CORRECTION: I write below that a top-secret Aman unit has never been referred to in the Israeli or foreign media. Thanks to a number of Israeli readers who pointed out it has been mentioned by name once in the Israeli media, though no report has ever revealed what its mission is or that it engaged in assassinations beyond Israel’s borders. That is exposed here for the first time.
Even in the midst of the National Security State obsessed with secrecy, you can’t button down every secret. Israeli Likud former MK Carmel Shama HaCohen has inadvertently exposed the existence of a top-secret military intelligence unit. It’s so hush-hush it’s never been named before either inside Israel or in the foreign media. Until this report, no one knew what it did.
Shama Ha-Cohen reveals in his Knesset website what he worked in Aman, the IDF military intelligence department. He served there in a group that was called the “special unit for counter-espionage and special investigations” (היחידה המיוחדת לסיכול ריגול וחקירות מיוחדות). As is usual for Israeli spookery, this is spy lingo that euphemizes the real nature of what the group did. “Special investigations” means it engaged in, among other things, foreign assassinations. Until now, no one has ever reported that this Aman group engaged in such operations outside Israel (though Sayeret Matkal, another Aman unit, is known to have done so). But an authoritative Israeli source confirmed to me that this is the case. When I asked whether operations “abroad” meant only in frontline states like Lebanon or Syria; or whether it reached as far as Iran, he hinted this was the case, though he refused to confirm it explicitly.
This is an astonishing lapse by MK Shama Ha-Cohen. It would be as if G. Gordon Liddy announced before Watergate was exposed that he was a member of the White House plumbers on his personal website. It’s also extraordinary that the military censor didn’t discover this major security breach. It goes to show you that information simply wants to be free. All attempts to suppress it will fail. If not now, then eventually, the truth will go free.
As an aside, MK Shama Ha-Cohen used to be just MK Shama. But he grew disgusted with being confused with a Druze, since Schama can also be a Druze name. Other MKs were praising him for identifying as a Druze so thoroughly with the Jewish people. He was also quizzed about relations in the Arab sector and got sick and tired of it. God forbid a red-blooded Jew should be confused with an Arab. Not to mention that it would cause suspicion and mistrust among his Likud compatriots to be considered Druze. So he changed his name legally to Shama-Ha-Cohen to prove his Jewish bona fides.
None of this helped in during the last election cycle when he was demoted on the Likud list. He did not enter the new Knesset and will not unless someone dies, becomes seriously ill, or goes to prison–any of which are distinct possibilities.
Returning to Shama Ha-Cohen’s Aman unit, its veterans have described themselves as men who never existed, with no past and no future. They live completely in the shadows and cannot tell their wives or children what they do.
Their activities have become public knowledge recently due to an acrimonious dispute between them and the defense ministry. Though much of the dispute is shrouded in secrecy, the veterans demanded that the ministry honor a clause in their contracts that demanded a budgetary outlay of some sort. Their lawyer noted that the dispute had something to do with the health conditions that resulted from their service. The Treasury Ministry balked at the expense, claiming that the original agreement with the Aman personnel was illegal.
To publicize their plight, they hired an attorney and organized protests outside the Kirya (Israel’s Pentagon). Since they weren’t allowed to show their faces in public, they dramatized their story by hiring models in bikinis to hold signs. On another occasion, they hired six super heroes to carry placards demanding that Bibi and Barak honor their promises to them.
In the Yediot article I summarized above, the lawyer for the unit mentioned that one of the professional specialties of his clients was “killer,” confirming the claims of my own source.
All I can say is that the buttoned down ways of Israeli intelligence past are slowly breaking down. In the past, such spooks would never have broken ranks. And perhaps past governments wouldn’t have dared betray them as this one has. After all, loyalty ain’t what it used to be.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.