Review: Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel’s Deadly Response – Aaron J. Klein

My version: Paperback
Genre: Non Fiction, Israel, Palestine, Germany, 1972 Olympics
Random House Trade Paperbacks
First published: 2007
ISBN: 9780812974638
Pages: 288

From the cover:
Award-winning journalist Aaron J. Klein tells, for the first time, the complete story of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the Israeli counterterrorism operation it spawned. With unprecedented access to Mossad agents and an unparalleled knowledge of Israeli intelligence, Klein peels back the layers of myth and misinformation that have permeated previous books, films, and magazine articles about the “shadow war” against Black September and other related terrorist groups. In this riveting account, long-held secrets are finally revealed, including who was killed and who was not, how it was done, which targets were hit and which were missed. In the end, Klein shows that the Israeli response to Munich was not simply about revenge, as is popularly believed. By illuminating the tactical and strategic purposes of the Israeli operation, Striking Back allows us to draw profoundly relevant lessons from one of the most important counterterrorism campaigns in history.

Fighting Back is quite probably the book that ‘inspired’ the Steven Spielberg film ‘Munich.’ It is a surprisingly warts and all look at the 1972 Munich Olympic capture of Israeli athletes by of Arabic terrorists, and the subsequent attempted escape and death of pretty much all involved. It looks at the background to the incident from all sides of the situation – Arab’s and Israelis and Germans – then looks at the why, the how and the what Israel’s response was.

Obviously there is a lot of circumstantial background to go into to give as full a picture as possible and to keep it all within the confines of a readable book, certain restrictions have to be made. Some of the points made elsewhere – Peter Hayes’ Why? springs to mind – are looked at: such as that this could be seen as the Jewish people finally striking back from the ridiculous, ill-informed accusations/observations that they ‘didn’t do enough during’ World War II. As such, it reminded me of the territory covered inMichael Elkins’ excellent book Forged In Fury.

The incident was one of the first of a new wave of terrorist attacks carried out by a new kind of terrorist. One that had nothing to lose and nothing, in this life, to gain. So were not really worried about getting out alive, just about creating a big enough incident to get the world’s attention and their fellow believers’ backing. For Israel, I’d say they used it to both show the world what they were up against and that they would go their own way if needed. Not much wiggle room on either side.

The book also deals with what as I remember was one of the Munich film’s main themes, that of ‘is it justice, or revenge?’ Why not revenge? Not many outside the Arabic community would blame Israel for saying ‘we’re gonna get revenge for that.’ Though I’m sure that the Arab terrorists and others would say ‘well, it was done in revenge for you doing such-and-such,’ as it always goes round and round. At some point someone on one side or the other has to say ‘stop.’ That not all the terrorists who were involved in the planning and the execution of the massacre, could be because someone somewhere did say ‘stop.’ Or was told to. And ‘revenge’ if Israel wants to be a ‘proper’ member of the international community, just isn’t done, by countries.

It isn’t, it can’t be the whole picture, that would obviously take a much (much) longer book, but it is certainly an excellent, informed and well put attempt at painting a good part of it.

You can buy Striking Back from The Book Depository

Munich photo by Stefan Pflaum on Unsplash

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