, clandestine meetings, the bluff, and the double bluff--but it's all true.

The four spies at the center of this story were part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, conceived during World War II by British spies and Jewish militia leaders in Palestine. Intended to gather intelligence and carry out sabotage and assassinations, the unit consisted of Jews who were native to the Arab world and could thus easily assume Arab identities. In 1948, with Israel's existence in the balance during the War of Independence, our spies went undercover in Beirut, where they spent the next two years operating out of a kiosk, collecting intelligence, and sending messages back to Israel via a radio whose antenna was disguised as a clothesline. While performing their dangerous work these men were often unsure to whom they were reporting, and sometimes even who they'd become. Of the dozen spies in the Arab Section at the war's outbreak, five were caught and executed. But in the end the Arab Section would emerge, improbably, as the nucleus of the Mossad, Israel's vaunted intelligence agency.

Spies of No Country is about the slippery identities of these young spies, but it's also about Israel's own complicated and fascinating identity. Israel sees itself and presents itself as a Western nation, when in fact more than half the country has Middle Eastern roots and traditions, like the spies of this story. And, according to Friedman, that goes a long way toward explaining the life and politics of the country, and why it often baffles the West. For anyone interested in real-life spies and the paradoxes of the Middle East, Spies of No Country is an intimate story with global significance.
Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "Friedman, a former Associated Press foreign correspondent who has filed stories from Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Moscow, the Caucasus, and Washington, D.C., starts this absolutely arresting account of espionage at the genesis of the Israeli state by giving one of his reporting rules: time spent with old spies is never time wasted. This is a story that largely grew out of Friedman's meetings with one surviving spy, Isaac Shoshan, now 93, who gave Friedman a look into his work with three other Jewish spies in the Arab Section, a very fluid spy ring loosely formed by British intelligence during WWII and that later morphed into Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad. During 20 months between January 1948 and August 1949, in an extremely daring, seat-of-the-pants way, these four spies sometimes in Haifa and sometimes in Beirut took on Arab identities in order to collect intelligence for what was about to become Israel. (For example, they transmitted messages on a radio that resembled a clothesline.) The fact that the creation of the Israeli state was a dream, not a reality, as Friedman reminds us, is the chief tension behind the four spies' work. This tension is enhanced by Friedman's tales of double-crosses and shifting tactics. Friedman's previous book, Pumpkinflowers (2016), was a Booklist Editors' Choice and a New York Times Notable Book.--Connie Fletcher Copyright 2019 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "In evocative prose detailing mid-20th-century life in the dangerous streets of Haifa and Beirut, journalist Friedman (Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story) recounts the intertwined stories of four underground spies for the Arab Section of the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization in Palestine that became part of the Israel Defence Forces after Israel's founding. Gamliel Cohen, Isaac Shoshan, Havakuk Cohen, and Yakuba Cohen (no relation), whose fluency in Arabic and roots in Syria, Yemen, and British Palestine made them useful at the dawn of the Jewish state, were active between January 1948 and August 1949. Often disguised as Arabs, sometimes working alone and sometimes in teams, they participated in the blowing up of a fake ambulance concealing a bomb destined for a Jewish movie theater, the failed assassination of a Muslim preacher called Nimr ("Tiger" in Arabic), and the attempted destruction of a yacht that once belonged to Hitler and was rumored to be destined for refitting as a warship. The author's best material comes from primary sources, including interviews with Shoshan, now 93, and Gamliel Cohen's 2001 book. That and Friedman's familiarity with the locations he describes give his account an intimacy lacking in many espionage tales. "I was looking less for the sweep of history than for its human heart," he writes, and he finds it. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Palmaḥ.
Undercover operations -- Israel.
Special forces (Military science) -- Israel.
Israel-Arab War, 1948-1949.
Palestine -- History -- 1929-1948.
Publisher Chapel Hill, North Carolina :2019.
Edition First edition.
Language English
Description xvii, 248 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references (pages 223-245).
ISBN 9781616207229
1616207221
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