חשיפה: המועמד לפקד על מערך המבצעים המיוחדים של אמ”ן (ולשקם אותו אחרי כשלון הפעולה בעזה) הוא תא”ל אביהוד בן-ארי, לשעבר נספח צה”ל באיטליה
Several months ago, I violated Israeli military censorship to report on the death of a senior officer in Israel’s élite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal. He’d been tasked with planting spy devices inside Gaza. Due to major intelligence failures, his undercover unit was interdicted by a local Hamas patrol. The Israelis fought their way out of their predicament, killing nearly 20 Palestinian militants, thanks to a daring helicopter rescue which saved them from being killed themselves.
Hamas boasted of its success in exposing the undercover operation, and disseminating pictures of all the IDF participants via social media. It was also proud of its fighters who defended Gaza and killed Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kheireddine. The IDF is used to operating with virtual impunity wherever it wishes in the region, was taken aback by the exposure of its methods, spy gear, and faulty intelligence. As a result, the Israeli military censor desperately sought to suppress all information about the attack. It even pressured social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to censor images of the IDF soldiers. My Facebook account was suspended temporarily and images removed from my feed.
Another example, of this failure is the fact that the unit was impersonating an actual Gaza NGO which provided wheelchairs and prosthetic devices to Palestinians wounded by IDF attacks. Thus, the IDF was sabotaging the legitimate humanitarian work of the NGO, and endangering the lives of the workers engaged in this critical work. In doing so, Sayeret Matkal’s “cover” violated the norms of international humanitarian law. No Israeli media outlet could report this freely until well after the operation ended. By then, it was hardly newsworthy. The result of all this censorship was that neither Israelis nor the world understood the gravity of Israeli failure of both military operations and humanitarian protocols.
I argued then that this was a preposterous corporate example of both overreaction and obsequiousness to the Israeli military apparatus. In any democratic nation, when the military engages in a disastrous exercise in which its troops are needlessly killed, the public’s right to know becomes paramount. Even surpassing the need to protect the identities of the soldiers on the mission. How else can the public judge whether the military is performing its function properly? History offers scores of examples of nations which trusted their militaries, refused to dissent, and were led to disaster: Nazi Germany, WWII Japan, and the U.S. during the Vietnam War.
Even the Israeli military has tacitly admitted to significant failures of this operation. I for one am not content permitting the army echelon to evaluate such a major failure in isolation; since the army always has protecting its image as its primary concern–even greater than examining mistakes and learning from them. Thus, what Facebook did was a major violation of free press and free speech. It violated the platform’s relationship with its users and the norms of democratic society. It was a shameful episode of caving to Israel’s national security apparatus.
In the aftermath of the Gaza fiasco, heads rolled. The commander of Sayeret Matkal was dismissed. The identity of the officer promoted to replace him was also suppressed under military censorship largely to protect them from future prosecution by the International Court of Justice. But I reported then that he was Col. Yonatan Rom.
The commander of the special operations AMAN (military intelligence) unit which provided the faulty intelligence to the unit which infiltrated Gaza was also cashiered. His unit supports Sayeret Matkal operations involving planting listening devices in enemy territory). We only know that initial of the fired officer as “H” (or “Ch”). Now, the IDF has named a new commander of the AMAN unit. Israeli media have only reported his initial, “A.” But an Israeli sources informs me that he is Brig. Gen. Avihood Ben-Ari. In an unusual circumstance, he is coming out of military reserve status to return to active duty.
Ben-Ari has a prior history of taking command of failed or rogue units and returning them to functional performance status. Several years ago, the IDF dismantled its Unit 504 interrogation squad in the aftermath of the infamous Captain George rape incident. The army assigned Ben Ari to restart it on a sounder basis.
Clearly, the IDF had no faith in the officers within the AMAN special operations intelligence unit and refused to promote one of them to take on the job. That’s why it went outside the chain of command and brought in an outsider, Ben Ari. Before taking up the assignment to relaunch Unit 504, he was defense attache in Italy (this military assignment is also under military censorship).
Several years ago, I also reported the secret location of the HQ of AMAN special operations intelligence unit. This too is prohibited under military censorship.
“In doing so, Sayeret Matkal’s “cover” violated the norms of international humanitarian law.”
Didn’t the United States under President Obama use a fake Pakistani polio vaccination program to gain entree into Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad?
Richard. Would you be so fast to reveal the indentities of the secret Navy Seal Six team that killed Bin Laden?
You are a journalist. Would you have revealed the indentities of the Seal team that accidentally killed a Western aid worker in Afghanistan during rescue mission?
Richard Silverstein says
@ Eunice: A nifty piece of whataboutism. But this doesn’t work on me since I’m not a defender of U.S. foreign or counter-terror policy. I never supported the murder of Osama bin Laden and certainly wouldn’t support using medicine as a means toward assassination. That’s Israel’s MO and shouldn’t be the MO of any democratic state believing in the rule of law.
As for exposing U.S. covert military personnel: if they were engaging in assassinations you bet I’d expose them if I could.
I also find is amusing that you seem to believe that I come up with the material I report on my own. How do you think I learn about these stories? They don’t spring from my mind. But from people who care about press freedom, freedom of information, and accountability for the military-intelligence apparatus. I only know these stories because of their own concern as good citizens.
“As for exposing U.S. covert military personnel: if they were engaging in assassinations you bet I’d expose them if I could.”
But the Israeli covert operatives you’ve helped expose were NOT engaged in an assassination. The Israeli operatives you helped expose were involved in a passive intelligence gathering that went awry.
And no Richard, I don’t think you would expose the identification of any United States covert military personnel, because than you’d go to prison.
So please stop posturing.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Eunice: Don’t be friggin’ naive. Why do you think Israel’s most elite commando unit invades Gaza? To host birthday parties? That “passive intelligence gathering” you portray was an operation designed to intercept all communications inside Gaza including that of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and probably the entire civilian population. So why did they want this information? To send Yahya Sinwar a birthday card? Nope, sorry. They wanted it to trace Palestinian political and military operations, and plan Israeli interdiction, including assassinations if and when necessary.
Please don’t pretend to be naive. You know what Israel has done to Palestinians. Don’t pretend that anything Israel does in Gaza is “passive” or harmless or benign. There is nothing benign about Occupation.
Then you have no idea who I am. If I had the name of any of the SEAL Team 6 assassins before the Bin Laden operation and had known they intended to murder him in cold blood, I would’ve exposed them in a heartbeat, including going to prison for it. But I would not expose the name of someone who was not engaged in crimes and violations of international law.
Don’t you dare tell me what to do, say or think. Try something like this again and you’ll be have a very rough landing at Ben Gurion (inside joke).
[comment deleted: comments must contain a substantive argument directly related to the post. Yours didn’t.]
Robert Donner says
When the saints go marching in…
Munzer Morrar says
[comment deleted: I don’t much like Muslim triumphalism, just as I don’t like Jewish triumphalism. Please don’t abuse any religion in this fashion.]
Munzer Morrar says
This article is about editing reality isn’t it. As was done back in the day. Who else is good at deception?
@Yoni: So you side with fascists, killers, authoritarians and dictators as the true and realistic leaders of our world. Good to know what your real world perspective is.
Just my view on the general situation. Israel is a country threatened with extermination on a constant basis like no other country and you are not helping with its defense by exposing names. If I were in a position as dangerous as that of Israel, I will resort to anything to survive.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Timothy: Israel is not threatened with extermination on a constant, intermittent or ever basis. The threats it faces are no more or less than many other countries. My purpose here is not to defend Israel or any other country. My purpose is to analyze Israeli policy and determine whether it is in Israel’s best long term interest.
Israel already resorts to anything and everything not in order to survive, but in order to impose its will on its enemies. That is what’s gotten it into the predicament it now faces.
YOu clearly know very little about Israel except what you’ve read in some propaganda manual or media outlet. I suggest a lot more study and reading before you venture opinions that were popular in the 1960s and have no relation to Israel of today.