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Behind Enemy Lines with a Commando in One of the World’s Most Elite Counterterrorism Units

by Aaron Cohen and Douglas Century

One of the most exciting books of Jewish interest to be published in 2008 is Brotherhood of Warriors by Aaron Cohen, written with the assistance of professional author Douglas Century. It is the riveting story of a young American Jew who makes his way into one of Israel’s most elite undercover military units.

Brotherhood of Warriors is roughly divided into four parts. Part One tells Aaron Cohen’s story up to the time that he enlisted in the Israeli army. Part Two, the longest section of the book,  is the account of his training. Part Three tells of his operational time spent in the West Bank fighting Palestinian terrorism. Part Four brings us up to date on Cohen’s life after the army.

Aaron Cohen’s life story is a classic tale of a mixed-up young man who finds himself by joining the army, except this young man is Jewish and the army is the IDF. He was born to Canadian Jewish parents in Montreal. His parents separated soon thereafter and Cohen spent his childhood moving around with his mother from one city to another as she pursued her career in screenwriting. She remarried in Los Angeles to a man who was much more interested in his career in Hollywood than in his stepson and young Aaron found himself rich, unhappy and confused. What set him on his way in life were two years in his mid-teens spent at a military-style boarding school in Ontario. Cohen came into his own under the strict discipline and formulated his plan to join up to the Israeli army as soon as he could.

Moving to Israel after high school, Cohen spent some time hardening himself in the company of former Special Forces operatives working in the fish ponds on Kibbutz Hazorea. The story from this point on is of a young man with extraordinary self-discipline and resolve who passes one test after another and makes it all the way to a fighting position in the elite undercover Duvdevan unit operating in Judea and Samaria.

The longest section of Brotherhood of Warriors is the description of Cohen’s army training. He successfully deals with the unbelievably hard physical and mental challenges designed to winnow out all but the very toughest and strongest of men, compounded in his case by his rudimentary Hebrew skills and outsider status. His descriptions of what he went through are riveting. In one memorable episode, Cohen completes a 120 kilometre hike from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem carrying a fifty pound pack and the thirty pound platoon radio. By the end of it he is so exhausted that, as he is later told by a military doctor, he had come within an hour or two of dying.

Part Three describes some of the missions that Cohen took part in with Duvdevan. He is shot at and shoots others and at this point can be accurately described as a “killing machine”. Cohen tells the reader not just what he did, which is fascinating, but how he was affected as a person. The constant danger and pressure changed him and his comrades, cutting them off from other people and turning them inwards. We are told that because of this, no one is allowed to continue in these roles for longer than eight to ten months, after which they are moved out of operations and into behind-the-scenes positions.

Part Four brings us up to date on Cohen’s life as he returns to the United States and founds a highly successful specialized security firm utilizing the knowledge and contacts he had gained from his time in the IDF.

One quibble with Brotherhood of Warriors is the small number of factual errors primarily in the early section of the book. Statements such as that Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1973 (actually 1967) or calling the Canadian army the Royal Canadian Army (actually the Canadian Armed Forces) are jarring and distract attention from the narrative.

Taken as a whole, though, Brotherhood of Warriors is one of those books that are hard to put down and that you will finish very quickly. It’s a great story!



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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.