Title: Red Sea Spies
Author: Raffi Berg
Published: March 2020
Publisher: Icon Books
I received a copy of Red Sea Spies unsolicited from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
The little-known story of a daring Mossad operation and the holiday resort run by spies.
In the early 1980s on a remote part of the Sudanese coast, a new luxury holiday resort opened for business. Catering for divers, it attracted guests from around the world. Little did the holidaymakers know that the staff were undercover spies, working for the Mossad – the Israeli secret service.
Providing a front for covert night-time activities, the holiday village allowed the agents to carry out an operation unlike any seen before. What began with one cryptic message pleading for help, turned into the secret evacuation of thousands of Ethiopian Jews who had been languishing in refugee camps, and the spiriting of them to Israel.
Written in collaboration with operatives involved in the mission, endorsed as the definitive account and including an afterword from the commander who went on to become the head of the Mossad, this is the complete, never-before-heard, gripping tale of a top-secret and often hazardous operation.
To say that Red Sea Spies schooled me on a historical event that I’d never heard of is an understatement.
Red Sea Spies is not the type of book I’d typically be drawn to. First of all, it’s non-fiction, telling the story of true events from the early 1980s. When I think back to having never heard of the events that took place, it’s not surprising, as most of it took place before I was born. But, wow, this was a fascinating read.
In the early 1980s, Mossad agents embarked on a mission to extract Ethiopian Jews from Sudan using the guise of a diving resort as cover. The Ethiopian Jews were smuggled out of refugee camps back to Israel in a few different ways, as the agents charged with helping them leave Africa continued to evade drawing the suspicions of the local government.
Raffi Berg has spoken to many of the people involved in the mission, and it’s helped shape the narrative of events in his book. We start much earlier than the diving resort (which becomes much more important in the second half of the book), getting a lot of backstory into the political – and some of the religious – situation of the time, and how a Mossad agent found themselves in Sudan searching for Ethiopian Jews to return to Israel.
I’m not much of a history reader, so it took some getting used to remember who each of the main players were – but there are some super helpful lists of people, places and organisations that are mentioned at the beginning of the book. There are also maps that were useful in identifying where all of the events took place and how far everyone travelled, and images from the time, too.
Once I had a good grasp on the situation, it was very easy to fall into the flow of reading about this event, that included smuggling people out of Sudan on flights and by boat. There was the thrill of knowing that all the agents involved knew they were doing the right thing, but also knowing the consequences that would befall them if their plans were revealed. There were plenty of close calls retold in the book that really added to the tension and kept me turning the pages.
Overall this was a fascinating read about a daring operation to smuggle people out of a country under the noses of those in charge. I haven’t had a chance to watch the film inspired by the events in the book on Netflix, yet, but it’s definitely high up on my list. This is well worth checking out.