From "Spring of Youth"
The hierarchy in The Unit is very different from anywhere else in the
army. It's friendlier, more intimate and thus more candid and open, and
this unique atmosphere is best seen during the planning phase of an
operation. Rank doesn't count in planning a mission. All that matters is
inventiveness and originality. Everyone throws out ideas, in a round-table
brainstorming session. Nothing is rejected out of hand, as the best ideas
are set aside while more are raised. Eventually, the best idea stands out.
Ehud (Barak) is brilliant at such sessions, encouraging new ideas,
rejecting nothing out of hand, and creating an atmosphere in which
everyone feels free to suggest the wildest as well as the safest
approaches to an operation.
Helicopters were quickly ruled out. If we wanted surprise -- which
every military mission wants -- we had to come by sea. That in itself
would be no simple matter to organize. We'd need a dry landing on the
beach, in rubber boats that we'd have to row as we neared the coastline.
Beirut in those days was no war zone. It was a cosmopolitan city full of
tourists. We couldn't march through the streets in uniform on our way to
the target. So we'd go in as civilians, which meant that we wouldn't be
able to swim. My sub trip came in handy, because I could report on
possible to find dry landing spots on the coastline near the city. We'd be
able to wear civilian clothes under plastic overalls as we rode into the
beach from the mother ships deep in the darkness near the horizon.
From the beach we'd need to get to the targets. The Mossad was
providing the information from Beirut. They'd be waiting for us with cars
to take us to the targets. How many cars we'd need would be a result of
how large a force we'd use, and that raised the question of firepower. The
Israel Military Industries was already working on the mini-Uzi, a weapon
The Unit had asked IMI to make for special operations. Ehud made a note,
adding silencers to the list, in case of guards -- or worse, interruptions
on the ride to the target. Explosive charges would be needed to break
through the apartment doors.
There would be a separate unit for each target, and Ehud would
personally command the entire operation from the field. The break-ins
would be simultaneous in all three flats.
We marked out on the maps of the city all the known PLO holdings, to
avoid any contact with them on our way in and out of the city. By our
calculations, it would take twenty minutes from the moment the shooting
began, before PLO and Lebanese reinforcements would reach the
neighborhood. By then, we could be back on the beach, getting into our
boats for the ride home.
Pocket Books, 1997
From "Smoke over KaramehA soldier goes into battle
thinking it won't happen to him. That makes it possible to face death. It
should not happen to anyone. 'But if it does, at least it won't be me.'
That's what I thought. Now I knew better. As the officer in charge, I was
the last person here who should be wounded. But as my strength ebbed away,
and the sensations of my body diminished, I let go of those thoughts. The
shooting around me continued, but nothing mattered anymore. I said
farewell to the world, ready to die. Still on my feet, I let my hand
finally drop the futile effort to stem the bleeding at my throat. A hot
blast of desert air seared my throat, surprising me as it filled my lungs,
shocking me with the realization I would live -- if I survived the swarm
of bullets around me...
"In a single stroke, my
perceptions of the IDF and its strength, and of my own invincibility had
changed forever. At Karameh I understood my own vulnerability, as well as
the IDF's. Since then, before every battle, every operation, and every
project I began, I have seen Karameh in my mind's eye, and planned to
avoid its mistakes. At Karameh I learned to learn, and the first thing I
learned was that if the IDF could fail so badly, peace was still a long
About Muki BetserCol. Moshe "Muki"
Betser (ret.) was born in Israel's Jezreel Valley and grew up to become a
senior commander in his country's most respected commando unit, Sayeret
Matkal. Newspapers referred to the sayeret, or special reconnaissance
forces, as the "tip of the spear" of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) --
and Muki Betser was the officer at the very tip of that spear, helping to
plan and execute some of the best known anti-terrorist raids of the last
Published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Sayeret Matkal's
most famous action, the July 4 1996 rescue raid on the airport at Entebbe,
Uganda, Secret Soldier (Atlantic Monthly Press, June 18, 1996, $23.00)
chronicles Betser's involvement in the El Al "air marshall" program, the
1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and a number of
successful - as well as unsuccessful - hostage/terrorist crises of recent
From Publisher's Weekly Review of Secret Soldier,
" A captivating personal view of high-stakes
special warfare... he speaks eloquently of the role of commando units, but
also deplores violence, capping his riveting combat stories with a paean
to peace that's all the more poignant because it's penned by a
Order Secret Soldier
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- Atlantic Monthly Press, US
- Simon and Schuster, UK
- Hoffman und Campe, Germany
- PLON, France
- Bzztoh, Holland
The Introduction to Secret Soldier
Muki Betser's life is full of cycles that open and close with historic
events in the life of the State of Israel. Twice he was called to war just
when he expected to go home to family and farm. On one occasion he returns
in the most glorious fashion possible to an African country that he once
loved and from which he was ignominiously evicted. And when he finally
leaves the field of battle, it is because he has survived combat long
enough to see his own son join the unit that Muki helped turn into the
most elite in the IDF. But perhaps no cycle is as profound as the one that
this book represents.
We began working on it a few weeks before the historic handshake
between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993.
This introduction was written a few days after Rabin was assassinated in
November 1995 in the very heart of presumably the safest place in Israel
-- Tel Aviv.
"My commander, my general" is how Muki referred to Rabin, using the
term in the way former chief of staff Rabin himself meant it used by
soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces: as much teacher as officer, as much
parent as leader, as much friend as manager, all roles that Muki himself
filled in his years as an IDF commander. Indeed, if not for the
assassination, Rabin might have written this introduction, for the old
general turned statesman knew Muki well, going all the way back to when as
chief of staff in 1965, he pinned Muki's first officer's bars to the
then-young lieutenant's epauletes.
So, "if," as Rabin's successor Shimon Peres said at the unveiling of
the Rabin tombstone on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, "almost all of Israel is
now part of the Rabin family," then Muki is one of the favorite sons in
A scion of the original pioneering families of the Zionist movement in
the 20th century; a soldier turned civilian who regards deeds more
important than words; a man who spent nearly 25 years fighting terrorism
but remained constant in his belief that the only way to peace with the
Arabs is by sharing the Land of Israel; Muki Betser's story is that of a
generation that grew up believing in what Rabin stood for: a strong
defense for the sake of a strong peace.
The first question I ever asked Muki, when we finally met face to face,
was, "For years you've kept silent, why do you want to do it now?"Except
for two interviews soon after retiring from the IDF in 1986, he refrained
from making media appearances despite hundreds of requests over the years.
His decision to tell his autbiography was a surprise -- I think even to
"Peace is coming," he told me that hot afternoon in August, before
either of us -- or the world -- knew that in a few weeks Rabin and Arafat
would declare the time for bloodhsed was over. Nonetheless, it was clear
that the Rabin-Peres government was determined to move the peace process
"It's our only choice -- because we're now strong enough to make it
happen. Reality changed. The Berlin Wall fell; there was a war in the
Gulf. The Arab world has changed. So have we.
"If we did not try to make peace, how could we look in the eyes of the
next generation when they ask what they are fighting for. And if the peace
process does not work, then at least we can look into our own hearts and
know that we tried.
"It's important for the next generation know that all along we fought
for peace. My friends say that I have no choice, but to tell my story, so
that the next generation knows what I know and all my comrades in the army
knew -- that when we fought, we fought for peace."
I once asked Muki to show me the Sayeret Matkal pin he was given when
he first joined The Unit. He promised to look for it, but he never did
turn it up. Medals never interested him.
But framed and hanging in the living room of his home is the personal
invitation he received by messenger from then-prime minister Yitzhak
Rabin's office to attend the ceremonies in the Arava desert where Israel
and Jordan declared peace between the two countries.
That ceremony was, after all, yet another circle closed in Muki's life
-- it took place almost a stone's throw away from where, in 1968, Muki
went on a reconnaissance mission in preparation for the first full-scale
battle against the PLO, in Karameh, the place where he was wounded so
badly he thought he was already dead.
This then, is not only the story of a Secret Soldier. It is the story
of a secret dove, for whom peace, not combat, was the purpose of his
military service at what the popular press sometimes calls "the tip of the
IDF's spear." And as such, I believe it is an inspirational tale of both
courage and humanity that reaches far beyond the borders of the Middle
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