Mishka Ben-David’s spy thriller Duet in Beirut is extremely realistic due to the author’s twelve years of service in the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency.

According to former Mossad agent turned author Mishka Ben-David, “one out of a 1000 operations go wrong.” Ben-David should know, as he participated in the 1997 botched assassination attempt on the life of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. It was Ben-David who handed the antidote to the poison injected into Mashaal’s body over to the Jordanians in exchange for the two Mossad agents who were captured.

Another botched assassination attempt takes place in Ben-David’s 2002 spy thriller, Duet in Beirut, which has just been published in English for the first time with a seamless translation by author Evan Fallenberg. A team of agents lands in the Lebanese capital on a mission to take out Abu Khaled, the Hezbollah leader who has orchestrated a string of suicide bombings inside Israel. The team’s trigger man, Ronen, hesitates at the last moment and Abu Khaled escapes unscathed, while the Mossad agents barely make it back to Israel where they are met by the harassment of a highly critical Israeli media.

Duet in BeirutAs a result of the failed operation, Ronen is dismissed and Gadi, his commander, is bypassed for further promotions. Ronen cannot live with the disgrace and dwells on his “moment of error, of hesitation. That was the root of the matter, that was where he needed to get back to.”

Ronen returns to Beirut on a personal vendetta to finish the task originally assigned to him. But by now, Abu Khaled has moved to another leadership position in Hezbollah and Israel no longer seeks his death. In fact, if Abu Khaled is killed it would lead to a massive Katyusha rocket attack on the Galilee, a deadly price that Israel is not willing to pay.

Gadi, realizing what his former team member is about to do, travels to Beirut without permission in attempts to stop him. A “dismissed operative had become deranged without the organization knowing a thing about it and a high-ranking commander had gone after him without authorization.”

Two rogue agents operating in Beirut

Instead of one rogue Mossad agent operating in Lebanon, we now have two. And as both members are graduates of the Mossad’s training program, they each know what measures, and counter-measures, the other will take, leading to a potentially deadly high-stakes dance in enemy territory.

One can’t help but think that the fictional Mossad portrayed in Ben-David’s novel must closely resemble the real-life organization. In the book, the agency is made up of “those who did the research, those who suggested targets, those who made the decisions, and those who carried out the operation.”

According to interviews with Ben-David, one of the reasons the author left the Mossad was in order to have more time with his family. In Duet in Beirut, Ben-David shows the toll that undercover espionage work overseas takes on the wives and families of operatives. The wives wanted their husbands to leave their work outside, on the doorstep. As for understanding what was involved, the information they learned from their husbands “never added up to a full picture.”

Duet in Beirut gives us a fascinating look into a “dark, deceptive, treacherous world in which you never really know what is good and what is evil, in which the permissible is forbidden and the forbidden permitted.” One can’t help but wonder if the real life Mossad operatives act like the fictional ones in Ben-David’s novel.