Police Counterterrorism Unit Gets Green Light to Operate Outside of Israel

Elite Yamam unit will also be expanded in face of terror threat from north and south.

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Members of the Yamam special police unit demonstrating their abilities during a visit by PM Netanyahu.
Members of the Yamam special police unit demonstrating their abilities during a visit by PM Netanyahu.Credit: GPO
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The police force’s elite counterterrorism unit, Yamam, will be expanded and authorized to operate outside of Israel’s borders.

The unit’s mandate will be changed by law to authorize it to operate anywhere “the government of Israel sees fit,” whether within Israel’s borders or beyond them, and it will be beefed up by an extra company — about 100 people — in light of the threat of terrorist infiltrations along both the southern and the northern borders.

“For 40 years, Yamam fighters have protected Israel’s citizens,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a recent ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the unit’s establishment. “It’s an elite unit, one of the best in the world, which is one of the pillars of Israel’s security. Yamam’s fighters operate in the shadows, but they bring a great deal of light to Israel’s citizens.”

In January, Netanyahu ordered the Israel Police and the National Security Council to set up a joint task force to update the mandate of the counterterrorism unit. The panel was co-chaired by Eytan Ben-David, head of the NSC’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, and Deputy Police Commissioner Nissim Mor.

Netanyahu told the task force to draft plans that would turn Yamam into a national unit that could be deployed wherever the government saw fit rather than only inside Israel.

In practice, the counterterrorism unit already conducts some operations inside Palestinian Authority territory, if the army and the Shin Bet security service send it in.

The task force has decided to give the police unit priority in conducting certain sensitive operations. Additionally, in the case of large-scale missions involving more than one unit, it has decided that Yamam, whose members Netanyahu has described as “warriors who act out of a sense of mission,” should have operational command.

These proposals are opposed by some of the army’s elite units. However, those units don’t necessarily conduct the same kinds of operations as Yamam.

The new mandate envisioned for the police counterterrorism unit is the reason for its expansion, which will enable counterterrorism officers to deploy more widely at a time when Israel faces threats from both south and north.

Yamam is currently commanded by one of the police force’s most highly regarded officers, who has led the unit to many successes and can be identified only as Brig. Gen. S.

Over the past year, the unit has killed Mohammed Assi, who planned a bus bombing in Tel Aviv during Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in November 2012; caught the murderer of police Commander Baruch Mizrahi, who was shot in his car in the West Bank on the way to a family seder; arrested Hussam Qawasmeh, who confessed under interrogation to having ordered the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in June; and killed three terrorists in the Jenin refugee camp during an operation to arrest a wanted man.

But the unit wasn’t involved in any operations during this summer’s war in Gaza. Instead, its teams were deployed in communities near the Gaza border in preparation for the possibility that terrorists might try to infiltrate them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, visits the police force's Yamam counterterrorism unit in January 2014.Credit: Haim Tzach/GPO

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