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“Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team”

In the fall of 1981, publishers asked author George Jonas if he wanted to meet “a man who had an interesting story to tell.” They were convinced the individual’s extraordinary story was legitimate. Jonas undertook his own investigation, meeting the man in various cities across the globe and interviewing other people in Europe and the Middle East.

In the fall of 1981, publishers asked author George Jonas if he wanted to meet “a man who had an interesting story to tell.” They were convinced the individual’s extraordinary story was legitimate. Jonas undertook his own investigation, meeting the man in various cities across the globe and interviewing other people in Europe and the Middle East.

 

 

Jonas drew the same conclusion as his publishers and eventually penned Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team. It tells the story of a man dubbed “Avner,” who led a five-man team to knock off terrorists that Israel deemed the greatest threat.

 

 

Employing an almost novelistic style, Jonas, who emigrated to Canada from Hungary in 1956, describes Avner’s recruitment and training by the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency), the assembling of the team, and their operations that killed 8 of the 11 terrorists on their original list, in addition to several other foot soldiers involved in terrorism.

 

In roughly 350 pages, Jonas tracks Avner from bedtime conversations with his wife to a vengeful shootout in a Dutch houseboat.

 

What begins as an introspective look at Avner soon becomes a fascinating read about espionage methodology and the men who employ it.

 

All the while, Avner’s “sixth sense” stands out as an invaluable tool in hunting and killing terrorists.

 

“Avner never imagined that there was anything mysterious about his sixth sense; he simply thought that he was unusually sensitive to small signals,” wrote Jonas. “Others might not perceive them, but he could pick up signs, almost subconsciously, then have is brain decode them in some fashion.”

 

Avner is joined by Carl, the “sweeper” who leaves nothing behind after a hit; Steve, the logistics man; Robert, the explosives expert; and Hans, who specializes in documents.

 

They first kill Wael Zwaiter in the lobby of his Rome apartment building on Oct. 16, 1972, just weeks after the Munich attack on Israel’s Olympic athletes. They proceed to hit Mahmoud Hamshari, Abad al-Chir and on and on.

 

“It wasn’t as bad as he had thought it might be,” Jonas wrote of Avner’s response to killing a man in cold blood. “It wasn’t even as bad as thinking about it had been beforehand. He hadn’t lost his appetite; he hadn’t lost any sleep. No nightmares, and in the morning he ate a full breakfast. But enjoy it? No normal person could.”

 

As the book—and the team’s operation—goes on, Jonas includes more and more about the team’s overall feeling about their mission. Whereas the individuals involved had initially avoided philosophizing about their means and ends, this approach began to change.

 

Jonas wrote that Avner and the others didn’t necessarily hold remorse for the killings, but they did begin to question the effectiveness. While the mission was partly about exacting revenge for the Munich massacre, it was also about damaging terrorist networks. And attacks continued throughout their operations.

 

Jonas details the pressures of maintaining a family while on such a mission, as well as the eventual betrayal Avner felt after the Mossad terminated the mission. All this makes for an illuminating book about the idea behind its title: vengeance.

 

Counter-terrorism, like terrorism itself, “also involves bloodshed,” Jonas wrote. “Inevitably, a number of ethical questions arise in the telling of the story of a person who, at the request of his government, ends up killing twelve human beings with his own hands—seven of them deliberately and in cold blood. I will not attempt to deal with these questions here. Insofar as they can be answered, they are answered by the book as a whole.”

 

But Jonas does say he disapproves of political terror. “I do not believe in the cynical notion that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” he added. “Terrorists are defined not by their political aims but by the means they use to achieve them.”

 

The book includes familiar names, like Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan, and Golda Meir, and its subject matter in general is of course supremely relevant.

 

In an epilogue, Jonas ties up the story’s loose ends and notes a few discrepancies between his account and those of others (he cites about 40 other sources on terrorism and Israel’s responses to it).

 

Jonas also gives his own impressions of Avner: “During our meetings I found him to be a man of two distinct physical moods: an imperturbable, almost indolent calm, alternating—practically without warning—with a sudden, lizardlike agility.”

 

Jonas, who still writes from Toronto, makes no bones about the fact that much of the story is based on this confidential source, with some facts unable to be independently verified.

 

And that brings up the real kicker: The book’s account of “Avner” has been questioned for years—not that Jonas made it up, but that Avner did.

 

Five years after being published, Avner was revealed to be Juval Aviv, the founder of New York-based Interfor, a corporate intelligence firm. Aviv, author of two books on personal safety, bills himself on the covers as a former Israeli counterterrorism officer.

 

Others, including members of Israeli intelligence, have disputed that background, and certainly his story as told to Jonas. Many are disturbed that the book seems to be a central source in the script Steven Spielberg is using for his upcoming movie about Israel’s response to Munich.

 

More than 30 years after Munich and 20 years after the story was published, it seems that Vengeance is surfacing yet again …

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.