If you are seeking a foothold in US political discourse, it doesn’t hurt to be Israeli. Over the weekend, the New York Times Magazine published Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman’s article about Israeli efforts to assassinate Yasser Arafat in the 1980s, from his forthcoming book titled, “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations” (Random House). Bergman is getting quite a rollout. Tomorrow night he will talk about “Inside the Mossad” at the 92d Street Y, in conversation with David Sanger of the New York Times.
The Times is surely satisfying its older Jewish readers who love Israelis-with-big-guns porn. Bergman’s long article is melodramatic and Israel-centric. There is a glancing reference to the hundreds of civilians that Israel killed as it was trying to blow up Arafat in one building after another around Lebanon in 1982. Those are details. The bombings must not distract the reader from the thrust of the piece: the keen minds of Israel’s military elite forsook many a chancy opportunity to bomb Arafat, because they would hurt too many innocents; and reached moral judgments, sometimes in defiance of their own superiors, not to blow up civilian airplanes on the chance of getting Arafat.
The article nowhere states that Israel actually downed a civilian aircraft in 1973 over the Sinai, killing 74. Front page of the Times back then. And there is no impression in the article of the real possibility that these Israelis are a bunch of bunglers.
Here is As’ad Abu Khalil dispatching the article– based on his own experience of living through those bombings, which he says killed 1000s:
The story in the New York Times is a typical Mossad planted story in US media. Notice that there is an attempt to show that humanitarian consideration went into planning to kill Arafat. The most fervent effort by Israel to kill Arafat was in the summer of 1982 during the savage siege of Beirut. As I lived those times, I remember how whole apartment buildings would be bombed by concussion bombs from the air ON THE SUSPICION that Arafat was in the building. I remember that there were hundreds of people who were incinerated by Israeli fighter jets merely because they lived in apartments where Arafat was suspected by dumb Mossad agents of being there. There massive sites of bombing that people visited and knew that this was due to wrong Israeli intelligence.
The story says in passing that “hundred of people were killed” by [Israel’s “Front for the Liberation of Lebanon From Foreigners”]. But this is what they don’t tell you: this front specialized in car bombs in crowded neighborhoods. They would plant car bombs in West Beirut for purposes of sheer terror. I would estimate that the number of innocent victims killed by this group was in the thousands and not the hundreds. This is the record of Israel which many Lebanese and non-Lebanese Arabs won’t forget. These are part of the war crimes for which Arabs hold Israel responsible, in addition to the illegal occupation of Palestine–all of Palestine.
Suffice it to say, you will never read a long article in the Times by As’ad Abu Khalil or interviewing As’ad Abu Khalil, though his perspective is surely more valid than Ronen Bergman’s– inasmuch as it reflects widely-held Arab public opinion, which we really ought to know about, let alone the perspective of victims of massive bombing.
As for Bergman’s melodrama, his lead case is a 1982 incident in which an Israeli general does not bow to enormous bureaucratic pressure to approve the destruction of a civilian aircraft leaving Athens for Cairo with a man believed to be Arafat on it. Of course it turns out to be Arafat’s brother, and General David Ivry, head of the Air Force, is merely heroic.
To Ivry, though, something seemed off. “I didn’t get this whole story,” he told me years later, sitting in his executive suite overlooking Tel Aviv, where he works now as the president of Boeing Israel. “It wasn’t clear to me why Arafat would be flying to Cairo. According to intelligence, he had nothing to look for there at the time. And if he was going there, why in that kind of transport plane? Not at all dignified enough for a man of his status. I asked the Mossad to verify that he was the man.”…
The two Caesarea operatives once again insisted that it was Arafat. “The objective has grown a longer beard to mislead,” they reported. Mossad reconfirmed the positive identification….
As the jets closed in, Ivry still harbored doubts.
The whole article is a form of apologetics. Bergman has researched “a dilemma that has confronted many Israeli authorities over the course of the nation’s brief history — the violent and sometimes irreconcilable clash between the fundamental principles of democracy and a nation’s instinct to defend itself.”
In my reporting, I found that since World War II, Israel has used assassination and targeted-killing more than any other country in the West, in many cases endangering the lives of civilians. But I also discovered a long history of profound — and often rancorous — internal debates over how the state should be preserved. Can a nation use the methods of terrorism? Can it harm innocent civilians in the process? What are the costs? Where is the line?…
Time and again, the desire to kill Arafat placed Israel at the center of the ongoing debate about what a nation can and cannot do to survive….
Had enough? There’s a lot more where that came from.
Thanks to Scott Roth and Donald Johnson for tips and insights I fleshed out.