Tuesday, December 08, 2009

An ‘Inside Tour’ with a Counterterrorist Operation

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu Inside Look at Counterterrorism

It is 2 a.m. in Beit Omar, an Arab village near Hevron and on the main highway between Hevron and Jerusalem, where passing Jewish vehicles are favorite targets of Arabs hurling rocks and firebombs. Their aim is not just to shatter windows but to cause a fatal accident.

Put on a protective vest and helmet and join a frightened IDF spokeswoman, under the command of Major “D,” who accompanied soldiers on “routine” counterterrorist operations. They usually end with 10-12 arrests of suspects and arms and explosives used to attack Israelis, and this particular operation was no different.

All of the soldiers, stationed in Gush Etzion under the command of Colonel Aran Makov, are drilled to remember the secret code for a sudden call to chase and arrest terrorists. Col. Makov tries his hand at humor: “They [terrorist run so quickly, once I was left with only a torn shirt in my hand.”

Soldier “Stas” offers his own comical reassurance: “The worst that can happen to you is a rock attack,” and then takes a jab at the IDF spokeswoman, armed with a camera. “We feel like a Paparazzi is chasing us,” he jokes.

(Picture: Explosives found in Arab home) The soldiers get through the bitterly cold night with Turkish coffee and lots of patience. Another soldier, who escorts the spokeswoman, orders her not to move an inch without orders from Major D. She appears so afraid that the orders probably were superfluous.

“The unending tension seems to ‘drain the batteries,'" the spokeswoman reported, “but the soldiers say they are used to it.”

The troops arrive at the first house of the pre-dawn operations in Beit Omar. Three knocks on the door, and a light appears in the window.

“Who is there?” asks a man in Arabic. The soldier answers in Hebrew, “The army.”

The father wipes his eyes as he opens the door, and the wife looks out the window and sees her house surrounded. Pictures on the wall indicate there are four people in the family. Two youths, about 14 years old and with frozen faces, are told to sit on the sofa. The father coughs while his wife exchanges looks with the deputy company commander, who speaks Arabic.

After five soldiers check the house for evidence, Major D asks the parents for their identification card and gives part of it, with the names of the children, to one of the boys under arrest.

“This is the most dangerous part of the operation,” reveals Major D. “We have to keep alert to prevent a stabbing from one of the occupants of the house. We also do not handcuff the child in front of the parents.”

The parents probably do not know why their son is being taken into custody, and Major D tells the father it is a “routine arrest.” He tells the spokeswoman that he does not explain to the father because “we are afraid that they will beat the child if they know the truth.”

More arrests

The soldiers break the tension on the way to the next house, where intelligence reports indicate there may be weapons. “Why didn’t they bring sniffing dogs,” asks soldier Yossi. Lev laughs in response, “We are in place of the dogs.”

Major D orders silence. Small flashlights at the end of the soldiers’ rifles light the way to the door of the house, where 10 people live. “Check everything and go through everything thoroughly,” Major D orders.

They search clothes, toys and kitchen utensils and then carefully check the plants in the house. The result: a small knife, an IDF hat and binoculars and slingshots, probably used for rock throwing attacks on Jewish vehicles.

In order to prevent any accusations of theft by the IDF, the soldiers ask the parents to put all of their money and valuables on the table in the living room. Suspect are taken into custody for questioning.

Mission accomplished, and the soldiers go to the next several houses, rounding up suspects and explosives that were hidden in a plastic pipe. The soldiers’ joking prediction of a rock attack came true. Rocks were thrown at the soldiers from one open window, but there were no injuries.

It is now 5 a.m. “When was the last time you took a trip through an Arab village at 5 a.m.?" Major D asks. "Wasn’t that a real experience?”

The soldiers return to their base for a good morning’s sleep. During the counterterrorist operations, 15 suspects were arrested, including five in Beit Omar.

Several nights later, the same soldiers arrested one terrorist north of Beit Omar after discovering six explosives and four firebombs in a house. Each explosive weighed slightly more than two pounds.

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