Back when I was syndicating, I forgot to add this one:
Israel: Missions of Shin Bet Special Operations Unit Viewed
"Dipped His Head in Blood"
by Amit Navon
April 11, 2003
[FBIS Translated Text] A certain Palestinian terrorist who operated
from one of the West Bank villages in the 1980's was generally considered
a tough nut to crack. Shin Bet investigators tried unsuccessfully to
break him under interrogation. To uncover the information in his
possession about the terror organizations became the number one
assignment. However, arrests and interrogations notwithstanding, the man
never lost his cool.
At that point, the Shin Bet operations unit stepped in.
First, its members studied the daily routine of the "subject." After
a considerable period of time spent in following him and gathering
information, they came up with an idea on how to trip him up.
In a complicated move, the Shin Bet arranged for the man to be in a
certain place on a certain day. At the appointed time, the Palestinian
was walking along a dirt track; he had no idea that the Shin Bet had
arranged for IDF roadblocks to isolate the scene of events.
An unmarked car containing members of the operations unit wearing
kaffiyehs stopped in front of the man. Two agents climbed out and pushed
him into the rear seat, the car radio loudly playing Arab music all the
while. After the initial shock wore off the Palestinian tried to speak,
but was silenced by the masked men seated in front and on either side of
him. "Silence, traitor," one of them barked, "You are working with the
Zionists!" The stunned Palestinian, fearing he would be killed by the
unidentified terrorists who had accused him of being a collaborator,
hastened to tell them of his exploits as a hero of the Palestinian people
and of his ties with the arch-terrorists.
"This is just one small example of what the operations unit does,"
says Danny Bar, one of the men in the car. "The wilder your imagination,
the better the operation. You could call this the Matkal [an IDF elite]
reconnaissance unit of the service."
Of all the Shin Bet units and departments that shy away from public
knowledge, ranging from the Jewish division to the prime minister's
personal bodyguards, the operations unit has most managed to maintain its
There is a clear division of work in the various branches of the
service. "The professional units deal with the various spheres: Arabs,
the USSR, the Jewish division; all of them carry out operations," Bar
notes. "Their people don't go out into the field to operate; they work in
their offices or meet with agents, each according to his sphere. Once it
is decided that an operation is needed in a specific sphere, it is passed
on to the operations unit."
The unit caries out an extensive range of operations, from tailing
individual terrorists to spying on complex operations. Bar's years of
experience as a field man have helped him to write his new book "Shahid"
[martyr]. The book describes a situation where hollow bricks filled with
explosives, concealed for a terrorist pickup, were emptied out by the
unit and refilled with sand. It is enough to recall how the Shin Bet
"dealt with" the M16 rifle belonging to the Kahalani brothers from Qiryat
Arba, who had planned to kill the Palestinian Zayyad Shami, to realize
that such descriptions rest on solid ground.
[Bar] In this unit you never know ahead of time when your job is
due to start or when it is over. You set out at a moment's notice. You
could be seated around the table on Seder night and the phone might ring:
'Danny, someone has just arrived at the airport; he needs to be tailed.'
And then you are caught up in that for two weeks.
The unit has plentiful means at its disposal and is provided with
just about everything it asks for. I could say that I need a semi-trailer
truck for an operation, or an Arab taxicab -- not just one but several,
with a different cab waiting for me at two-hourly intervals, for a patrol
I am conducting in a refugee camp. You could really go wild; the
extraordinary becomes run of the mill. [end Bar]
Gambles With His Life
To say "extraordinary" is putting it mildly when you listen to Bar's
stories of the unit's clandestine activity; when in a matter of fact
manner he describes how he was almost killed in the Nabatiyah market,
with the muzzle of a Kalashnikov rifle digging into his stomach and a
howling mob surrounding him, you feel as if this is part of an espionage
"We learned that the commander of a terrorist gang was expected to
leave Beirut and make his way to Nabatiyah to meet with a terrorist we
were following," Bar recounts. "They were supposed to meet in the market,
and I found myself a spot to watch them from there. I sat in a cafe and
waited. I had been in the unit for about six years by then and was pretty
much a veteran. I began to sense that something was wrong. The air around
me thickened; my surroundings sent out bad vibes. I radioed the man in
charge that I was leaving. I left the cafe, came to another street
corner, and sensed a movement close by. I decided to get out of there.
Less than a minute later I spotted from the corner of my eye a man armed
with a Kalashnikov approach, and suddenly he dug it into my stomach and
backed me against the wall. There must have been thousands of people in
the market, and they began to close in on us. Nabatiyah is a small town
of extremely devout Shiites. Everyone was yelling, I had this cocked
rifle sticking into my stomach and I realized that it would only take a
second for my life to be over. I had to decide what to do; so I had to
"I tried to speak, but he was angry and shouted: 'I do the talking
here,' and prodded me even harder with the rifle. I said to him in
Arabic: 'I am with the IDF,' since, even if he were a terrorist, he would
presumably wish to take me prisoner, which would give the rescue team
time to do something. My problem was that I could not alert the rescue
team as I could not speak or use my radio. But when I said that to him he
sort of flinched and said: 'I am with the Christians. I'm sorry. You can
go.' 'No way,' I told him, 'not with what's happening around us; keep
walking, grab hold of me and tell them that you are going to kill me in
Luckily for me, everyone around me was yelling and no one else
heard what I had said. But he did take hold of me then, and the rescue
team spotted me being led away with my hands in the air. I could hear the
commotion in my earphone, the orders how and from where to fire, and I
realized that they would start shooting in our direction at any minute. I
managed to say 'stop!' at the very last moment and they realized that
things were OK. The guy released me, and we made arrangements to pick him
up for questioning that evening. When we met later on he said to me:
'You dress like a Palestinian, you walk around the market in Nabatiyah
that is crowded with Shiites; what did you think they were going to do?
Someone called us and said that a Palestinian had been seen in the area
and was planning a bombing attack. I came to kill you. I never intended
to start negotiating with you. You Israelis will never understand
Prays With Muslims
Undercover actions similar to that in Nabatiyah became part of the
unit's expertise long before the IDF formed the Duvdevan and Shimshon
units. The actions were conducted mainly in the Palestinian territories.
Bar, with his oriental features and his Jerusalem-accented Arabic, moved
through the casbahs, local schools, hospitals, and even entered the
mosques, a single Jew among hundreds of worshippers, kneeling with them
and piously praying to Allah.
[Navon] Did you ever overdo it?
[Bar] You frequently give yourself away in very minor ways. I had
several sets of clothing; for Gaza, for Nabulus, each set adapted to the
small disparities that exist between the regions. But when you enter a
village, the inhabitants can tell straightaway that you are foreigner.
All you need is go to the village center and enter a cafe. All eyes are
on you and you need to make some sort of immediate gesture explaining
that you are trying to conceal your foreignness; you begin to chatter,
you play the game, and they calm down. But in almost every case someone
will come up to you and ask for the time, to listen to your accent.
Once when I was working undercover, I was seated on a bench on an
avenue leading into Rafah. Perhaps my disguise was not too good; anyway,
a man came up to me and asked me in Arabic: 'What time is it, sir?' No
Arab will say 'sir ' to a fellow-Arab, only to a Jew. To be addressed as
'sir' means that you are not from these parts; besides, he was wearing a
watch and did not really want to know the time.
[Navon] What was your reply?
[Bar] I didn't reply. I made a sort of 'go away' movement with my
hand, but I got out of there fast as it was obviously a place where they
The surveillance we did in the territories was quite different from
that in Tel Aviv. When you follow someone who is walking along Gordon
Street in Tel Aviv, someone else is following him on Frishman Street and
a third on Ben Gurion Blvd, and we all move parallel to the subject. But
when I followed someone in the casbah in Nabulus I stayed close, 20 to 30
meters behind. If you are discovered in the casbah, no one will come to
your rescue. You cannot make yourself heard on the radio because of the
surrounding noise. When you go in there, it's one on one.
[Navon] It sounds really scary.
[Bar] It is, but you don't dwell on it. You know it's dangerous but
acceptable, that's all there is to it.
But one incident that happened to the British caused genuine fear.
It happened in Ireland about 20 years ago. Two British sergeants
attending a Catholic funeral in Belfast were stuck and unable to get
away. People climbed onto the roof of their car, ripped it open with iron
bars and removed them by force. One of the sergeants foolishly fired his
pistol in the air. The two were lynched by the mob and their bodies
burned. As an undercover agent, I could not help cringing when I saw it
on television; it was hair-raising and you realize that it could happen
[Navon] Does the unit carry out liquidations in the territories?
[Bar] Now when you look at all the operations that are carried out,
they are modeled on the unit. But the operations people are not alone;
they lead and guide the army. True, you become bogged down sometimes and
then you need to shoot. In 1980, a handler named Musa Golan was attacked
by one of his Fatah sources, Bassam al-Habash, during one of their
meetings. Al-Habash threw pepper in his eyes and stabbed him to death
with a knife. The hunt for him began, the kind of hunt the service knows
how to mount. Not like in the movies, when you see a long line of men
with dogs checking the terrain. You wait. The key word is patience. We
set up an entire operation intended to bring the killer to a certain
place. That day, en route to the operation, we ran into him by chance in
the Balatah refugee camp near Nabulus. It was ten o'clock at night, and
everything was dark. Suddenly we spotted him walking towards the
rendezvous.. We closed in on him in an unmarked car. He knew he was a
wanted man and he fired immediately, without hesitating, using Musa's
pistol, a .45. I think he was able to get off six shots before we killed
him. [end Bar]
Surveillance in Tel Aviv
For many years the Shin Bet has had to focus its attention on the
struggle against Palestinian terror, but one of the service's original
and important tasks was to uncover foreign spies. The unit was assigned
to the task of physical surveillance of intelligence agents who had been
infiltrated into Israel. It is strange to think of the crowded cafes and
noisy streets of Tel Aviv serving, unbeknownst to the public, as a
backdrop to intelligence operations.
[Bar] Tel Aviv is a city for spies. It is central and has all the
commercial action and the foreign journalists. One very popular cafe near
Tel Aviv's He Be'Iyar square is an Israeli intelligence stronghold.. They
start their surveillance and training exercises there; everything begins
with a meeting in that cafe.
Assignments of that kind are very sensitive. The slightest mistake
could bring the whole team down. Take a simple situation: You are
following someone along Dizengoff Street and he enters a store. When he
leaves, he starts walking towards you. If you are inexperienced, this
could upset and confuse you. For instance, people suddenly and
instinctively duck their heads, feeling it makes them more inconspicuous.
The biggest joke that, as it happened, took place during a training
exercise, not an operation, was when someone ducked down, 'dropped where
he was' as you do in army training. He simply dropped into a crouch in
the middle of the street. He was a member of an elite reconnaissance unit
and was just acting on instinct. If a foreign agent had seen that, he
would simply have disappeared from sight.
Sometimes the unexpected happens even if you have thought of
everything. On one occasion we entered the apartment of a spy to
photograph certain papers. We checked the place out, rang the doorbell,
and no one answered. We went in, and then we suddenly saw the cleaning
woman Later we discovered that she was deaf and had not heard the
doorbell. Her back was turned to us and luckily she heard nothing as we
closed the door behind us and left. [end Bar]
Women are also active in the operations unit alongside the men, and
they form an important part of the surveillance teams. "The girls do the
exact same jobs as the men. We were years ahead of the IAF [Israel Air
Force]; it took them far longer to accept women for their pilot training
courses; the same things are required of the girls; the same drills.
Sometimes working together makes for amusing situations. You frequently
change outfits during surveillance. For instance, a girl could be
following a foreign spy, wearing a school uniform, shirt, shorts, and
sandals, her hair braided. She can follow him dressed that way for about
20 minutes, but then she is out of the game. She dashes to the car and
often unthinkingly takes off her shirt and changes into a different
outfit. And you wonder whether to look in the rear mirror or not. There
was one funny incident on Gruzenberg Street in Tel Aviv. I was on
lookout and the girl in my team wanted to change her clothes and take off
her trousers, so she dashed into a backyard close by. A little boy
happened to be passing, holding onto his mother's hand. All of a sudden
he saw the girl, undressed from the waist down. He simply could not turn
his head away and kept on staring at her until, bang, he walked into a
wooden post. [end Bar]
Surveillance frequently entails long hours of waiting. But it also
has certain "pluses." "There was a Cypriot journalist, Paskalis
Panayotis," Bar says, "who was spying for the terrorists and was
subsequently sentenced to five years in prison. He spent most of his stay
in Tel Aviv at the Merkaz cinema, watching pornographic movies. Some
member of the surveillance team was always faster than the rest,
informing us: 'That's OK. I'm already inside.'"
After more than a decade spent in the operations unit, Bar felt that
he had exhausted his capabilities. Therefore, in a move rare in the Shin
Bet, he underwent special training and began to run, or "handle,"
operatives. According to the allocation of work in the Israeli
intelligence community, the military 504 unit is responsible for running
agents in countries bordering on Israel; the Mosad runs agents abroad,
and Shin Bet recruits its agents in Israel and in the territories. But as
early as the 1970's the Shin Bet had also requested permission to run
agents overseas. This blurring of boundaries caused a fair amount of
disputes with its colleague, the Mosad.
[Navon] Why did you request a transfer from operations to running
[Bar] After spending 19 years in operations, it is wise to move
on. Everyone realizes that. Age also comes into it. To run, or handle,
agents you need to be more mature, with experience in life. It is totally
different from operations, where you try not to make contact with people.
I was fascinated by the psychological aspect of recruiting and running an
agent; the complexity of the human mind. After all, an agent operates
counter to his values, his society, and, at times, his family. Some of
them can live with that, even if it pains them, and some actually carry
out attacks while working with us, telling themselves: We will go on
working with the Israelis, but we will get them another way.
I had one agent whose recruitment process went on for two years.
There was some unclear problem with his behavior. He explained why he
had enlisted in the first place and said to me: "Look, my father is
really hard on me, always humiliating me. When I got a 5 grade in math,
he said: 'You are nothing, you are worthless; I was the class genius.'
When I dated the prettiest girl, he said she had no breasts, nothing."
This agent was no child, he was a man of 40. He told me that he had
visited his father's grave on the day he enlisted and cursed him and then
added: "You may have been better in everything than I was, but you were
not a Mosad agent." He thought that he was working for the Mosad;
everything is Mosad where they are concerned. It was the complex
relationship with his father that motivated him, not Israel or ideology.
Other agents, considered the black sheep of their families, covet the
special Mosad aura. We have also held staged ceremonies to bestow IDF
officer's rank on an Arab agent belonging to a terror organization, to
make him feel honored. Klingberg has also spoken of being made a colonel
by the Russians. These are familiar methods.
[Navon] Your book mentions a strange situation where a handler of
Shin Bet agents talks with an agent about the need to evacuate
[Bar] As the handler, you are at one end and the agent is at the
other end. You need to help him bridge the gap, help him feel that what
he is doing is not all that bad, that we are both fighting for peace. We
both want the same thing. You can tell him whatever you like, provided it
sounds right. I had one young fellow who ran agents; he was working with
a likely candidate and it takes a long time, a year or even two years of
playing him along until you can actually recruit him. This fellow told
his recruit about himself; he said his parents had perished in the
Holocaust. That was ridiculous, because he was too young to be the son of
Holocaust victims. It's all a matter of experience; it's the little
things that count.
[Navon] You wrote about one Israeli handler who was familiar with
all the tiniest details, such as Palestinian slang.
[Bar] That is a true story. One of our handlers encountered a
Palestinian and asked him about himself, who he was, from where, and so
on, and the Palestinian answered in Arabic that he was a 'muhandas
shawari' which literally means 'road engineer.' The handler recommended
recruiting the man as an agent, noting that he was obviously educated and
had a profession. He did not know that 'muhandas shawari' is the term
used to refer to people who are unemployed and spend their time roaming
the streets. [end Bar]
Cocktails With the Queen
Bar, 48, joined the Shin Bet in May 1977 following his military
service with the Golani Brigade. He was one of a small group of 10
trainees beginning their training for the operations unit, not knowing
what duties would be assigned to them. Following a long course of
training that included surveillance, photography, undercover work, and
other intelligence activities, he became an active member of the
During that period, he was involved in almost every espionage
incident that reached the headlines. Bar took part in the operations that
uncovered Vanunu, the 'atom spy'; Prof. Marcus Klingberg, the KGB agent
who worked at the Israel Institute of Biology in Nes Ziyyona; as well as
less famous names such as a Nigerian colonel from the UN peacekeeping
forces, Alfred Gum, who smuggled suitcases packed with explosives from
Lebanon into Israel for the terrorists. Another spy exposed by Bar and
his unit was Styg Bergling [as transliterated], a member of the Swedish
Secret Service who headed the Soviet desk of the service's
counter-espionage section. The Shin Bet discovered that Bergling was
himself working for the Russians. He was arrested and extradited to
After eight years with the unit, Bar took a course of Middle East
studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he met his wife
Ne'ama. After his service in operations Bar moved on to become a handler
himself. In 1995 he and his family moved to Caracas, the capital city of
Venezuela, where he served as the embassy's security officer. After two
years in that violent place, the family moved to London, where he was in
charge of security for all Israeli institutions. In London he also met
the top members on the "liquidation target list" in the course of a
special evening planned by the British Secret Service for the VIP's it
was guarding. Thus Bar found himself having intimate cocktails with Queen
Elizabeth, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the famous Salman Rushdie.
He retired in 2000. The vacuum left following his 25 years in the
service prompted him to write. His book, "Shahid" [Martyr], which
appeared this week, was written during that time. It describes a Shin Bet
pursuit of a group of suicide bombers who were planning to detonate
themselves at a peace rally in Rabin Square, and it contains genuine
experiences and incidents from the years of Bar's service. The censor
banned 40 pages of the book; another book he wrote was banned altogether.
Writing fulfilled him and Bar was enjoying his retirement until he
came across a small newspaper ad to the effect that the Ben-Shemen Youth
Village was seeking a director general. Born in Tiberias, Bar had gone to
school in Ben-Shemen as a boy. He decided to close the circle and,
together with his wife and three daughters, has been managing and living
in the village since July 2001.
Madness in the Beirut Hills
He did not start a family until the stormy chapter in his
operational activities was behind him. During his first years with the
unit, it was difficult to plan ahead, not knowing what the next day would
bring. During the Lebanon War he received a call from his commanding
officer, Ehud Yatom, ordering him to pack a bag sufficient for two days
and sending him to Beirut. He returned from there six weeks later.
He worked with another operations man. They were provided with a
villa in Bhamdun overlooking Beirut. "I still recall the surrealistic
paintings on the walls. We would return to the hills from the city; the
Phantoms would appear as the sun was setting in the background, and we
saw the fires blazing in Beirut as if we were watching a movie," he says.
The assignment was extremely compartmentalized. No one in the
service knew what the two were doing. The then-chief of the Shin Bet,
Avraham (Avrum) Shalom, was personally in charge of the action.
"We would go down to Tel Aviv for debriefing and re-briefing and
then drive back up into Lebanon. Those trips were madness," Bar recalls,
"until Avrum decided to come to us by helicopter. Once he asked us to
take him on a tour of the area where we were operating. At the time
Beirut was still divided into two zones and the terrorists controlled the
western part of the city. We used an unmarked car and drove to the port
area. We drove through narrow streets until we reached a grocery shop
that was filled with sand, blocking the road. Suddenly Avrum said: 'Turn
right here.' We looked at each other and I said: 'Avrum, if we make a
right here we will no longer be in our area.' I was practically
stammering, because Avrum was crazy; we were scared of him. Every shout
of his made us jump. The guy with me repeated that this wasn't our area,
but Avrum said: 'I know this area like the palm of my hand.' We turned
right and a second later we heard the 'ping' of sniper bullets hitting
our fuel tank. And then, with total indifference, Avrum said: 'I guess
things have changed since my time; better back up.'"
Bar speaks of Avraham Shalom with admiration, observing that Shalom
had greatly furthered the unit's operations.
"Avrum was an operational genius, but he was totally crazy and
unpredictable. One day I was driving past Tel Aviv University and saw
Avrum in his 504 Jeep trying to overtake some lieutenant colonel driving
a Karmel Dukas [a now defunct Israeli car first allocated to IDF officers
in the 1960's]. The officer was blocking him because he had nowhere to
turn and then he stopped the car and got out. Avrum climbed out of the
jeep and I saw my chief on the verge of coming to blows with a lieutenant
colonel in the middle of the road; so we left our car and went to his
"A funny thing happened in Lebanon once. When I was not working in
Beirut with the unit, I also served there as an IDF reservist. We were
traveling in a convoy between Tyre and Sidon, when all of a sudden I saw
Avrum stuck in the middle of a huge traffic jam, his .22 in his belt,
vigorously directing the traffic in order to extricate his car. Around
him were masses of Lebanese trucks. I said to the soldiers in my vehicle:
'That's the chief of my service over there'; they laughed fit to burst
and did not believe me. He looked like such a dummy, standing there with
his shirttails half out, his hair over his eyes. They thought I was
Lesson of No. 300 Bus Affair
Eventually it was the unit he had nurtured for so long that was
involved the No. 300 bus affair and complicated things so badly for
Avraham Shalom. The unit's commanding officer Ehud Yatom and members of
his team fractured the skulls of the two captured terrorists.
"My heart grieves for Avrum. He was greatly affected by that. I
don't know where the truth lies in this story. I don't know whether he
had been given an order by [then Prime Minister] Shamir or not. Both of
them will take this secret to their graves."
[Navon] How did that affair appear from behind the scenes?
[Bar] Believe me, we were very naive; we had no idea of what was
going on. We were so preoccupied with our own affairs, and operations
were so extremely compartmentalized that we did not know what was
happening. We are all the best of friends and we sit in pubs and drink
beer for hours, and then I might say: 'I'm going to bed; I have to get up
early and go to work,' and it is obvious to my friends from the service
that I am not about to divulge the nature of the job. It's not about
being pompous, it's just ingrained so deeply in the unit.' That is why we
knew nothing of what had happened there. To this day I don't know exactly
what took place. All I know is what I read in the newspapers. We didn't
know what had gone on between Avrum and the other three in the room
(Peleg Rada'i, Re'uven Hazaq, and Rafi Malka, who had fought against
whitewashing the affair and demanded Shalom's resignation -- AN)
[Navon] Did the struggles of the service's top leadership have no
impact on the unit?
[Bar] For a very long time the service believed that it was above
the law. We are past that stage. We had a meeting with Shamir when he was
prime minister. After everything that had happened in the above incident,
he said something like: 'I expect you to do the things, but we cannot
always protect you.' One man from the unit got up and said: ' This is not
your private firm. If I were the owner of a grocery store I would realize
that I was responsible for it. But the responsibility in this case rests
with you. If it were illegal, I would not do it, so you have to back me
up.' But Shamir dismissed him with a few words, saying that it was OK and
that 'we all have great respect and affection for you.'
[Navon] Were you influenced by the clandestine actions in the heart
of the Palestinian territories?
[Bar] The power you have is sobering. You realize that it is
useless. OK, so we foiled yet another localized attack and killed another
Jihad leader, but it doesn't end, so what is the solution? True, you
can't suddenly lay down your arms and say that it's all over. But you
realize that power is not the solution; it has limitations. That is the
conclusion you reach after wandering around the refugee camps. I also
wrote the book at a time when it seemed that Baraq would sign a final
peace treaty with the Palestinians. I had to change the ending later.
History moves along a certain track; it seems that we need to dip our
heads in blood before we sober up.
[Description of Source: Tel Aviv Ma'ariv in Hebrew -- Independent, second
largest circulation Hebrew-language paper]
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