In This Review

Secret Soldier: The True Life Story of Israel's Greatest Commando
Secret Soldier: The True Life Story of Israel's Greatest Commando
By Muki Betser
Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996, 276 pp.

Despite the derring-do title, this is an insightful memoir by a former senior officer in Israel's elite Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit of the general staff, the equivalent of organizations such as Britain's Special Air Service or the United States' Delta Force. What makes it unusual is an absence of bluster or bravado -- and the author's willingness to criticize, sometimes harshly, the shortcomings of the Israeli military. Badly wounded in one of the first cross-border raids after the Six Day War, Betser repeatedly found himself at odds with higher-ups. There are no scandals retailed here, but there are many reminders that the Israeli Defense Force, like all militaries, suffers its share of bureaucratic pathologies. The book also reveals the qualities that have made the IDF a remarkable overall success: its democratic culture, its ability to routinely tap reservists as well as active-duty personnel, and, above all, the conviction and motivation of its fighters.