Pho­to cour­tesy of the author

Authors and intel­li­gence offi­cers may seem like pro­fes­sions that are worlds apart, but they share more sim­i­lar­i­ties than one might think. At their core, both roles involve sto­ry­telling. Yet, being an author or an intel­li­gence offi­cer isn’t mere­ly a pro­fes­sion; it’s a way of life char­ac­ter­ized by curios­i­ty, obser­va­tion, lis­ten­ing, imag­i­na­tion, atten­tion to detail, and the con­stant pur­suit of answers or fresh insights. 

This is espe­cial­ly true for intel­li­gence offi­cers spe­cial­iz­ing in spe­cial oper­a­tions – Humint (Human Intel­li­gence) – and under­cov­er activ­i­ties, where the par­al­lels are even more strik­ing. Craft­ing a com­pelling char­ac­ter in a nov­el mir­rors con­struct­ing a false iden­ti­ty nec­es­sary for oper­at­ing under­cov­er in hos­tile envi­ron­ments. In both cas­es, the goal is to cre­ate a believ­able and trust­wor­thy per­sona by del­i­cate­ly blend­ing fact and fic­tion. How­ev­er, the con­se­quences of fail­ure dif­fer sig­nif­i­cant­ly; while a poor­ly devel­oped char­ac­ter might harm a book’s suc­cess, a flawed cov­er iden­ti­ty could jeop­ar­dize a per­son­’s safe­ty. The respon­si­bil­i­ty of breath­ing life into a char­ac­ter or cov­er iden­ti­ty is immense and must be approached with utmost seriousness.

I con­clud­ed six­teen years of active ser­vice in sen­si­tive posi­tions in the Israeli intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty in ear­ly 2011. Yet, as I’ve come to real­ize, being an intel­li­gence offi­cer is a life­long com­mit­ment, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Israel, where one nev­er tru­ly stops serving. 

This truth became painful­ly evi­dent on the hor­ri­ble morn­ing of Octo­ber 7th, 2023, when I learned that Israel was at war. Like so many oth­ers, I donned my uni­form, packed my bag, bid farewell to my fam­i­ly, and rushed to the unit where I served in the reserves. In an instant, I tran­si­tioned from a civil­ian to a lieu­tenant colonel — not mere­ly in appear­ance but in mind­set as well. My rapid shift into the role of an active intel­li­gence offi­cer – as if the twelve and a half years since my last active duty had evap­o­rat­ed – is a sen­sa­tion shared by the oth­er 360,000 reservists mobi­lized at that moment. This sen­ti­ment is poignant­ly cap­tured in a recent song by the Israeli band Hatik­va 6:

Every­one here has a hid­den clos­et or a large, equipped box

They have a set of uni­forms or a reservist cape, always ready for action.

Hey, It’s true that every­one here looks nor­mal — but

We are a nation of superheroes

In each of us, there is always a sol­dier hidden,

Ready to save the world.

For every Israeli and Jew world­wide, life is now divid­ed into before and after Octo­ber 7, 2023. The trau­ma, pain, loss, and sor­row expe­ri­enced are beyond words, yet count­less accounts of this har­row­ing war have been writ­ten and will con­tin­ue to be penned. Maybe I will also write about it in the future.

Many authors, includ­ing the famous Gra­ham Greene, Ian Flem­ing, and John le Car­ré, tran­si­tioned from intel­li­gence work to writ­ing about espi­onage, draw­ing from their expe­ri­ences. Sim­i­lar­ly, my nov­els are root­ed in real-life encoun­ters, emo­tions, and reflections. 

How­ev­er, for the first time, my expe­ri­ence as a nov­el­ist informs my role as an intel­li­gence offi­cer. Though I can’t divulge specifics, as a reservist, I con­tribute to a team tasked with iden­ti­fy­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for spe­cial oper­a­tions. What insights can my lit­er­ary back­ground offer in this real-world con­text? The free­dom to imag­ine, unbound by prac­ti­cal con­straints, and the abil­i­ty to con­struct a cohe­sive nar­ra­tive lead­ing from point A to B. More­over, an under­stand­ing of human nature and moti­va­tions aids me in my work devis­ing strategies.

More than once dur­ing this war, I found myself think­ing about Ben­jamin Franklin’s words: Either write some­thing worth read­ing or do some­thing worth writ­ing.” Though there have been count­less sig­nif­i­cant moments through­out this pro­longed con­flict, one that stands out pro­found­ly for me — as both an intel­li­gence offi­cer and an author — is the sto­ry of the late Nitzan Lieb­stein. Just nine­teen years old, Nitzan was bru­tal­ly mur­dered in Kfar Aza on Octo­ber 7th. His room was found charred, with a copy of my nov­el HASEDEK, the Hebrew ori­gin of Oper­a­tion Beth­le­hem, left on his bed. 

In the days after the mas­sacre, crowds of Israelis came to the affect­ed areas to com­mem­o­rate the mur­dered. So did a friend of mine who noticed the book and sent me a pic­ture, evok­ing inde­scrib­able emo­tions with­in me. Meet­ing Nitzan’s moth­er and learn­ing about her son and his final days deep­ened these sen­ti­ments. A few days lat­er, I received news that the same book had won the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for Hebrew Fic­tion in Trans­la­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, because of the war, I had to stay in Israel and couldn’t attend the in-cer­e­mo­ny to receive the prize. I feel that we, the IDF, are fight­ing this time not just for Israel but for the Jew­ish peo­ple. Though the road ahead may be extend­ed, we will emerge stronger. Why? Because we have no oth­er choice.

Yariv Inbar is the pseu­do­nym of a nov­el­ist whose real iden­ti­ty has been banned from pub­li­ca­tion by the Israeli author­i­ties. He burst onto the spy fic­tion scene in 2016, and quick­ly earned best­seller sta­tus in Israel, and received high praise from crit­ics and read­ers alike. His wealth of expe­ri­ence from serv­ing with­in Israeli intel­li­gence brings a unique authen­tic­i­ty to his writing.