In September, 1972, tragedy struck the Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany, when Arab terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes. For several years afterward rumors circulated that Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, was taking revenge by assassinating the attack’s principal organizers. Although the Israeli government denied those rumors, they were revived in 1984, when Canadian author George Jonas published Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team, a book based, he claimed, on interviews with the leader of the Mossad assassination squad. Now Canada’s Alliance Entertainment Corp. and Telefilm Canada, in co-operation with the CTV network, have turned Jonas’s account into a slick two-part mini-series, Sword of Gideon. Set against the backdrop of Europe’s most glamorous cities—and with an international cast including Rod Steiger and Michael York—the film gives terrorist hunting the romantic gloss of an ad for men’s cologne. But it also reveals the moral ambiguity of life inside the Mossad.
Like Jonas’s book, The Sword of Gideon tracks the leader of the Israeli agents, a young man called Avner (Steven Bauer), in his journey from innocence to bloody knowledge. His topsecret mission begins with a flush of patriotism, fanned by a meeting with
Israel’s then-prime minister, Golda Meir (Colleen Dewhurst). A grandmotherly figure, Meir talks movingly of Israel while peeling an apple for Avner. For a time, his work goes well. He and his four handpicked assassins eliminate the first targets on their list with relative ease. But he gradually wearies of the slaughter, especially after witnessing the grieving family of one of his victims. Worse, his own men begin to fall to the inevitable terrorist backlash. When Avner tries to extricate himself from Mossad’s grip, his boss (Rod Steiger) ruthlessly squeezes him for every last drop of service.
Avner’s battle with his conscience and his superiors gives him a modicum of real-life complexity that sophisticated viewers expect of their heroes. But the film oversimplifies, portraying the terrorists as pure evil, rather than as Avner’s three-dimensional counterparts. And while Sword of Gideon adequately deals with the Mossad’s need for revenge, it fails to articulate any motive for Palestinian violence.
Still, the film is packed with excitement. In one unforgettable scene, Avner’s explosives expert, Robert (Michael York), has only seconds to defuse a bomb the terrorists have set in a Mossad Paris apartment. Its exploration of the Middle East’s convoluted politics is transparently shallow. But as escapist entertainment, Sword of Gideon rates a nine out of 10.
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