Duet in Beirut
Duet in Beirut: A Thriller by Mishka Ben-David. Translated by Evan Fallenberg. (Overlook Press, 288 pp. $26.95)
This book is an original for more than one reason. To begin with, it is a first-time English translation of a writer popular in Israel. And that writer, Mishka Ben-David, once a high-ranking officer in the Mossad, gracefully and authentically brings readers into a world few if any of us have navigated: the politics, rankings, operational work and relationships in Israeli intelligence. Mossad’s job is to gather intelligence behind enemy lines and execute covert operations. Mainly—and this part cannot be revealed it has a plot that turns as much on what does not take place as on what does.
The plot unfolds after a failed assassination attempt by a Mossad team operating in Lebanon against Abu-Khaled, the Hezbollah terrorist responsible for recent car bombings in Jerusalem. There is a lot of internal debate by squad commander Gadi: When is it proper to send people on dangerous assignments? Who should take the blame when there is failure? The higher ups who rushed the operation without sufficient preparation or a contingency plan, simulations or escape routes? Gadi, who designated Ronen to be the shooter. Number One even though he had questions about his flexibility under stress? Or was is Ronen, whose hesitation doomed the operation?
This is all background to what follows. Ronen, who has effectively been sidelined by Mossad after the operation’s failure, decides to complete the mission on his own, returning to Lebanon without authorization. Gadi, who feels responsible for Ronen, determines (with halfhearted permission of his superior) it is imperative that he go after Ronen. The thoughtful plot is leavened with humor and very human passions of friendship and rivalry.