JERUSALEM, Israel – The book is called Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations. Award-winning journalist Ronen Bergman told CBN News the title comes from an ancient Jewish writing he heard quoted by members of Israel's Intelligence services.
"They used the phrase from the Babylonian Talmud which says if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first," Bergman explained. "The mindset that says when every decade your prime nemesis, your chief adversary, your main enemy declares publicly that its main goal is to destroy Israel, then there is no other choice but to rise up and kill him first."
Since its founding, that's been the public goal of Israel's enemies from Saddam Hussein to Yasser Arafat to Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"All of these, when they are your enemies, you will do whatever you can to defend your country and your people," he said.
Bergman says after the Holocaust, Jews followed three lessons that permeate Israel's Intelligence services.
"First, there will always be a goy, a gentile who is after us to kill us. Second, that all or most of the other gentiles will not help so we can only rely on ourselves, and third is that we need to have a safe haven, a refuge, a country of our own to defend it and to defend it with all means possible," he said.
In his book, Bergman explains the secret that makes Israel's Intelligence the best in the world.
"There's one extra thought and that thought is that they are the guards on the wall. They are borrowing a phrase from Star Trek. They are the final frontier guarding the safety of the country and the citizens of the State of Israel and Jews worldwide, not just in Israel. They believe that if they don't work today with everything they have, then tomorrow Jews are going to be killed," he said.
Bergman's book takes readers through how Mossad Chief Meir Dagan urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak to use assassinations and cyber warfare against Iran instead of bombing its nuclear facilities.
He also describes the elimination of Hezbollah commander Imad Muneeyah, the most wanted terrorist in the world, and how Yasser Arafat escaped dozens of assassination attempts.
CBN News asked about the dilemma of targeted killings.
"There are two questions that are relevant: is it effective and is it legally and morally justified? Now is it legally and morally justified I leave it up to everyone to judge. It's a personal decision, at least on moral [grounds]. Is it effective?" he continued.
In describing an effective example, Bergman pointed to the Second Intifada (armed Palestinian uprising) when Palestinian suicide bombings killed and maimed thousands of Israelis.
"The only reason why Israel was able to stop suicide bombing was the use of, I would say, two-legged doctrine. One, precise intelligence based mainly on technology [the] Shin Bet, Israeli domestic service, used. [The] second, targeted killing," he said.
Bergman says Israel didn't go after the bombers, but their leaders instead.
"But when Israel started to kill all the layers, the hierarchy above them – the bomb makers, the indoctrinators, the recruiters, the drivers, the military commanders, the regional commanders, the political leaders – then these people, those who were not yet killed (but) who had no problem with sending other people to their death," he continued. "No, they had another thought. They did not want to check by themselves if the option of the 72 virgins is true or not."
After 9-11, the rules changed and the US began targeted killings with help from Israel's Intelligence expertise. Now many Western nations also follow the Israeli model. Bergman told CBN News the real thing is far from life on the big screen.
"In the movies, we have James Bond, who's a one-man show. He goes to M, the chief of the MI6 office and he already knows how to analyze the information, he presents the case, he makes the calculation and the analysis, he gets the order. He hacks the computer, he drives the car, the Austin Martin. He knows how to fly a helicopter. He jumps from the roof, he kills the bad guy and gets by time home and have the night with the most beautiful lady and drinking martinis shaken but not stirred.
"In real life, in the real world of Israeli Intelligence – what one James Bond does – is divided into dozens, sometimes hundreds of people, each one with a special expertise and a special task," Bergman said.
Targeted killings remain an intense debate and only Israel's prime minister can order them. Yet with all its success, one ex-Mossad chief summed up their dilemma.
"At the core of what we did every day in [the] Mossad, every day was that dilemma. What does a democracy under great threats allow itself to take and do to defend its citizens while it knows that it, unfortunately, might violate other values."
Bergman's book took eight years to write and includes more than 1,000 interviews.
"I wanted to show how unique Israeli intelligence is, but how entangled its history is with the history of the country. I wanted to explain to people the cloak and dagger inside details of how intelligence does work – how this world is happening. And it's not less interesting; it's not more interesting than what you see in Hollywood movies. It's just 100 percent different," he said.
On the eve of Israel's 70th anniversary, Bergman, the son of two Holocaust survivors, sees it as a contribution to the remarkable ongoing story of the Jewish state.
"Sometimes I walk on the streets of Israel and I say this is really a miracle," he said. "I think that what was achieved here in the last 110 years let's say since the early 20th century cannot be described by nothing but a miracle and I'm so happy to be a part of it."