Shattering X-ray Scanner

Haaretz, Alit Karp, 12/2/2016

The Israeli government is faced with the dilemma of an abducted soldier and a host of other pressures. The plot of The End Justifies is great, the protagonist is multi-faceted, and the political machinations are depicted realistically. It's not the author's fault that our reality exceeds the imagination.

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What’s good about The End Justifies? The fact that it was written out of a recognizable reality – not just the author’s, but also that of the Israeli reader. Although it is a fictional work, it’s very easy to grasp the reality behind the plot, and in a normal country, this can be a pleasing experience, perhaps with a dash of satire.

The plot is great and also familiar: the government of Israel dedicates its weekly Sunday meeting to consumer protests against the inflated prices of dairy products. However, in the background, there is also another protest: the fight for the release of Eliad Sagi, a soldier who was abducted by the Hamas several months earlier. Its leaders have renewed their fight to get the government to release prisoners demanded by Hamas and bring Eliad home. Sounds familiar, says the reader. But this is where a new twist comes in: the reluctant government receives a fax, which at first seems like a prank by someone greedy for attention, threatening that if the Hamas prisoners are not released, they will shortly expose a senior contact of the intelligence community, Fauzi al-Hinawi, or as he’s known by Israeli intelligence, “Tabasco.”

Despite his seniority and his activities in the upper echelons of some Arab countries, and despite the fact that each of the branches of Israeli intelligence proudly say they recruited him, Tabasco’s character is weakened by stereotypes. He speaks French, studied at the Sorbonne, and France is also where he usually met with Moussa, his Israeli case officer. Although some of his mannerisms appear to be Western, and he even drinks espresso at home, he drives a luxury Mercedes to the royal palace, is afraid of car bombs, and more than anything, there’s the possibility that his eldest son is gay. The Israeli intelligence exploits these fears and uses various manipulative tactics to get him to leave his country, called Akadia in the novel, and bring him to Paris to warn him of potential exposure. But this angle, which is critical to the plot, is nothing more than another justification by the author to address what really interests him: revealing how the various branches of the Israeli intelligence act, the way in which important decisions are made in Israel and the relationships among the decision-makers. For example, the relationship between the Prime Minister, a businessman who came into power, and his Minister of Defense, a former prime minister who lost his standing based on the results of preliminary elections within the party. Needless to say, the people integral to the country’s leadership conduct their relationships like a bunch of alley cats; in other words, around the question of who pissed in whose corner, who is most respected, and who moved whose cheese or mouse and to where. It could be funny if it wasn’t the way things are, and what’s so good about it is also exactly what is so bad: Inbar is familiar with the Israeli reality and manages to drive his characters around the question of who will be in the lead, if the abducted soldier will be released before the source is exposed, and above all, who sent the fax, how powerful is he, and if the threat should be taken seriously.

However, here we come to the weakness of the novel; the reader also knows these revelations. I once lived in another country for almost three years. In the spring of 1995, a brown bear entered the northern suburbs of the capital and scratched one of the residents. Reporters covered this event as if it were a major item. It headlined the news broadcasts, which showed the marks left by the bear’s claws on the victim’s back, and published a series of interviews with the victim, members of his family, neighbors, friends, ecologists, and zoologists. I got caught up in the sincere excitement of the media. What a wonderful place this is, I thought before I fell asleep from boredom, where they can talk so much about such a minor news item. They really live the good life here. And that’s not all: shortly after the bear incident, the career of the deputy prime minister of that same country ended because she bought a dress with the credit card issued to her by the government. In that same country – while I’m writing these words, I remind myself it was not made up or a fantasy – it seemed corrupt enough to not allow that woman to continue in her position. There, in that country, the book The End Justifies would undoubtedly be considered sensationalist, far more interesting than it is here. Because here, sadly, it is already difficult to surprise the Israeli audience.

What does Inbar tell us about the halls of power? That the people quarrel over prestige, and nothing interests them except their power plays and how to stay in power? That the Prime Minister hates the Minister of Defense, and the Minister of Defense hates the Prime Minister? As if we didn’t know. The problem with this book, and it is the problem with every book that claims to be satirical in Israel, is the fact that reality always surpasses it by a wide margin. Every story that appears absurd to the reader is ridiculed or has a crazy plot, then some version of it immediately appears in reality on a news program. It stands on its own two feet, takes shape and makes its presence known.

The End Justifies is a very good novel and well-written. Uri Vered, the protagonist, head of the IDF’s human intelligence unit operations division, has human weaknesses; on the one hand indecisive, emotional and loving, and on the other, a person with morals and values who nevertheless often acts contrary to his nature and is willing to sacrifice a great deal, sincerely, for the good of the State of Israel. Also, the exposition of the novel, which introduces a third party in the form of a fax message, is original and convincing, and clearly, Inbar is also very familiar with the way the intelligence branches operate, so he provides accurate details that provide credibility.

In general, Inbar, in his first book, proves that he is an author able to present highly developed complexities that are usually absent in debut novels, and especially in the thriller and espionage genres. But all the sophistication could make much bigger waves in honest countries. Those countries with the rule of law would appreciate Inbar’s work much more than here. It becomes clear that everything in the book, the boldness of the characters, and the contemptible leaders, are nothing compared to what is revealed about the real leaders in one random mid-week news broadcast in Israel. The reader dives into the abyss of despair without a submarine: how is it possible, they ask, that the fiction that I just put down, in which a country is run by greedy associates who influence the prime minister, who lives with a tyrannical wife who craves deference, crawled out of the pages of the book and onto the television screen? Since the answer is obvious, it would be good if Inbar hurries to translate his book into other languages for readers in other countries where the people in power are also bound by what is allowed and forbidden, not just the citizens, and even then, provided they live within the boundaries of the green line.