I don’t remember the last time I read a non-fiction that kept me on the edge of my seat while I kept turning the pages, one after the other. Commandohappens to be that rare-breed of a non-fiction which makes your heart skip a beat and won’t let you put it down until you finish a chapter. However, you will want to pause, take a breath and soak in what you just read before you move on to the next chapter. The next chapter is going to be another breath-taking ride. Written by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal, and published by Jaico Publishing House in India, Commando brings to you the real stories of some of the death-defying missions of the Israeli Special Forces.
The book starts with a scintillating narration of the legendary Entebbe Operation of 1976. But what makes it more interesting are the details of how this “insane” rescue plan was originally hatched, how it was improved and eventually approved by the cabinet, how the special forces impersonated Idi Amin and how they carried out a successful mission right under his nose within an unbelievable duration and how it was named Operation Yonatan eulogizing the courageous Yoni Netanyahu who laid down his life during the rescue. Although all these details must be available from the declassified archives of the IDF, one must credit the authors for knitting them into a gripping story. After this enthralling opening chapter, the book goes on to tell you about many such riveting missions starting from the Independence war in 1948 to the fight against Gaza terrorism in 2014.
Reading through each of these missions, one realizes how half the battle is won in the planning room far away from the battlefield. While the unfailing Israeli Intelligence and the far-sightedness of the commanders are commendable, the crazy ideas that these men came up with during extremely delicate situations are truly outstanding. But that is only half the battle. Even the best-conceived plans can go wrong and they did go wrong for the Israeli Forces. Some of these wrongs did result in tremendous loss of lives as in the case of Ammunition Hill. But their perseverance and presence of mind saw them through these glitches even when they were far away from home and they returned with great victory.
The book gives a peek into how Israel’s defence strategy has evolved with the ever-changing geopolitical landscape, the internal political situation, advancement of defence technology and the change of face of terrorism. The book doesn’t dive deep into the political reasons behind certain decisions but gives you transactional details of these operations. You also get introduced to some of the prominent figures of Israel, their interesting nick-names, their impressive careers, and how they together drove the fate of this Jewish nation.
In the beginning of the book, the authors talk about some of the important principles of the Israeli forces. In the words of the authors, “Israel’s army has been involved in two never-ending combats. A combat on the front lines with Israel’s enemies, who never give in, and an inner combat – the effort to conceive and apply strict moral and humane principles, unequaled by any other army.” They talk about “purity of arms”- referring to protection of non-combatant civilians on both sides of the enemy lines and “Follow me”- the battle cry of Israeli Army. Almost in all the missions curated in this book, one can see examples of how at every point during the mission, these forces and their commanding officers strive to enforce these principles. But the world hasn’t seen a war that has not claimed an innocent life. That goes for the Israeli Missions too. The authors do touch upon a few cases where civilians were killed and Israel was accused of human rights violation. However, if you are looking for a noble justification for these killings, you will be disappointed. You will instead find a defensive answer that says, “not too many were killed”.
The authors also talk about the Israeli principle of “Never abandon a wounded Jewish soldier”. The valour and spirit of medics and soldiers who sacrificed their own lives to rescue wounded soldiers is heart-wrenching. The book also ends with a fitting epilogue which speaks about the rescue of Jews from Ethiopia.
The book is an easy and engaging read, for the most part, giving you an adrenaline rush through every chapter. There might be an occasional drag but the authors make up for it with gaping stories from the battlefields. You might dream of MiGs, Mirages, Flotillas, Iron Domes, M-75 Missiles, handguns and Kalashnikovs in the days that follow. You might also lose sleep over devastating losses especially after reading Raya Harnik’s verses foreseeing her son Gioni “Goni” Harnik’s fate.
“That day I’ll stand, eyes wide open, facing the calamity
My whole life freezes before this tomorrow
A lodestone I am, iron doesn’t cry… “
Nevertheless, this is a book that must be read. This must be read, not just for the real scintillating tales, but also because it shows you the other side of the same truth. We live in times wherein we are constantly blinded by the stories and images carried by the newspapers, televisions, and other media. We almost always never get to hear the complete story. This book will be a significant piece in completing the story while studying the history of the Middle East.