‘Gideons’ Spies’ by Gordon Thomas – a review.


This book is a history of Mossad. Gideon’s Spies is surely the standard reference text on the subject.

Gideon’s Spies has pace and verve. Thomas holds the reader’s attention by  providing enough background detail and political analysis. There is plenty of action without it being overly dramatic. This book recounts many a daring mission without glamourising them in crass manner worthy of  Boy’s Own. The book describes from the key personalities in the Institute for Special Tasks. This includes politicians with whom Mossad interacted. Both Israelis and foreigners. There is room for some of the Institute’s enemies.

Gideon’s Spies is divided into chapters that are thematic rather than chronological. Despite this the book does not lose coherence. It is always easy to follow the thread.

Gordon Thomas plainly got close to the Institute. They trusted him and they opened up to him which is why he had so many on the record interviews. Why did the Institute give this to him rather than to anyone else? Plainly they believed that he would portray them in a positive light. Indeed he shares their assumptions. Their enemies are described as terrorists. The Institute’s people are never described as terrorists despite doing the exact same thing as their foes. Is deliberately killing an unarmed person terrorism? One might argue that depends who does it and under what circumstances. A government is permitted to kill people in certain situations. Palestine has a government. G Thomas is too uncritical of the Institute. He pulls no punches  on noting its failures but he never judges it to have been morally at fault. Thomas’s shortcoming is in being too friendly with his sources. He has lost his detachment. He is mainly a journalist and ought to know better.

This book is written in a gripping style. It could hold its own against a novel. There is always sufficient information but the book is never bogged down in excessive detail. The writing is lucid and descriptive. There is some analysis and Gordon Thomas treats us to his own opinion. He uses the academic practise of referring to himself in the third person – the author.

Thomas places it all in historical context. The title alludes to the Biblical Gideon who led spies into Canaan. The pre History of the modern  Jewish State is looked into as this provides some much needed background to understand the Institute.

Netanyahu comes out of this book badly. He is seen to be volatile and childish. When his political career was floundering due to his marital infidelity he tried to restore his standing by ordering the  assassination in a man in a friendly country.  The experts counselled him against it as doomed to fail and liable to alienate Jordan. Like an ignorant hothead he ordered it to go ahead nonetheless. Israel ended up with egg on its face.

Gideon’s Spies is highly recommended for anyone who wishes to understand the world of espionage. Thomas places it in its correct setting. It is not just about military affairs. It overlaps with political and economic spheres too.

Overall, this is a magisterial book. It is a page turner and packed with scintillating information. Its betises are trifling compared to its magisterial sweep and vivid style. I was left eager for more.



About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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