Archive for October 9, 2018

US rejects Iran’s legal claim to recover $2 billion in frozen assets

October 9, 2018

Source: US rejects Iran’s legal claim to recover $2 billion in frozen assets – Israel Hayom


A New Wave of Democrats Tests the Party’s Blanket Support for Israel – The New York Times

October 9, 2018
Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat running for Congress in Detroit, has said she will oppose aid to Israel. “No country, not one, should be able to get aid from the U.S. when they still promote that kind of injustice,” she said.CreditCreditAnthony Lanzilote for The New York Times

By Catie Edmondson

WASHINGTON — One Democratic House candidate has pledged that she will vote against bills that include aid to Israel, denouncing what she saw as the “injustice” of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Another wrote that “Israel has hypnotized the world” with its “evil doings.”

Still another helped write a scathing book on relations between the United States and Israel, while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive political star expected to win a House seat in New York, condemned the “occupation of Palestine.”

A cluster of activist Democrats — most of them young, most of them cruising toward House seats this fall — has dared to breach what has been an almost inviolable orthodoxy in both political parties, strong support for Israel, raising the specter of a crack in the Democratic Party that Republicans could use to attract Jewish supporters.

Surging support for the Palestinian cause has already strained relations between liberal parties and Jewish voters in Europe. In Britain, the Labour Party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been accused of anti-Semitism for a pro-Palestinian stand that has veered into statements that many see as outright bigotry. Across the United States, movements to force colleges and universities to boycott, divest investments from and place sanctions on Israel have divided some progressive students from their Jewish peers.

Now some Democrats are testing the boundaries of what has been the politically acceptable position on Israel in the mainstream parties. They include Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American Muslim running for an open House seat in Minneapolis; Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American Muslim running in Detroit; Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, running in a heavily Democratic district in the Bronx and Queens; and Leslie Cockburn, co-author of “Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship,” who is running in a Republican-leaning district in Virginia. None of them would comment for this article.

They have not made their views on Israel a central issue of their campaigns, but they also have not held back. Ms. Tlaib, in an August interview with the liberal magazine In These Times, endorsed a one-state solution that could jeopardize Israel’s status as a Jewish state.

“It has to be one state,” she said. “Separate but equal does not work.”

Ms. Omar, who had criticized Israel’s “evil doings” in 2012, was accused on Twitter of anti-Semitism after her campaign got underway. “Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews,” she responded.

Against a backdrop of a White House that has taken a series of measures explicitly targeting Palestinians — moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, slashing aid and most recently, closing the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington — the group’s stances are at odds with several prominent pro-Israel party leaders, setting up an interparty conflict often waged over generational lines. Republicans have already lobbed charges of anti-Semitism.

“I do worry that there are some on the extreme left of our party who adopt slogans” that are creating tensions, said Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California and a pro-Israel voice in the party.

Others dismissed the newcomers as a fringe, with little influence. “We’re talking about a handful of people; they’re certainly not going to move Congress’s wall-to-wall support for Israel,” said Ron Halber, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “Could it turn into a ripple? Perhaps. You have a unique combination of forces right now.”

His greater concern, he said, is that President’s Trump’s friendly relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is getting Israel’s narrative “caught up in the anti-Trump fervor, which is not fair to Israel.”

Running on platforms that emphasize opposing discrimination against marginalized groups, candidates have introduced the Palestinian issue as what they call a larger commitment to social justice.

“It’s a position consistent with all their other values,” said Dima Khalidi, the director of Palestine Legal, a Palestinian rights group. “You cannot take positions on social justice issues, on the border wall, on immigration rights, without addressing the injustices of the Israeli occupation.”

Ms. Tlaib said in a television interview that she would “absolutely” slash military aid to Israel, adding, “I will be using my position in Congress so that no country, not one, should be able to get aid from the U.S. when they still promote that kind of injustice.”

“Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews,” Ilhan Omar, a Democrat running for a House seat in Minneapolis, wrote on Twitter after her previous comments were called anti-Semitic.CreditStephen Maturen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Pro-Israel groups like StandWithUs are concerned that anti-Israel views, promoted and masked by “human rights language,” will find “a landing space in our political system,” said Peggy Shapiro, the group’s Midwest executive director.

“On the far right it’s easier to spot,” Ms. Shapiro said of hateful language. “On the far left we have a more complicated challenge because misinformation is often expressed in the language of social justice, and it makes it easier to mislead well-meaning people.”

Party leaders and Democrats supportive of Israel have largely remained silent on the issue. Neither Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate minority leader, nor Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, responded to requests for comment.

Representative Gene Green, a centrist Democrat from Texas, conceded that “the last few years it’s been a little tougher” to find members of his party as supportive of Israel as he is. But he attributed Ms. Omar’s and Ms. Tlaib’s comments to a zeal to represent their districts, which he noted have large communities of Middle Eastern immigrants.

“Democrats, we have broad stripes,” Mr. Green said, adding that he expected that within the party “you’ll still see support for Israel.”

But those candidates’ leanings appear to align with a broader consensus among Democratic voters. Two years ago, Democrats were more likely to sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians by a 14 percentage point gap, according to a Pew Research Center poll. In January, the same poll showed that gap had shrunk to two points.

Matthew Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, accused Democratic leaders of failing to push back against “hostile” remarks from Democratic candidates.

“That involves policing and enforcing their own and making clear that these views are outside the mainstream,” he said. “So far they haven’t done that.”

But Republicans are not averse to exploiting the Democratic divisions.

The Republican Jewish Coalition purchased a $530,000 ad campaign in June accusing Scott Wallace, a Democrat running in Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District, of anti-Semitism. Mr. Wallace ran an organization that dispensed more than $330,000 in grants to boycott, divestment and sanctions groups; Mr. Wallace has disavowed the movement and said he did not exercise authority over those funds.

The Republican Party of Virginia has laid into Ms. Cockburn, calling her a “virulent anti-Semite,” a charge she hotly contests.

In California, Representative Duncan Hunter, a Republican under indictment on charges of campaign finance violations, is trying to tar his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, with a grandfather who masterminded the 1972 terrorist attack on Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich. Israeli commandos killed Mr. Campa-Najjar’s grandfather long before Mr. Campa-Najjar was born.

The liberal Jewish group J Street condemned that effort on Wednesday as “one of most ugly, racist campaign ads we’ve ever seen.”

Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for Florida governor, has accused his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, of having ties to anti-Israel groups, citing financial support he received during his primary race from Dream Defenders, an organization that backs boycotts, divestment and sanctions, and a speech Mr. Gillum gave two years ago at a Muslim advocacy event welcoming the Council on American-Islamic Relations to Tallahassee. Mr. Gillum denies supporting the boycott-and-divest movement.

“Anyone trying to use Israel as a political wedge and football doesn’t have Israel’s best interest at heart and should be ashamed of themselves,” said Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, calling the accusation “revolting.”

Republicans say they will continue to push the issue.

“The fact that this is allowed to metastasize in the Democratic Party without any real pushback,” Mr. Brooks said, his voice trailing off. “It used to be one of the third rails of politics, especially in the Democratic Party.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: New Wave of Democrats Tests the Party’s Blanket Support for Israel.

Rocked by Trumps sanctions, Iranian oil exports drop further

October 9, 2018

Source: Rocked by Trumps sanctions, Iranian oil exports drop further

Islamic Republic is feeling the effects of US punitive measures as country’s crude exports fall far ‘more significantly than previously foreseen’, allowing Saudi Arabia, non-OPEC Russia and other producers to fill the gap.

Iran’s crude exports fell further in the first week of October, according to tanker data and an industry source, taking a major hit from US sanctions and throwing a challenge to other OPEC oil producers as they seek to cover the shortfall.

The Islamic Republic exported 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude in that seven-day period, Refinitiv Eikon data showed. An industry source who also tracks exports said October shipments were so far below 1 million bpd.

US President Trump and an Iranian oil rig (Photo: AP, Reuters)

US President Trump and an Iranian oil rig (Photo: AP, Reuters)

That’s down from at least 2.5 million bpd in April, before US President Donald Trump in May withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions. The figure also marks a further fall from 1.6 million bpd in September.

Tanker schedules are often adjusted and exports can vary week by week. The early October figures add to signs, however, that Iranian exports are falling more steeply than expected, stretching the ability of Saudi Arabia, non-OPEC Russia and other producers to fill the gap.

“The US government’s tough stance raised the stakes for a more significant Iran export loss than previously foreseen,” said Norbert Ruecker, head of macro and commodity research at Swiss bank Julius Baer.

An oil field in Iran (Photo: MCT)

An oil field in Iran (Photo: MCT)

Oil prices have extended a rally on expectations the sanctions will test the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers. Brent crude on Wednesday last week reached $86.74 a barrel, the highest since 2014.

None of the Iranian crude exported in the first week of October is heading for Europe, according to the Refinitiv data. The tankers are sailing to India, China and the Middle East.While Washington has said it wants to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero, Iran and Saudi Arabia say that is unlikely. The Trump administration is considering waivers on sanctions for countries that are reducing their imports.

India, a major buyer, has ordered Iranian oil for November, although New Delhi does not yet know whether it will receive such a waiver.

Iran has questioned whether the market needs more oil and says its output is holding steady at about 3.8 million bpd. Iran has pledged to block any OPEC supply increase that the country deems to be against its interest.

 (Photo: EPA)

(Photo: EPA)

“The market does not want a single barrel,” Iran’s representative on OPEC’s board of governors, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, told Reuters in late September.

But figures OPEC compiles from secondary sources that include oil-industry media and government agencies put output in August at 3.58 million bpd, down 150,000 bpd from July. Some of these sources say output fell further in September.Iran may indeed have not cut production yet to match the rate of decline in its exports, as the country appears to be storing more oil on ships as it did during sanctions that applied until the 2015 nuclear deal.


Hamas: Israel ready to help,but PA blocking fuel to Gaza power plant

October 9, 2018

“Say what? Hamas has actually come out and said Israel is trying to help Gaza, but the Palestinian Authority are actively trying to screw the Gazans?”

“Yep, the Middle East sure can throw up some weird stuff, eh?”

Of course, western leftist Palo supporters (or main stream media, same thing) will be highlighting the attempts of Israel to help Gaza while the PA is trying to blockade them any moment now… Yep, any moment soon….

A member of Palestinian security forces gestures as a fuel tanker arrives at Kerem Shalom crossing

Netanyahu calls on Abbas to stop ‘choking’ Gaza to prevent ‘very difficult consequences’

A senior Hamas official on Saturday revealed that Israel has agreed to help solve the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, but the Palestinian Authority was hindering efforts to improve the situation there.

Essam Aldalis, deputy head of Hamas’s “Political Department,” said that Qatar has paid for the diesel fuel needed to keep power plants in the Gaza Strip running. He said that the money was sent to the United Nations Office for Project Services.

“Israel agreed to the pumping of the fuel to the power plant in the Gaza Strip,” Aladils said on Twitter. “The Palestinian Authority threatened the transportation company workers and the employees of the electricity company that they would be held accountable if they received the fuel and operated the power plant for more than four hours.”

Addressing the residents of the coastal enclave, the Hamas official asked rhetorically: “So who is besieging you, the people of Gaza?”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a press conference Thursday with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called on the world to tell Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stop “choking” Gaza, something that “could lead to very difficult consequences.”

Netanyahu said that over the last year, Abbas “has made the situation in Gaza more difficult by choking off the flow of funds from the Palestinian Authority to Gaza. As a result of this chokehold, pressures have been created there and as a result of the pressures, from time to time Hamas attacks Israel at a relatively low intensity, but the chokehold is tightening.”

Netanyahu said that Abbas has “interfered in all UN attempts to ease the plight in Gaza, including now and, of course, many countries, today I can say that even the donor countries are condemning him for this, and rightly so.”

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Gaza Strip has suffered from a chronic electricity deficit for the past decade.

“The situation has further deteriorated since April 2017 in the context of disputes between the de facto authorities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority,” OCHA said. “The ongoing power shortage has severely impacted the availability of essential services, particularly health, water and sanitation services, and undermined Gaza’s fragile economy, particularly the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.”

According to a report in Haaretz last week, Qatar has agreed to finance the purchase of fuel for the Gaza Strip’s power plant. The arrangement, which was reached at the recent conference in New York of countries that donate to the Palestinians, is supposed to go into effect in the coming days and would allow a significant increase in the power supply to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the report said.

Israel, the report added, hopes that this development will reduce the risk of a military confrontation with Hamas.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip currently have around five hours of electricity each day.

Last year, Abbas imposed a series of economic and financial sanctions on the Gaza Strip as part of his effort to force Hamas to relinquish control over the coastal enclave.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said on Saturday that the weekly protests along the border with Israel will continue until the blockade on the area is lifted. He said that Hamas was not scared of Israeli threats to launch a military operation in the Gaza Strip in response to the ongoing violence along the border.

Addressing Israel, Hayya said: “Lift the blockade imposed on the Palestinian people and give them their rights so that calm will prevail. Otherwise, there will be no calm in the region and along the border.”

A PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas was facing pressure from some Arab countries and international parties to lift the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip. Abbas is also under pressure to avoid taking additional punitive measures against the Gaza Strip in wake of the failure of recent efforts by Egypt to reach a new “reconciliation” deal between Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas, the official said.

Abbas, the official added, is strongly opposed to efforts made by Egypt and the UN to achieve a truce deal between Hamas and Israel.

“Hamas is not authorized to reach any deal with Israel,” he explained. “The PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, is the only party authorized to sign deals with international parties. Hamas is just another Palestinian faction.”

Abbas argues that a separate deal between Israel and Hamas will solidify the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and transform the Palestinian cause into an issue that solely concerns humanitarian and financial aid.

Abbas is scheduled to hold a series of meetings with Fatah and PLO officials in Ramallah in the coming days to discuss the ongoing crisis with Hamas and efforts to achieve a new truce deal with Israel. Abbas is expected to affirm during the meetings his opposition to easing restrictions on the Gaza Strip before Hamas allows his Ramallah-based government to assume full responsibilities there.

Netanyahu said to tell cabinet Israel preparing for Gaza offensive

October 9, 2018

Israeli soldiers seen on tanks at an IDF staging area near the Israeli border with Gaza, on July 31, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel concerned that the Palestinian Authority will completely cut off funds from the Hamas-ruled Strip, severely exacerbating humanitarian conditions and sparking more violence

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned ministers Sunday that Israel is preparing for the possibility of a military campaign in the Gaza Strip should the humanitarian conditions in the territory cause border clashes to spiral out of control, Hadashot news reported.

Netanyahu spoke of the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to “choke” Gaza during the weekly cabinet meeting, according to the TV report, and said: “If the reality of civil distress in Gaza is diminished, that is desirable, but that is not certain to happen, and so we are preparing militarily — that is not an empty statement.”

Angered by the reported funneling by Qatar of aid to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was said on Saturday to be planning on cutting the flow of funds to the Hamas-run coastal enclave.

Senior defense officials told Hadashot news that Abbas was particularly frustrated with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Nikolay Mladenov, who facilitated the transfer despite the PA president’s staunch objections.

The halt of some $96 million that the PA sends monthly to the Gaza Strip could drive a desperate and cash-strapped Hamas toward conflict with Israel, security officials told the news channel. Moreover, they expressed concern that the violence may expand into the West Bank.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday that Abbas had a tense phone call with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in which the latter warned Abbas that additional measures against the Gaza Strip would endanger the security of Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula.

Abbas was said to have responded defiantly by saying, “It is the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood state in Gaza that is endangering the national security of Egypt not me and my policies,” in a reference to Hamas.

Earlier Saturday, the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported that Qatar has begun funneling funds to the Gaza Strip via Israel with US and UN approval, bypassing the opposition of the Palestinian Authority.

It said Israel, through the UN, had received Qatari funds for six months of increased fuel to Gaza’s only power plant — which will allow more hours of electricity to the beleaguered Strip — despite the PA’s efforts to thwart the action.

The Lebanese daily also reported that the UN would provide funds to pay three months of salaries to Gaza’s civil servants, and that Israel had agreed in principle to provide permits to 5,000 Gazan merchants to enter its territory for business purposes.

The Haaretz daily reported Thursday that Qatar had agreed to purchase fuel for Gaza under a UN-brokered deal seeking to mitigate the severe energy crisis gripping the Palestinian enclave.

The majority of households in Gaza receive an average of three to four hours of electricity a day. The new funds would double that amount to around eight hours a day.

Israel hopes that alleviating one of Gaza’s worst electricity shortages in recent years will diminish the chances of full-blown military confrontation in the Strip, Haaretz said.

Abbas has contended that the PA should not be held financially responsible for the Gaza Strip where Hamas is in charge. He has, in the past, shown interest in reconciling with the terror group and returning PA rule to the coastal enclave. However, Abbas has refused to do so unless Hamas disarms — a condition that the Islamist group has shown no interest in accepting.

But a number of Arab governments have objected to Abbas’s desire to choke off Hamas in Gaza, concluding that such a measure would lead to a spike in violence.

In addition to Qatar, Egypt has also acted to continue a flow of funds to the coastal enclave in efforts that have increasingly frustrated Abbas.

Also on Saturday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered Gaza’s fishing zones constrained due to the escalation of border violence along the southern frontier.

The fishing zone will be curtailed from nine to six nautical miles, the Defense Ministry said, following deliberations between Liberman and defense officials.

Hours prior, the IDF conducted controlled detonations of explosive devices hurled at army troops during the previous day’s violent protests.

Three Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, were reported killed and dozens injured as some 20,000 Palestinians took part in violent clashes Friday along the Gaza border, throwing hand grenades and trying to breach the barrier.

During the riots, the army said Israeli aircraft struck two Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip after Palestinians threw grenades and explosive devices at Israeli troops.

The large-scale protests came as Israel signaled it was rapidly losing patience and willing to go to war to stop the violence, while Gaza’s Hamas rulers vowed to push on with the confrontations.

Border riots, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have increased dramatically in recent weeks. They began as weekly events from late March through the summer, but appeared to slow as Hamas entered indirect talks with Israel aimed at a ceasefire.

As these talks have stalled, Hamas has increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence including during nighttime and early morning hours.

Both Israel and Egypt enforce a number of restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has worsened steadily, and Hamas’s reconciliation talks with the Palestinian Authority have broken down.

The clashes along the border, which Israel maintains are being directed by Hamas, have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers, and attempts to breach the border fence.

Gazans have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Thousands of acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.

At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during the protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.

Killing the Lavi

October 9, 2018

A lengthy and interesting article on the Lavi, Israel’s short-lived home grown fighter aircraft.

And I believe “Lavi” is Hebrew for “young lion”. So there you go.

Tracing the unintended consequences of the fateful 1987 cancellation of Israel’s largest single weapons development program

Image result for lavi aircraft

Thirty-one years ago, on Aug. 30, 1987, an Israeli cabinet voted to terminate Israel’s Lavi fighter program, ending the largest single weapons development effort in the history of the Jewish state. It was a narrow, party-line vote in a divided “national unity” Cabinet. As the story behind this airplane has receded into history and its memory has faded among the succeeding generations, its broader meaning and significance to Israel’s national security has likewise been largely lost. The consequences of decisions not fully understood at the time that they were made will so often be visited upon the generations that follow. For the Lavi, the implications behind this program, and the ripple effects of its cancellation, continue to cast waves across Israel’s strategic standing even to this day.

The genesis of the Lavi has its origins in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War. In the weeks and months leading up to and following that war, Israel’s traditional arms suppliers in Europe would halt the flow of weapons to the Jewish state. This is a reality that the current generation, in both Israel and the United States, may find difficult to fathom: a time when there was no “special relationship” between the United States and Israel. The supply of Mirage fighters and Saar 3 missile boats from France, as well as a secret agreement for the supply of Chieftain main battle tanks from the United Kingdom, would all be suspended. It was out of this bitter experience that Israel’s leadership placed a renewed emphasis on the development of an indigenous Israeli arms industry—both to provide a safeguard against future interruptions in the supply of weapons and spares, and also to better respond to the unique and specific requirements of Israel’s armed forces.

It was from these initiatives that such Israeli weapons programs as the Shafrir and later Python air-to-air missiles were launched, as well as the Gabriel family of anti-ship missiles, the Saar 4 missile boats, the Merkava main battle tank, as well as the Nesher and later Kfir family of fighter-bombers. Moreover, while the United States would eventually step in as Israel’s benefactor and primary source of arms, subsequent delays and suspensions in U.S. arms deliveries would only serve to reinforce the value of an indigenous Israeli arms manufacturing capability. This occurred in 1975 for example, when the United States suspended the delivery of jet warplanes to Israel as a pressure tactic during negotiations for Israel’s withdrawal from the western Sinai. This was but the first of many incidents, whereby the supply of weapons would be tied to concessions in Israeli policy. These domestic arms capabilities could never fully insulate Israel from future arms embargoes. However, they could and did help to blunt the impact of shorter-term policy squabbles as the United States became Israel’s sole major supplier of arms.

It is in these terms, of course, that the story of the Lavi is most often related: Israel Aircraft Industries (today’s Israel Aerospace Industries) was charged in the latter 1970s to develop concepts for a new indigenous fighter-bomber to replace the earlier Kfir. This effort culminated in the launch of the Lavi fighter program in February of 1980—a program that was eventually canceled following the budget crises and deep defense cuts of the mid-1980s. And there is a certain truth to this narrative. IAI’s fighter-manufacturing capability was indeed developed as an outgrowth of the 1967 weapons embargoes, which had left deep scars among many in Israel’s military and political leadership. But there were also profound, underlying objectives at play, shaping the kind of warplane that was being built and the significance behind it.

Beginning in the latter 1960s, the Israeli arms industry had been charged not only with providing an Israeli alternative to foreign arms, but also with responding to the unique and specific needs of Israel’s armed forces. Despite superficial similarities between weapons of the same variety, Israel’s unusual strategic position also meant that Israel’s war planners would have their own specific needs in mind. It is here that the narrative behind the Lavi program continues to have the broadest implications for Israeli policy makers today.

Where possible, the IDF has historically sought to modify foreign weapons systems to meet its own specific requirements. Taking advantage of existing production lines—whether for aircraft or warships or submarines, was usually far less expensive than developing a new major weapons platform on their own. Only where this was not possible or where no similar capability existed elsewhere did an indigenous Israeli weapons system become the preferred alternative. During the 1960s, for example, Israel had contracted France’s Dassault—the manufacturer behind the Mirage III fighter that then formed the backbone of Israel’s air force—to develop a specially configured, air-to-ground version of the airplane known as the Mirage V. The Mirage V increased the airplane’s available weapons stations from three to seven and increased the airplane’s maximum bomb load from 2,000 to 9,260 pounds (from 910 to 4,200 kilograms). It also added an extra 110 gallons (420 liters) of fuel capacity to the airplane. It was only when the French government embargoed deliveries of these Mirage fighters to Israel that the Israeli government exercised clandestine means to acquire the blueprints for the fighter’s Atar engine and proceeded to manufacture the airplanes, and their engine, in Israel as the Nesher fighter-bomber. This manufacturing experience became the basis for the subsequent Kfir fighter program, which further increased the airplane’s range and payload. Similarly, the Israeli government concluded that modifying the existing U.S.-developed F-16 fighter jet would have been the preferred alternative toward meeting Israel’s fighter-bomber needs in the 1980s and ’90s. In 1977 the Israeli government proposed that Israel be allowed to assemble locally 200 copies of the airplane in Israel. Local production would have allowed the aircraft to be modified to meet specific Israeli strike-fighter requirements. At the time, the F-16 was already being co-produced at assembly plants in Europe, so the Israeli proposal was not without precedent. Moreover, the F-16 would later go on to be manufactured in South Korea and Turkey, and Japan would produce an advanced derivative of the airplane years later labeled the F-2. It was only after these proposals to locally produce the airplane in Israel had been rejected—once in 1977 and again in 1980—that the Israeli government authorized the launch of the Lavi program. The Lavi was therefore meant to be a substitute not for the F-16, but for an F-16 modified to meet Israel’s specific needs.

Foremost among the realities that Israeli war planners have long had to address has been Israel’s lack of strategic depth—in both territory and manpower. This bitter reality has meant that Israel’s military doctrine has of necessity come to emphasize offensive tactics: carrying the war to the enemy and away from Israel’s population centers as quickly as possible. Range and payload capacity was already being emphasized in Israeli fighter-bombers at a time when much of the world still saw fighter jets as being primarily air-to-air instruments of war. The adage of “not a pound for air to ground” was still being widely professed as a religion within the U.S. Air Force, at a time when Israeli weapons engineers were being tasked to further expand the air-to-ground repertoire of the Mirage-derived Nesher and subsequent Kfir fighter jets. Moreover, Israel’s lack of depth in terms of manpower has also meant that Israel would forever remain extraordinarily sensitive to casualties. For a nation so small, this was a strategic reality, not merely an expression of sentiment. It was not merely a question of the value that Israeli society might place on the lives of individual soldiers. Israel had no vast manpower reserves to call upon. Trained soldiers—and pilots in particular—were a commodity that could not be so easily replaced.

These were the realities that would forever shape the design and development of Israeli weapons systems. During the 1970s, for example, at a time when other national armies were emphasizing increased firepower or increased mobility in their new main battle tank designs, Israel was developing the Merkava with an emphasis on crew protection. Virtually every other tank to come out of the latter 20th century would place the crew compartment in front of the engine, to afford maximum visibility and hence mobility on the battlefield. The Merkava, in contrast, would place the crew behind the engine, so that if its armor was ever pierced it would be the engine that was sacrificed and not the crew. It was the beginning of an armored design philosophy that lives on to this day, with the introduction of ever-improved armor for successive models of the tank, and more recently, with the deployment of the Trophy missile defense system for the Merkava Mk IV.

This same set of priorities and emphases came to be seen in the design of the Lavi. Although the airplane would have a lighter empty weight than its nearest American counterpart, it would incorporate an avionics package that was 80 percent larger by weight than that afforded by the earlier F-16A. Most of this difference would be absorbed by the Lavi’s sophisticated, Israeli-developed electronic countermeasures (ECM) package, intended to shield the airplane from opposing surface-to-air missiles. Israeli developers had become renowned for their electronic warfare expertise, ever since the U.S.-supplied ECM systems of the early 1970s had so utterly failed Israeli pilots during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. For an airplane such as the F-16, however, which had never been intended to incorporate a countermeasures package of this breadth, adding so many new subsystems would have necessitated that they be incorporated externally, in pods. The Lavi in contrast was intended to incorporate this entire ECM package internally—freeing up space under the wings for additional weapons. Also unlike its U.S.-developed counterparts, the Lavi was expected to take the fight deep into enemy territory when called upon. The airplane would boast an unrefueled combat radius in a hi-lo-hi strike mission of some 1,150 nautical miles (2,130 km), some 50 percent greater than the Block 40 F-16C, all packaged into an airframe with an empty weight that was 20 percent lighter than its American counterpart. This range capability was the difference between an airplane that could only just barely stage an air strike on a nuclear reactor outside of Baghdad, and a platform with the ability to strike targets in Iran. Once again, the Lavi was an Israeli answer to uniquely Israeli challenges.

The design of the Lavi therefore reflected Israeli weapons development priorities, not those of a foreign supplier. As a consequence, canceling the Lavi has left Israel’s future weapons planners with a gap in both their options, and their bargaining position. In many respects, this has proven to be the deeper, more enduring impact from canceling the program.

As a bulwark against suspensions in foreign arms supplies, the Lavi would have been an imperfect defense. Some 40 percent of the airplane’s components were expected to be sourced from U.S. suppliers. Everything from the engine, to the composite wings, to the fly-by-wire computer, to the actuators that moved the control surfaces, were all developed and produced by U.S. manufacturers. This had been done to allow the Lavi to take advantage of U.S. military aid, but also to minimize the development cost for the airplane. Where possible, the Lavi had utilized off-the-shelf technologies and subsystems, rather than attempting to recreate them.

Contrary to the impressions promoted by many of the program’s detractors, development costs for the Lavi were actually quite reasonable given the ambitious objectives behind the aircraft. An assessment performed at the time by the U.S. General Accounting Office (today’s Government Accountability Office) projected that the entire Lavi development effort—including all design, prototype and flight-test activities—was expected to cost no more than $1.9 billion in 1985 dollars. To put this into perspective, the U.S. Navy’s original F/A-18 development program had totaled some $3.38 billion in equivalent 1985 dollars. Similarly, translated into 1985 dollars, Japan’s F-2 fighter, developed as a stretched derivative of the existing General Dynamics F-16, would total some $2.31 billion in development expenses. The Lavi had been a bargain in contrast. The development team behind the program had succeeded in controlling costs in large part by utilizing off-the-shelf components and technology where appropriate and devoting any all-new subsystem-development efforts to those technologies and features that would truly provide a tactical advantage.

Where the Lavi fell vulnerable was not in the capabilities that it delivered, nor even in the development costs behind it, but in the unit delivery costs associated with such a small production run. The unit cost of a complex weapons system such as the Lavi will be highly sensitive to the number of aircraft being procured. As originally proposed in 1980, a total of no less than 300 Lavi fighters were expected to be delivered to the IDF. As assessed by the U.S. GAO, the unit fly-away cost for the Lavi was expected to total $17.8 million in 1985 dollars, on the basis of a 300 aircraft production run. This compared favorably to the $16.9 million fly-away cost projected for an F-16C fitted with an avionics package derived from the Lavi. For a relatively small increase in unit cost, the Lavi offered a significant performance advantage in terms of range, payload and survivability. As the Israeli defense budget was successively cut throughout the mid-1980s, however, the projected aircraft buy had to be slashed accordingly. On a 150-aircraft purchase, the unit fly-away cost of the Lavi was expected to increase by 55 percent. And at the cabinet meeting where the Lavi was ultimately canceled in August of 1987, the opponents of the program would quote the unit cost for the aircraft on the basis of an even smaller, 80-aircraft purchase—ensuring that it appeared even less attractive.

To remain a viable alternative, the Lavi’s proponents would have needed a plan that would increase the total aircraft production run to something closer to the 300 aircraft envisioned at the program’s inception. This was not, however, as unlikely of a scenario as it might seem at first glance. There were relatively few prospects for major export sales of the Lavi abroad, but there was a very real possibility for marketing additional airplanes to the program’s other partner nation: the United States. Nearly half of the Lavi was already intended for manufacture at U.S. facilities. This was part of the reason why the application of existing U.S. military assistance to help fund the Lavi had been endorsed by President Ronald Reagan in November 1983, and was subsequently approved by the U.S. Congress. In the words of Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., who had been instrumental in gaining approval for that funding, “The aircraft could have both the Star of David and the Stars and Stripes as its insignia. It is a joint venture in a very real sense with a number of American aerospace companies directly participating.” Moreover, the Long Island-based Grumman Corp.—which had produced the F-14 and A-6 fighter and attack aircraft for the U.S. Navy, and which had designed and built the composite vertical tail and wings for the Lavi—had signed a contract for exclusive rights to set up a parallel, U.S.-based final assembly line, from which to offer the Lavi as an alternative for the U.S. Air Force. At the time, the USAF was exploring options for a lightweight strike aircraft—a role for which the Lavi would have been ideally suited. After the Lavi was canceled, the USAF would eventually purchase some 271 Block 50/52 F-16CJ aircraft to fulfill the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) or “Wild Weasel” air-to-ground mission. These aircraft would be delivered between 1991 and 2001—precisely when the Lavi was expected to be in production. It was an opportunity that could very well have heralded the sales needed to bring the Lavi unit costs into alignment with its original goals—and would have delivered the U.S. Air Force a strike aircraft that had been designed for the mission from the first day, not as an added-on afterthought. This opportunity, of course, was lost when the program was canceled in August 1987.

In the immediate aftermath of the Lavi cancellation, Israel Aircraft Industries laid off more than 4,000 employees, including over 1,500 engineers. To put the magnitude of this event into perspective, for the United States to have had a layoff of similar magnitude in proportion to its population, over 220,000 aerospace workers would have had to lose their jobs. This erosion in experienced manpower would continue to cripple Israel’s aerospace industry in succeeding years, as Israel’s defense budget continued to dwindle. IAI would go from a total work force of 22,000 in 1987 to fewer than 14,000 by 1994. To this day, Israel’s aerospace sector has never completely recovered, with an IAI work force of just over 16,000 as of 2013.

This, then, has been the enduring legacy of the Lavi cancellation. It’s not merely the loss of an indigenous manufacturing capability, but more importantly of the capacity to posit an Israeli alternative that would meet Israel’s unique requirements. In the absence of an Israeli industrial capability today, Israel’s air force has struggled to find a balance that will meet its future fighter-bomber needs over the next 30 years. On the one hand, Israel has been the first foreign customer to take delivery of the United States’ new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as well as the first air force anywhere in the world to deploy the stealthy F-35 in operational roles over hostile air space. Israel has already taken delivery of the first 12 F-35 aircraft out of a total of 50 aircraft on order. Despite this seeming success, however, the IDF has reportedly prioritized the purchase of 20-25 additional, non-stealthy F-15I fighters-bombers to overcome the payload and range limitations of the supposedly superior, stealthy F-35. Israeli officials have been seeking alternatives for several years now, to extend the effective range of the F-35 and make the airplane more relevant to a potential showdown with Iran. They have been looking for the kind of range needed to reduce the burden on Israel’s small fleet of midair refueling tankers, the kind of unrefueled strike radius that existing Israeli F-15I platforms—as well as the Lavi—could already deliver.

According to persistent, published reports, Israeli attempts to develop and integrate conforming fuel tanks into the F-35 have been met with resistance by the U.S. developers of the airplane. Adding attachment points and plumbing for such fuel tanks, without compromising the airplane’s low observable characteristics, would require significant design modifications. This has been compounded by a refusal to allow Israel to fully integrate an Israeli avionics suite into the new airplane. Past generations of aircraft, including the F-15s and F-16s delivered in decades past, have been heavily modified by Israeli developers to incorporate Israeli mission computers, sensors, and navigation systems. Under the F-35 program, however, only the communications gear, and those electronic warfare systems that can act as stand-alone packages installed within the confines of the weapons bay, have been permitted. Lockheed Martin, the U.S. developer of the F-35, has little incentive to be more forthcoming in this regard. As a stealth platform, the F-35 is the only game in town for the foreseeable future. The air-to-air oriented F-22 stealth fighter was never offered for export—to Israel or anyone else. The F-35 has been a take it or leave it proposition.

The aircraft that the IDF truly needs is neither the F-35 nor the F-15I—but one that would combine the low observable characteristics of the F-35 with the range and payload capabilities of the F-15I. Unfortunately, no such aircraft exists today, nor is there an alternative that Israeli industry could hope to offer. Developing a complex platform such as a fighter jet requires a combination of design skills and experience that Israel’s aerospace industry was purged of in 1987. Recreating that pool of talent and experience would require a supreme national effort.

The value of having such a design alternative—even if it is never fully utilized in production—was not foreseen by the politicians and strategists that advocated canceling the Lavi more than 30 years ago. It has not, however, been lost on strategic planners elsewhere in the world. In the 1990s, for example, the British government funded the development of a full-scale, stealth fighter airframe under the code name of “Replica.” This program not only demonstrated that British industry could produce its own stealth fighter design if called upon to do so, but also ensured that the U.K. was afforded a unique position when they agreed to forego their own development effort and instead became a partner in the U.S.-developed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. To this day, the U.K. is the only foreign F-35 customer that is authorized to perform its own repairs on the airplane’s stealth coatings and features. All other customers, including Israel, are required to return damaged or worn components to a U.S.-managed depot for repair or replacement. More recently, the Japanese government has been funding the flight test of their own subscale stealth fighter prototype labeled as the X-2 Shinshin. The demonstrator aircraft first flew in April 2016. This past July, the Japanese government was briefed on a unique opportunity to participate in the development of an F-22/F-35 hybrid, featuring an airframe derived from the stealthy F-22 air superiority fighter, with an avionics suite derived from the more recent F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. An opportunity that could only materialize, of course, if Japan chooses to cancel any follow-on development program that might have grown out of the X-2 demonstrator. For both the British and Japan, having the ability to prototype some or all elements of an advanced fighter jet can often buy its way into influence over the eventual shape and design of a multinational fighter jet program that would otherwise never have been afforded.

The story behind the Lavi is a broad and complex tale. Many contributed to making it into the extraordinary technological accomplishment that it was: a more survivable platform, with a strike radius that far outstripped what its diminutive size might have suggested. It was an airplane that delivered a uniquely Israeli answer to overcome uniquely Israeli strategic challenges. Many others contributed to its eventual demise. The tale of these people, the tale of this aircraft, could fill a volume in and of itself. Indeed, it already has. But whether that decision was right or wrong, Israel’s war planners and Israel’s industry will today have to face the future with the consequences of a decision made more than 30 years ago.

“We Try to Learn Every Terrorist Attack”: Inside the Top-Secret Israeli Anti-Terrorism Operation That’s Changing the Game | Vanity Fair

October 9, 2018

Source: “We Try to Learn Every Terrorist Attack”: Inside the Top-Secret Israeli Anti-Terrorism Operation That’s Changing the Game | Vanity Fair

Governments around the world are quietly turning to YAMAM, Israel’s special police force, for help with their most intractable security problems. And now, elite commandos publicly reveal the tactics that have made it one of the most fearsome counterterrorism units in the world.
Tel Aviv, Israel. December 2017. YAMAM rappellers simulate retaking a skyscraper from terrorists.
Video still by Adam Ciralsky.

On a spring evening in late April, I traveled to a fortified compound in the Ayalon Valley between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The location is not identified on Waze, the Israeli-built navigation tool, and so, as far as my app-addled cabdriver was concerned, it does not exist. Then again, the same could be said for its inhabitants: YAMAM, a band of counterterror operatives whose work over the last four decades has been shrouded in secrecy.

Upon arrival at the group’s headquarters, which has all the architectural warmth of a supermax, I made my way past a phalanx of Israeli border police in dark-green battle-dress uniforms and into a blastproof holding pen where my credentials were scanned, my electronic devices were locked away, and I received a lecture from a counter-intelligence officer who was nonplussed that I was being granted entrée to the premises. “Do not reveal our location,” he said. “Do not show our faces. And do not use our names.” Then he added, grimly, and without a hint of irony, “Try to forget what you see.”

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YAMAM is the world’s most elite—and busiest—force of its kind, and its expertise is in high demand in an era when ISIS veterans strike outside their remaining Middle East strongholds and self-radicalized lone wolves emerge to attack Western targets. “Today, after Barcelona,” says Gilad Erdan, who for the past three years has been Israel’s minister for public security, “after Madrid, after Manchester, after San Bernardino—everyone needs a unit like YAMAM.” More and more, the world’s top intelligence and police chiefs are calling on YAMAM (a Hebrew acronym that means “special police unit”). During his first month on the job, recalls Erdan, “I got requests from 10 countries to train together.”

I made my way to the office of YAMAM’s 44-year-old commander, whose name is classified. I am therefore obliged to refer to him by an initial, “N,” as if he were a Bond character. N’s eyes are different colors (the result of damage sustained during a grenade blast). His shaved head and hulking frame give him the vibe of a Jewish Vin Diesel. At his side, he keeps an unmuzzled, unbelievably vicious Belgian shepherd named Django.

Near Tel Aviv, Israel. March 1978. The aftermath of a bus assault by P.L.O. guerrillas, which claimed the lives of 37 Israelis and wounded 71.

Photograph by Shmuel Rachmani/AP Images.

Last fall, Israeli officials agreed to provide Vanity Fair unprecedented access to some of YAMAM’s activities, facilities, and undercover commandos. When I asked N why his superiors had chosen to break with their predecessors’ decades of silence, he gave an uncharacteristically sentimental response: “It’s important for operators’ families to hear about our successes.” (Field “operators,” as they are called, are exclusively male; women sometimes serve in intelligence roles.) N does not discount less magnanimous reasons for cooperating, however.

First, YAMAM has devised new methodologies for responding to terrorist incidents and mass shootings, which it is sharing with its counterparts across the globe. (More on this shortly.) Second, Israel, as an occupying power, faces international condemnation for its heavy-handed approach toward the Palestinians; as a result, some top officials evidently felt it was time to reveal the fact that governments—including a few of Israel’s more vocal critics on the world stage—often turn to them, sotto voce, for help with their most intractable security problems. And last come the bragging rights—perhaps the unit’s most meaningful rationale.

YAMAM, it so happens, recently won a bitter, 40-year bureaucratic battle with Sayeret Matkal, a secretive special-forces squad within the Israel Defense Forces (I.D.F.). Sayeret Matkal was formerly the ne plus ultra in this realm; indeed, Vanity Fair, in an article published right after the 9/11 attacks, called the group “the most effective counterterrorism force in the world.” It counts among its alumni political leaders, military generals, and key figures in Israel’s security establishment. And yet, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Sayeret Matkal veteran, had to quietly designate one unit to be the national counterterror A-team, he chose YAMAM over his old contingent, which specializes in long-distance reconnaissance and complex overseas missions.

Netanyahu’s decision, supported by some of the prime minister’s fiercest foes, had all the sting of President Barack Obama’s selection of the navy’s SEAL Team Six (over the army’s Delta Force) to conduct the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. YAMAM is part of the national police force—not the military or the Mossad, which is Israel’s C.I.A., or the Shin Bet, the country’s domestic-security service, which is more akin to Britain’s M.I.5. And yet, in recent months, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has blurred some of the lines between these agencies’ duties. YAMAM’s primary focus involves foiling terror plots, engaging militants during attacks, combating crime syndicates, and blunting border incursions. In contrast, the military, in addition to protecting Israel’s security, is often called upon to respond to West Bank demonstrations, using what human-rights activists often consider excessive force. But as Hamas has continued to organize protests along the fence that separates Israel and Gaza, I.D.F. snipers have been killing Palestinians, who tend to be unarmed. What’s more, Hamas has sent weaponized kites and balloons into Israel, along with mortar and rocket barrages, prompting devastating I.D.F. air strikes. While members of the YAMAM have participated in these missions as well, they have largely played a secondary role.

Off and on for a year, I followed N and his team as they traveled, trained, and exchanged tactics with their American, French, and German counterparts on everything from retaking passenger trains to thwarting complex attacks from cadres of suicide bombers and gunmen firing rocket-propelled grenades. YAMAM’s technology, including robots and Throwbots (cameras housed in round casings that upright themselves upon landing), is dazzling to the uninitiated. But so are the stats: YAMAM averages some 300 missions a year. According to N, his commandos have stopped at least 50 “ticking time bombs” (suicide bombers en route to their targets) and hundreds of attacks at earlier stages.

“I’ve been out with the YAMAM on operations,” John Miller, the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, told me in his office, a few blocks from the World Trade Center. “There are a lot of outfits that have a lot of knowledge and do a lot of training, but that’s different from a lot of experience.” He pointed out that for every terrorist attack in Israel that makes the news, there are 10 that are prevented by YAMAM acting on perishable intelligence provided by Shin Bet.

Avi Dichter agrees wholeheartedly. After serving in Sayeret Matkal, he joined the Shin Bet and in 2000 rose to become its director. He now chairs the Committee on Defense and Foreign Affairs in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. For years, he admitted, counterterrorism officials shared only a portion of their most sensitive intelligence with covert operatives, out of fear of its being compromised. Now, Dichter says, YAMAM representatives sit in Shin Bet’s war room to ensure they have the full picture. “It took us a long time to understand that you can’t keep information from the unit you’re asking to perform a mission, because what they don’t know may undermine the entire operation.” When I asked him how he would describe the unit to outsiders, he said, “YAMAM is a special-operations force that has the powers of the police, the capabilities of the military, and the brains of Shin Bet.” They are, in effect, the spy agency’s soldiers.


The N.Y.P.D.’s Miller, for his part, claimed U.S. law-enforcement agencies benefit from YAMAM’s successes. A former journalist, who once interviewed bin Laden, Miller maintained, “You can learn a lot from the YAMAM about tactics, techniques, and procedures that, when adapted, can work in any environment, including New York. It’s why we go to Israel once or twice a year—not just to see what we’ve seen before but to see what we’ve seen before that they’re doing differently. Because terrorism, like technology—and sometimes because of technology—is constantly evolving. If you’re working on the techniques you developed two years ago, you’re way out of date.”

Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security, concurs: “We have a lot to learn from [Israel—YAMAM in particular] in terms of how they use technology as a force multiplier to combat an array of threats. Over the last 15 years, we at D.H.S. have partnered with them on almost every threat.”


“I saw a few Hollywood movies about fighting terrorism and terrorists,” N said. “But the reality is beyond anything you can imagine.” Back in the States, I trailed him and his entourage, who met with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Enforcement Bureau, as well as New York City’s Emergency Service Unit, which falls under Miller. “Terror organizations used to take hostages because they wanted to achieve a prisoner exchange; now they’re trying to do something different,” N observed, remembering a bygone era when terrorism was a violent means of achieving more concrete political ends.

The conventional wisdom for how to deal with fast-moving terrorist incidents has evolved over time, most notably in hostage situations. Since the 1960s and 70s, first responders have sought to establish a physical boundary to “contain” an event, engage the perpetrators in dialogue, draw out negotiations while formulating a rescue plan, then move in with a full team. Similar principles were adapted for reacting to kidnappers, emotionally disturbed individuals, and mass-casualty incidents.

But over the last 20 years—a period that dovetails with N’s rise from recruit to commander—he and his colleagues have come to treat terror attacks the way doctors treat heart attacks and strokes. There is a golden window in which to intervene and throw all their energy and resources at the problem. While units in the U.S. have tended to arrive on the scene, gauge the situation, secure a perimeter, and then call in specialists or reinforcements, YAMAM goes in heavy, dispatching self-contained squadrons of breachers, snipers, rappellers, bomb techs, dog handlers, and hostage negotiators. Metaphorically speaking, they don’t send an ambulance to stabilize a patient for transport. They send a hospital to ensure survival on scene. Moreover, they establish mobile units with clear lines of authority, not an array of groups with competing objectives. These teams can rove and respond, and are not unduly tethered to a central command base.

“The active shooter changed everything,” John Miller elaborated. Nowadays, the terrorist or mass murderer isn’t interested in negotiations or even survival. “He is looking for maximum lethality and to achieve martyrdom in many cases.” Because of this, the response teams’ priorities have shifted. The primary objective, said Miller, echoing YAMAM’s strategy, “is to stop the killing. That means to use the first officers on the scene whether they’re specialized or not. The other part is to stop the dying. How do you then set parameters inside as the people are chasing the threat, going after the sound of gunfire, engaging the gunman? How do you get to those people who are wounded, who are still viable, who could survive? American law enforcement has struggled with [this] since the Columbine case”—when responders waited too long to storm in. “We’ve got to get inside within 20 minutes. It can’t be within the golden two hours—or it’s not golden.”

Major O, the 37-year-old who commands YAMAM’s sniper team, explained that one of the unit’s signature skills is getting into the assailant’s mind-set. “We try to learn every terrorist attack everywhere in the world to find out how we can do it better,” he noted. “Our enemies are very professional, too, and in the end they are learning. They try to be better than us.”

To maintain its edge, YAMAM, after analyzing far-flung incidents, fashions its training to address possible future attacks. In the time that I spent with the operators, they rappelled down a Tel Aviv skyscraper and swooped into an office dozens of floors below, testing alternative ways that responders might have confronted last year’s Las Vegas attack in which a lone gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel fired more than a thousand rounds at concertgoers, killing 58. A YAMAM squad also spent hours on a dimly lit platform taking over a stationary Israeli passenger train—alongside members of France’s elite Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale. (The French had come to Israel, in part, to practice such maneuvers, evidently mindful of 2015’s Thalys rail attack, which recently found its way to the big screen in Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris). And at a telecommunications facility north of Tel Aviv, Israeli operatives simulated a nighttime mission with Germany’s vaunted Grenzschutzgruppe 9, facing multiple gunmen and explosions in all directions. Taking it all in, I felt like I had unwittingly been cast as an extra in a Michael Bay movie.

As they briefed their European guests, the YAMAM team preached its gospel of never allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. “To be relevant and to win this battle, sometimes you must go with 50 percent or 70 percent knowledge and intelligence,” N said. As he considered what his counterparts faced at places such as Orlando’s Pulse nightclub or the Bataclan concert hall, in Paris, N asserted that in today’s scenarios, unlike those in the 20th century, “we don’t have the privilege of time. You must come inside very fast because there are terrorists that are killing hostages every minute.”

Dimona, Israel. March 1988. The so-called Mothers’ Bus attack, in which three nuclear-research workers were executed by P.L.O. terrorists.

From Polaris.

The inside story of YAMAM’s genesis has not been told by its leaders, until now.

In 1972, during the Summer Olympics in Munich, members of the Palestinian group Black September kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli teammates. The cold-blooded attack—and Germany’s botched response—prompted Israel’s prime minister Golda Meir to initiate Operation Wrath of God, sending hit squads to track down and kill the group’s organizers and others (later depicted in Steven Spielberg’s Munich). And though it may have escaped public attention, a secret second directive would go forth as well, which ordered the establishment of a permanent strike force to deter or defeat future attacks.

This mandate would not be realized until two years later, after terrorists sneaked across the border from Lebanon, killed a family of three, and took over an elementary school in Ma’alot with 105 students and 10 teachers inside—hoping to negotiate for the release of their brethren held in Israeli prisons. Sayeret Matkal raced to the scene and mounted a disastrous rescue attempt. Twenty-one students perished. Addressing the Knesset, Meir exclaimed, “The blood of our children, the martyrs of Ma’alot, cries out to us, exhorting us to intensify our war against terrorism, to perfect our methods.”

Following the attack, counterterrorism responsibilities—especially the delicate art of hostage rescue—shifted from the I.D.F. to a new police unit, initially dubbed the “Fist Brigade” and, later, YAMAM. Chronically underfunded, ostracized by the military, and deemed an unknown quantity by the intelligence services, the unit was a backwater. That is, until Assaf Hefetz was put in charge. He was a well-regarded I.D.F. paratrooper with important friends, among them future prime minister Ehud Barak. Hefetz had supported the April 1973 operation in which Barak—famously disguised as a woman—infiltrated Beirut and killed several Palestine Liberation Organization leaders as part of Israel’s ongoing retaliation for Munich. Hefetz professionalized YAMAM, persuading skilled soldiers to join his new police commando unit—whose work was a secret to all but a handful of Israelis.

In May, I visited Hefetz, aged 74, in the seaside hamlet of Caesarea and found a man with the body of a 24-year-old and the hearing of a 104-year-old. Like many of his generation of Israelis, he speaks his mind without regard for how his words may land. “After 18 months, I had recruited and trained three platoons, and I knew that my unit was much better than the army,” he insisted. “But I was the only person in the country who thought so.” In due course, he found an eager partner in the spymasters of Shin Bet, who agreed to let YAMAM try its hand at the treacherous work of neutralizing suspected terrorists.

Still, it was Hefetz, personally, who first put YAMAM on the map. On the morning of March 11, 1978, armed guerrillas arrived on Zodiac boats from Lebanon, coming ashore near Haifa. Once inland, they encountered and murdered an American named Gail Rubin, whose close relative happened to be Abraham Ribicoff, a powerful U.S. senator. Next, they flagged down a taxi, murdered its occupants, then hijacked a bus. Traveling south along the picturesque coastal highway, they threw hand grenades at passing cars and shot some of the bus passengers. The attack was timed in hopes of disrupting peace talks between Israel’s prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

The rolling pandemonium came to a halt at a junction north of Tel Aviv. “When I arrived, my unit was [still] an hour away,” Hefetz recalled. The bus had stopped, but it was a charred wreck. “No one knows [exactly] what happened. Call it the fog of war.” Hefetz soon learned that some of the assailants had escaped on foot and were moving toward the beach. He grabbed his gun and gave chase, eventually killing two of them, capturing a third, and rescuing some of the hostages. In the process, he took a bullet to his right shoulder and lost hearing in one ear. The incident, known as the Coastal Road Massacre, claimed the lives of more than three dozen people. But Hefetz’s valor raised the question: given what YAMAM’s commander accomplished on his own, what could the unit as a whole do if properly harnessed?

The answer was a decade in coming, during which time YAMAM was bigfooted by Sayeret Matkal during its response to terrorist attacks. In the notorious Bus 300 affair, for example, Sayeret Matkal commandos stormed a bus to rescue hostages and claimed it had killed four terrorists when, in fact, two had survived. The pair were turned over to Shin Bet operatives, who, a short distance away, murdered them in cold blood. The debacle and its aftermath, which disgraced Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom—who had ordered the on-site assassinations and then tried to cover it up—left an indelible stain on Israel’s institutions and international credibility.


In 1987, Alik Ron, a man with deep credentials and a devil-may-care attitude, took over YAMAM. He had served in Sayeret Matkal and participated in the legendary 1976 raid on Entebbe, in which an I.D.F. team stormed a Ugandan airport and successfully freed more than 100 hostages. “I was in our most elite units and took part in the most celebrated mission in our history,” said Ron, who in retirement has become a gentleman farmer. “Only when I was put in charge of YAMAM did I realize I was in the company of the most professional unit in Israel.”

And yet when he first addressed his men to say how proud he was to lead them—describing all the great things they would accomplish together—they broke out laughing. Apparently, the operatives were fed up with being highly trained benchwarmers, always left on the sidelines. Ron persevered nonetheless. And he is withering in his assessment of his old unit (Sayeret Matkal) and its overseers. “Nobody, nobody, not the head of Shin Bet, not Mossad, not the prime minister, can give me an order [to kill terrorists after they have been captured]. He can get me an order, but I will do like this,” he said, lifting his middle finger. “I will not murder them. I will have already killed them in the bus.”

Ron soon got the chance to try things his way. In 1988, he learned that three terrorists had crossed in from Egypt and hijacked a bus full of working mothers on their way to Dimona, the epicenter of Israel’s top-secret nuclear-weapons program. As Ron raced toward the Negev Desert to link up with his team, he saw CH-53 Sea Stallions on the horizon heading in the same direction. Pounding his fist on his dashboard and unleashing a stream of expletives, Ron recalled, he screamed, “Sayeret Matkal . . . again?!

Ehud Barak was on one of those helicopters, a man who would go on to hold virtually every position in Israeli officialdom—prime minister, defense minister, commander of the armed forces, and head of Sayeret Matkal. Recalling his first encounter with YAMAM 30 years ago, Barak, now 76, expressed astonishment at how Ron and his team had somehow managed to arrive ahead of Sayeret Matkal’s helicopters, raring to go. “We asked them what they brought with them,” Barak recalled. “It ended up they brought everything which was needed for taking over the bus. So we let them do it.”

Israeli-Egyptian border. August 2011. Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak (gesturing) visits the scene of a deadly jihadist incursion.

From the Israeli Defence Ministry/Getty Images.

According to David Tzur, who was a major at the time and would later take over as YAMAM’s commander, the so-called Mothers’ Bus incident was a turning point because it showcased the unit’s speed, judgment, and agility. “We were called to the field at 7:30 in the morning,” he said. “Before we arrived, [the attackers] had killed three hostages.” At around 10:30, the team’s snipers shot two of the attackers while other YAMAM members stormed the bus and shot the remaining assailant. “No hostages were killed during the operation,” Tzur proudly recalled. Israel’s national-security apparatus—including skeptical I.D.F. generals—took notice and recognized that when it came to counterterrorism they had a scalpel at their disposal instead of blunter instruments. “I don’t believe that anyone has a better unit,” Barak observed. “They are kind of irreplaceable.”


Lately, YAMAM has gotten used to terror’s new face: extremists intent on inflicting maximum carnage with maximum visibility. “I’ve been in dozens of operations and many times under fire, [facing] many terrorists and suicide bombers,” N admitted. “But the [one] I remember more than all the others is the terror attack on the border in the Sinai Desert.”

It was August 2011, six months after the Arab Spring ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak—and three years before ISIS formally declared its caliphate. YAMAM, tipped off by Shin Bet that a large-scale attack was imminent somewhere along Israel’s southern border, dispatched one squadron and a sniper team by helicopter. They waited through the night before getting word that shots had been fired at a bus, injuring passengers inside. A family of four, traveling the same highway, was ambushed and slaughtered. “This group of ISIS-Salafi jihadists that came from the Sinai Desert, they were a different challenge for us,” N said of the 12-man death squad. “We know from intelligence that they received training abroad. They were proficient with weapons, grenades, explosive charges, [and even] had handcuffs to kidnap people.” They also brought cameras to film their handiwork.

N, who was a squadron commander at the time, was fired at twice as his YAMAM team arrived on the scene. In the skirmish, one militant detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and a bus driver, and, N recalled, “a terrorist shot a surface-to-air missile at one of our helicopters, but it missed.” Two gunmen were spotted crossing the highway. One was killed in an exchange of fire while a second took aim at a passenger vehicle, killing the driver. By midafternoon the scene seemed to be under control, and Pascal Avrahami—a legendary YAMAM sniper—briefed his superiors, including then defense minister Barak. A short time later, shots rang out from the Egyptian side of the border. Four YAMAM operators scrambled for cover, and in the frenzy a 7.62-mm. round hit Avrahami above the ceramic body armor covering his chest. The sniper, a 49-year-old father of three, had been killed by an enemy sniper, who simply melted back into the desert.

I joined N this past April at Mount Herzl, the final resting place of many of the nation’s fallen warriors. It was Israel’s Remembrance Day, a somber holiday when life and commerce grind to a halt. On this day, N spent time with Avrahami’s parents at their son Pascal’s grave, embracing them and reminiscing about his outsize role in the unit. (The previous evening, as the sun descended, squad members had stood in the courtyard of the YAMAM compound, having refreshments and trading stories. Family members of slain commandos were taken inside a darkened shooting range where their loved ones’ holographic images were projected in midair. The scene was otherworldly but somehow appropriate for this secretive, high-tech cadre.)

On this Remembrance Day, N mourned the loss of his friend, whose 24 years of service made him YAMAM’s longest-serving member. But he stopped at one point to stress that his team is focused less on the past than on the future: “We know the enemy will always try and do something worse, something bigger, something extraordinary that they never did before. And for this scenario we are preparing ourselves.”