Special Mista'aravim unit ("behave like an Arab")

(To Paolo Palumbo)

In a narrow and dusty alley of Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, a donkey cart made room for people. A short distance away, in a sun-protected kiosk, five men conversed in front of a glass containing coffee. At one point a white car turned at a fast speed toward the center of the narrow road: the donkey with his master was in the way and could slow down the march.

Inside the white car sat five men with their faces half-covered by the traditional Juvenile Kefiah. Suddenly, as soon as they reached the arbor, the car doors opened wide in unison: three men, with the gun in their hands, rushed on the group with unprecedented rapidity. In a few moments one of the diners was grabbed and dragged forcefully towards the back of the car; his companions only had to watch, terrified, what was happening. Inside the car, on the opposite side of the driver, another man watched the scene holding a M4, ready to annihilate any attempt at reaction. With the same speed, the car geared up the first, taking a secondary road, evaporating as if swallowed by dust. The kidnapped young man was a Hamas terrorist who was preparing for an attack on cross-border Jewish cities.

What is mentioned above is the result of the writer's imagination, but reflects, fairly truthfully, the typical action of an Israeli special unit mista'aravim. The term means "to become an Arab" or "to behave like an Arab"; the operators of the mista'aravim almost all Israelis able to speak fluent Arabic without accent, and integrate into the dense Palestinian communities of the Territories. These are operations at the limit of safety and leave no room for error: if an Israeli infiltrator was identified, his fate would be marked. The formations of this type have a contemporary origin at the birth of the same state of Israel, in the 1948.

The Arab Platoon and the 101 Unit

The first department to operate in mode mista'aravim belonged to Palmach (abbreviated by Machats plugin, assault or shock companies) that formed the cradle of Israeli special forces. Among the first six Palmach one received the code name of Shachar or "Alba" more commonly known as the "Arab Platoon". In its ranks, mostly Jewish soldiers from Syria fought to live according to Arab customs and customs.1. In the 1948, the Shachar was absorbed in the Intelligence of the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) and many ex began to serve for the nascent Mossad and the Shin Bet. After a short period of activity the units mista'aravim they also returned to the ranks because the war distracted the best men in the army from other tasks.

In June of the 1967 the Six Day War broke out, the consequences of which allowed the Israeli army to occupy the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border, and the West Bank - or better known as the West Bank - torn from the Jordanians. At that point the Jewish State, once again victorious over the surrounding villages, found itself surrounded by a series of outbreaks that would undermine its peace for the years to come. The warmest sector among the new territories was the Gaza Strip in which Jordanians and Egyptians instigated fedayeen Palestinians to the rebellion. The first victims were the suspected collaborators, followed by the labor that crossed the borders to work in Israel. As long as the guerrilla remained confined within the Palestinian villages no one dared to interfere, however, when in January 1971 i fedayeen massacred a family of Jews visiting Gaza, things changed abruptly2. Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defense, sent his best man, Ariel "Arik" Sharon, class 1928, a legend among the IDF paratroopers and future father of the infamous 101 Unit. In July of the 1953 the then commander Mishal Shacham, military officer of the Division of Jerusalem, was on the trail of Mustafa Samueli, terrorist resident in the village of Nabi Samuil. To eliminate it, the Israeli commander requested the intervention of a section of paratroopers and brigade's infantry department Givati, but neither officer was willing to infiltrate the Palestinian village. The appeal was answered by the 25enne Sharon who, in the middle of the night, accompanied by seven of her most trusted friends, broke into the house of Mustafa, but did not have the desired success3. Beyond the results, the potential of Sharon's men was taken into consideration by the Israeli General Staff, who endorsed the creation of a small team dedicated to infiltration in the opposing camp. Sharon's men, almost all experienced soldiers, refined their preparation especially in fighting in tight spaces with close goals: men were motivated, but at the same time unruly. The spirit of body within the unit was very strong, however this favored a series of rebellious behavior that did not conform to the rules of military life. Sharon's men used to go beyond the limits of justice, as happened during an operation in the village of Qibya in Samaria. Following the killing of an Israeli family in that sector, the army sent a detachment of paratroopers and an 101 group to arrest the perpetrators and scour the village for weapons and terrorists. After a meticulous and brutal search, the Israeli commandos - led by Shlomo Gruber - demolished several houses, including a school and a police station. At the end of the retaliation, sixty-nine Palestinians fell, including women, old people and children, with the indiscriminate slaughter of 42 case (photo); Sharon's work attracted the blame of the United Nations which imposed a severe condemnation on the Jewish state.

The methods followed by "Arik" were not always consistent with the morale of an army, nevertheless, in the short-term measures, his tough and violent style proved to be very effective. Sharon - mentions Bergman - "He also created some mixed teams under cover, forming four or five departments composed of Jews and Palestinian prisoners who had agreed to cooperate for money or otherwise. These teams had to move to the heart of the towns or cities for them where those who knew Arabic would have to start talking to the locals trying to get information, while the others would wait for the developments of the undercover situation."4.

In the seventies, among the most esteemed officers by Sharon, there was Captain Meir Dagan - future guide of Mossad - who received the command of a new reconnaissance unit the Sayeret Rimon, the first specialized in missions histaaravut (undercover) of the IDFs. Most of the Israeli soldiers of the new Sayeret he had a rough understanding of the Arabic language, so to remedy the problem they were joined by Druze soldiers, Bedouins or Palestinian ex-Fatah fighters. The Rimon - which did not have much operational life - was dissolved in the 1972, a few years earlier that the first Intifada broke out.

Duvdevan e Shimshon

On a cold December day of the 1987, Hatem Abu Sisi, a Palestinian of 17 years, joined a group of peers to play a very risky game: targeting Israeli soldiers. That morning, however, the small gang met some easy-armed soldiers who, after repeated offenses, opened fire on the provocateurs to remove them. Abu Sisi was hit by two blows to his chest: the rush to the hospital was vain and the seventeen year old became the first victim of what everyone called the First Intifada. The boy's death was the casus belli that poured out thousands of Palestinians on the streets of the Gaza Strip, ready to hit the green uniforms of the IDF with pebbles and so on. The reaction of the Israeli army was slow, almost undecided, and soon led to a worsening of the situation: errors of assessment and fear of reacting with too much violence led to an escalation of the revolt that left its mark on entire generations of Palestinians. Just a year before the Intifada, the Israeli army devised more effective systems to infiltrate fedayeen so as to identify the leaders and know their goals in advance. To this end the Duvdevan (literally "cherries") which was given control of the West Bank. The captain of the paratroopers Uri Bar-Lev chose his men well, paying special attention to their masking and concealment skills. If observed by a stranger, the equipment following the Duvdevan it looked more like a bandwagon used by actors than soldiers. If a mission required the presence of women, it was not a problem: trick and trade would have made up for the lack of female figures. The first four units deployed in the West Bank each had a commander, two medical officers, two team leaders, two snipers and some operators. According to the military hierarchy the Duvdevan it depended on the Army General Staff, which employed it in direct "hit and run" actions, but above all to gather information. The First Intifada was the testing ground for the men of Bar-Lev intent on blocking the raids of one of the most dangerous terrorist groups: the Black Panthers, real criminals who militated for Fatah. In the first four years of service in the West Bank the Duvdevan eliminated 75 terrorists following unusual methods, which did not fail to raise protests from the Palestinian Authority5. modus operandi of the Israelis aimed to bring havoc among the ranks of the gods fedayeen catching them by surprise when they least expected it.

The raids in the Gaza Strip, notoriously a maze for the IDF, were delegated to the sister of the Duvdevan, the Sayeret Shimshon (Samson in Hebrew) who drew his components from the non-commissioned officers of other special units. The news concerning the operational activity of the Shimshon they are very scarce and after all his presence on the field was only for a limited period. In the 1996, after the Oslo Accords, the Israeli organization was dismantled and the members were redistributed between the Duvdevan and Sayeret Egoz.


For Shin Bet one of the winning moves to counter the Palestinian uprising was to acquire continuous information from the locals to devise a prevention plan, identify the most dangerous elements and hit them as soon as possible. Among the most committed police forces in the surveillance of the Territories there was the Mishmar Ha'Gavul (MAGAV), or border police, from which the commander general Yitzhak "Jack" Dadon created the Yechidat Mista'aravim or better known by the acronym Ya'mas. The Border Police already had a special section, the Ya'ma'm (Yechida Mishtartit Meyuchedet) created in the 1974 after the Ma'alot disaster (photo) where, during a counter-terrorism intervention, innocent 20 died. from Ya'ma'm Eli Avram, new commander of the new unit, came Mista'aravim who was entrusted with the surveillance of the West Bank. The first course to educate the new agents began the 20 May 1990, after a very rigorous evaluation of the requests. One of the peculiarities of the department were the candidates who - in addition to Israeli Jews - came from the druse, Christian Arab, Circassian and Bedouin minorities6. The choice to include different ethnic groups responded to the need to deploy men perfectly integrated into the Palestinian communities, thus avoiding long training periods. Samuel M. Katz reports some interesting statements on the modus operandi of an agent of the Yam'as: "The name of the game in undercover work was to assimilate into the surroundings. Not to attract attention. Not to stand out ". Druze or rather Arab Christian agents were thus selected to interpret the difficult role of the "Speaker" (in Hebrew Ha'Dovrim) that is to say the advance of an operational nucleus. The Speaker he had to act with caution in the vicinity of a possible target, to dialogue with the members of the community, paying close attention to what was happening around him. Nearby, ready for any eventuality, the rest of the group remained hidden. To date, the training program for a candidate includes six months of training in the MAGAV to assimilate the various police techniques, including forensic practices, then two months later they spend within the unit and four months at the LOTAR (LoHama Ba Terror), the anti-terrorism school. in Ya'mas intellectual and intellectual abilities problem solving they are as important as knowing how to handle one Glock.

Despite the accuracy in the preparation, the meticulous collection of information and the group's capabilities, every action in the Territories contains, in fact, very high risks, mainly due to the unpredictable reaction of the population. As everything runs smooth a suspect can be picked up within a few minutes, conversely the situation can get hot in an instant. It is important to remember how Yam'as pay close attention to the rules and not cause unnecessary casualties among foreign civilians, nevertheless in actions against terrorists it is often difficult to distinguish who the adversary is.

Samuel Katz explains how the elements of the Yam'as are very particular people, far from the "typical" profile of an IDF officer. Agents do not come from high schools as many in the army: "They were street fighters and survivalists who were courageous beyond questions "7.

The effectiveness of the units mista'aravim

The main objectives of the undercover units, and in particular of the Yam'as, concern the gathering of information, the prevention of terrorist attacks and in particular of suicide attacks. The teams of the Yam'as, like those of the Duvdevan they work closely with the Shin Bet in charge of coordinating forces on likely targets hidden within the Territories. One of the best known and exemplifying cases of the difficulties encountered by the missions histaaravut, was the Hamas terrorist hunt Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, the instigator of several suicide bombings in Jerusalem.

The 26 2000 of the XNUMX Shin Bet began the operation Symphony of Life which involved units of the Duvdevan, paratroopers, selected shooters and dog loversOkez (K9). On that occasion, three non-commissioned officers of the Duvdevan they were tragically killed by friendly fire: a gunfight in the center of the town was a very high risk. There were no distinguishing marks, everything was very confusing and although Abu Hanoud was wounded on one shoulder, he managed to escape by disappearing among the narrow streets of the village. The death of three soldiers of just 18 years unleashed a wave of controversy over the dangers of such raids, but before the ill-fated action of Asira ash-Shamaliya the Duvdevan he had more than 200 successes in similar operations. The debate focused mainly on the alleged legality of these killings and on the tactics of "Targeted Killing". The Mossad, the GSS (General Security Service) or lo Shin Bet they prefer to call them "Extrajudicial Punishment" or "Selected Objectives" to divert attention from the definition of "political assassination" given by the detractors of this practice8.

Unit interventions such as the Duvdevan or the Yam'as they are not accidental and arise from a scrupulous evaluation of the data made available by the intelligence and from an almost always safe location of the objective. Once located, the terrorist can be killed if he reacts, but also imprisoned if he decides to surrender. Is it therefore legitimate to send in the Territories military in civilian dress to capture or assassinate terrorists or is it a clear violation of international law? The opinions are discordant and everyone puts forward their own reasons; the fact is that the use of undercover agents is a valid solution only for the medium to short term, but it is certainly not an effective deterrent against terrorism in general. Unlike the undercover units they obtained brilliant results against recruiting and sending shahid (martyrs) in Israeli cities and the data are clear: in the 2002 the suicide attacks perpetrated by Hamas were 121, while in the 2006 they decreased to 5 of which only two occurred within the Israeli territory9.


1 Samuel M. Katz, The Ghost Warriors. Inside Israel's Undercover War against Sucid Terrorism, New York, 2016, p. 11.

2 Ahron Bergman, The damn victory. History of Israel and the occupied territories, Turin, 2017, p. 62.

3 Ami Pedahzur, The Israeli Intelligence and the Struggle against Terrorism, CUP, 2009, p. 56.

4 Bergman, cit., Pp. 63-64.

5 "Profiling Israel's elite undercover unit Duvdevan", MEMO - Middle East Monitor, October 12, 2015, URL: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20151012-profiling-israels-elite-under...

6 The Israeli Border Police was created in 1953 and is the only Israeli unit to recruit elements of ethnic minorities to its ranks.

7 Samuel Katz, cit., P. 107.

8 Gal Luft, The Logic of Israel's Targeted Killing, in "Middle East Quarterly", Winter 2003, pp. 3, URL: http://www.meforum.org/515/the-logic-of-israels-targeted-killing

9 Pedahzur, cit., P.111. The author emphasizes the importance of the defensive system developed by Israel to combat suicide terrorism: The separation fence, whose construction began in early 2002, served as a primary barrier against suicide bombers and their dispatchers. Israel Police and the Border Police Security guards posted on buses and trains, were the final circle of defense ".

(photo: web)