Duet in Beirut: A Thriller

Image of Duet in Beirut: A Thriller
Release Date: 
April 13, 2015
The Overlook Press
Reviewed by: 

“a spy thriller that will raise your blood pressure and set your heart to pounding . . .”

After twelve years as an operative for Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, Mishka Ben-David left his country’s service to pursue a career as a novelist. However successful he may have been as a spy, he is at least as successful as a novelist.

Drawing on his years of experience while with Mossad, Ben-David has written a riveting, gritty novel that describes both the world of espionage and the stresses the commitment to serve one’s country in a secret capacity which both operatives and their families must endure.

Those stresses, as well as the psychological cost of failure, are illustrated in the person of Ronen, a Mossad agent expelled from the organization because he inexplicably froze at a critical moment during a mission in Beirut. Because of Ronen’s lack of action, an attempt to assassinate Abu-Khaled, the head of Hezbollah’s foreign terrorist operation, fails, and the suicide bombings of restaurants, markets, and other targets in Israel continue.

As Ronen’s guilt over his failure builds, acerbated by his isolation from former comrades, his relationship with his wife, Naamah, a former Mossad agent herself, begins to disintegrate. “He wasn’t choked by memories and thoughts as he had been during the first few months, but now they were swirling together and creating something new, something as yet unclear but threatening nonetheless.”  

Ronen’s one consolation is that Abu-Khaled has not ordered another bombing for nearly a year. Perhaps the failed assassination attempt has acted as a deterrent. But even that consolation proves ephemeral as another bombing is ordered by Abu-Khaled. “More bodies, this time at the central bus station in Afula.”

Guilt and a sense that he is responsible for the carnage meld together in Ronen’s mind. “And here he was again, whether he liked it or not, in a commotion of bodies of which his actions and failures were an integral part.”

Determined to make things right, to assassinate the Hezbollah operative as he should have done during the failed mission, Ronen retrieves one of his forged passports, steals an explosive devise from Mossad’s Weapons Warehouse, and flies to Beirut.

Unknown to Ronen, Abu-Khaled has been promoted to as higher position of leadership in Hezbollah. As a result the Israeli government and Mossad have removed the terrorist as a target for assassination. His death would cause repercussions that Israel wants to avoid. Now Ronen is a rogue agent and a danger to his country.

As the Chief of Mossad puzzles over a course of action, Gati, a Mossad squad commander and the one who had assigned Ronen to be the shooter in the failed mission, knows there is no time for debate, no time to make detailed plans. For the sake of Israel, and his own belief that responsibility for the first failed assassination attempt rests on more shoulders than Ronen’s, including his own, Gati flies to Beirut without permission from Mossad.

The threat from Hezbollah  to two Israelis undercover in Beirut with no backup from Mossad leaves both Gati and Ronen with nerves stretched to the breaking point. “While it is true that the level of fear decreases with the number of trips an operative makes, it is also true that the fear never entirely disappears.”

Adding to the tension between the two men is an element of paranoia on the part of Ronen. His wife, Naamah, was Gati’s lover before she married Ronen. He is  jealous of Gati, sure that the other man and Naamah still have feelings for each other. 

Ronen in his confused state of mind is certain that Gati is trying to stop his attempt to set things right more for Naamah’s sake than for the security of Israel. Despite Ronen’s doubts he must cooperate with Gati, or neither man will survive to leave Beirut.

Duet in Beirut is a spy thriller that will raise your blood pressure and set your heart to pounding as Mr. Ben-David ratchets up the pace and suspense of his narrative. The sense of utter realism is so overwhelming that the book should carry the iconic warning of “don’t try this at home.”

The only criticism of Mr. Ben-David’s novel, and it is a minor one, is that the relationship between the Holocaust and Israel’s total commitment to its survival as a Jewish Homeland is a little too subtle for non-Israeli readers to feel as viscerally as do Israelis. Otherwise, Duet in Beirut is on a literary par with The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, and highly recommended.