The Unknown Story of Smuggling Weapons and Winning a Nation’s Independence
Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, 2019, 320 pages
Book Review published on: September 25, 2020
Saving Israel: The Unknown Story of Smuggling Weapons and Winning a Nation’s Independence is a riveting, well-written account of many little-known operations that fell under one overall operation from 1947 through 1948 to save the newly formed state of Israel. The catch to this harrowing historical narrative is that none of these operations officially took place. The author, Boaz Dvir, is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker who directed a PBS documentary titled A Wing and a Prayer, which highlights this story in a condensed one-hour format. Screened globally in numerous venues, it was awarded Best Feature Documentary at the 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
Dvir’s documentary started with discussions he had with his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who intensely desired to prevent another one. The impetus of the documentary, and this book, was a question Dvir’s grandfather asked regarding how the weapons were obtained. This led to the discovery of the entire story behind the events leading to Israel’s survival. His grandfather told stories of his platoon’s, along with the newly established Israeli army’s, struggle to arm themselves against the Egyptian army as the Egyptians pushed toward Israel’s command center, Tel Aviv. These stories led to Dvir interviewing many others who had direct influence in acquiring small-arms weapons, American World War II bombers, and German fighter planes that they used in Israel’s fight for survival during a Middle East arms embargo.
The author used his journalistic skills to conduct exclusive interviews that allowed him to tell the complete story in a documentary tradition of reenactments. These interactions with key members allowed Dvir to portray their multilayered stories and larger-than-life personalities. He interviewed nearly thirty aviators, their family members, and experts around the world. He visited them often and had multiple phone conversations. He read books, documents, FBI reports, and academic studies related to this not well-known story.
Dvir divides the book into three parts. The first part highlights the events from March to December 1947. The second part focuses on January through April of 1948, and the third part describes events from May 1948 through the beginning of January 1949. From a chronological month and year perspective, the operations were code-named to protect the ones involved in their heroic efforts to save Israel from imminent attack by its neighbors. There were ten named operations under the overall operation code-named Operation Zebra. The overall aim was to ensure Israel survived its new statehood once the British lifted their Palestinian embargo, allowing Holocaust victims to emigrate to the region. These operations, though not named at the time of execution, included procuring planes to form an airline to deliver much needed arms. Procuring the arms and surplus World War II warplanes proved extremely difficult, as port authorities, naval blockades, and bureaucratic red tape blocked these attempts.
This well-written book leaves the reader in suspense after many of the narrated scenes. Interspersed within the narrated scenes, it affords the reader a geopolitical “big picture” understanding and an operational picture from multiple country perspectives. Recruiting transport pilots, mechanics, and crewmembers by motivating them—either by adventure, humanitarian cause, or biblical prophecy—to fly arms through an arms embargo was a daunting task that the author relates in a captivating manner. Often, the leaders demonstrated their prowess by making decisive strategic moves based on their reading of the landscape. This is a must read for those interested in military history, geopolitical interests, or solving complex problems while dealing with many people and their personality proclivities.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Stephen S. Harvey, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas