In a brief period during 1950-51, over 120,000 Jews fled Iraq and arrived in Israel; almost a half century later, this still ranks as one of the largest airlift operations ever in the history of population transfers. Although Iraqi Jews became a major stalwart of the new country, to this day they retain an undertone of resentment about the circumstances of their immigration. Theories abound that Israel's agents subverted their comfortable place in Iraq to spur them onto the planes.8

Drawing on newly-released Israeli, British, and American archives, Gat offers a compelling account of the circumstances behind "Operation Ezra and Nehemiah." It's a tale replete with paradoxes and Gat deals with them in turn. Iraq, the most anti-Zionist state, insisted that its Jewish population go forthwith to Israel. At one point, the Israeli authorities gained leverage over their Iraqi counterparts by not taking in as many immigrants as Baghdad wanted to go. At other times, the two enemies were effectively cooperating, as when the Israelis decided to increase the pace of absorption and the Iraqis soon after responded by permitting direct flights from Baghdad to Tel Aviv.

The author puts to rest the notion that Israeli agents used terrorism to get Iraqi Jews to make aliyah: "there was no connection between the bomb-throwing incidents and the departure of the Jews." The sudden rush to leave Iraq overwhelmed Israel's capacities and resulted not from mischief but from the Iraqi Jews' well-grounded sense of impending doom unless they took advantage of a unique chance to escape.