In 1948, with Israel’s existence hanging in the balance, four men, part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, consisting of Jews native to the Arab world, went undercover in Beirut. Here, they spent the next two years operating out of a newsstand, collecting intelligence and sending messages back to Israel via a radio whose antenna was disguised as a clothesline. Of the dozen spies in the Arab section at the outbreak of the ’48 war, five were caught and executed. But in the end, the Arab Section would emerge as the nucleus of the Mossad.
Spies of No Country, a masterfully-told tale of Israel’s first spies, is about the slippery identity of these young people; but it’s also about the complicated identity of Israel, a country that presents itself as Western but in fact has more citizens with Middle Eastern roots and traditions.
Matti Friedman is a Canadian-Israeli journalist and a contributor to the New York Times op-ed section. Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel is his latest book. He lives in Jerusalem.
Jenni Frazer‘s award-winning career in journalism spans over 30 years. She has interviewed many major celebrities and is a media commentator on UK radio and TV.