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.