By Way of Deception: The Making of a Mossad Officer, Victor Ostrovsky’s groundbreaking book on the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, came out in 1990. I’ve been sort of half-assedly planning on reading it ever since, and finally got around to it recently.
Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment. The main problem is that the author doesn’t differentiate between his own experiences and things he’s reporting from other sources; it becomes fairly obvious when you’re reading it that most of the material is lifted — whether from rumor, innuendo, scuttlebutt or legitimate reporting in other sources, I don’t have the foggiest idea, because Ostrovsky’s got all the citation chops of a fourth-rate potboiler, not a serious academic or political book. It comes across as hearsay garbage. What’s more, while Ostrovsky may have broken some news at the time of first publication, there’s nothing in here that was the least bit shocking to me; much of it felt INCREDIBLY repetitious, especially in the first half.
Pretty much everything interesting is confined to the first half, where Ostrovsky discusses his training in Mossad operations; there, the details of spycraft are FASCINATING. Had the book been half as long, I would have given it 4 stars, probably. Had it been three-quarters as long, maybe three stars. But after the halfway mark, Ostrovsky just drones on and on and on and on with the same bland scandals that are basically hearsay. It ends up sounding like “Shooting the shit with the Mossad.” He he seems to be reporting most of these stories either unreferenced or taken from mainstream news stories, but damned if I can tell which is which.
What really made me feel burned, though, is that after a badly-paced second half that LITERALLY PUT ME TO SLEEP ON TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS WHILE I STRUGGLED THROUGH IT, Ostrovsky tries to wrap it all up with a sort of vapid statement of his moral rectitude. He references an old joke that the worst thing a Mossad officer can say to another Mossad officer is “I hope I read about you in the papers.” He suggests that maybe it takes the light of public inquiry to change the Mossad’s ways.
Yeah…it all seems so quaint, post-9/11, post-Gulf II, post-Afghan War, post-globalization, following Europe’s mounting financial collapse…if the Mossad, or Israel in general, could be induced to change its ways by journalism, unfortunately Ostrovsky isn’t the one to do it, because his thinking and his reporting is too fragmented, confusing, and unclear.
If you’re interested in spycraft, read the first half of the book and skip the rest.