01 Apr BookPage review, March 5, 2019
Journalist Matti Friedman has reported from around the world, including Israel, Lebanon, Morocco and Moscow, and is the author of Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War, about Israeli soldiers in Lebanon, which was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book. In his new book, Spies of No Country, Friedman, who is now based in Jerusalem, combines his in-depth knowledge of Israel with a riveting narrative to recount the story of the Arab Section, an Israeli spy operation active from January 1948 to August 1949.
The Arab Section began with a dozen spies (several were caught), but Friedman focuses on four men here, all in their early 20s in 1948, and follows them in amazing detail. Only one, Isaac Shoshan, now in his 90s, is still living, and this book sprang from Friedman’s interviews with him over several years. Friedman notes, “I’ve learned over years as a reporter that time spent with old spies is never time wasted.” And that was especially true in this case. As Friedman reflects, “His memory was a sharp blade.”
Those memories help to illuminate a tension-filled tale of espionage during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, with Shoshan and others operating undercover in Beirut. The spies of the Arab Section formed what would later become Mossad, Israel’s infamous intelligence agency.
Based on both interviews and archives, Friedman drops readers into the complex, shifting and dangerous landscape of the 1948 conflict. Spies of No Country is a fascinating journey into the past that reads like a spy novel—except in this case, it’s all true.