Sexual Offense Case Reveals Lax Oversight of Elite Israeli Undercover Unit

Evidence of haphazard supervision in the unit, which specializes in deploying security forces posing as Arabs, was found in the case, which involved an officer convicted of committing indecent acts against a woman posing as his girlfriend

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Operation by an Israeli undercover unit in Bethlehem. The subjects have no connection to the content of the article.
Operation by an Israeli undercover unit in Bethlehem. The subjects have no connection to the content of the article.Credit: Abdelrahman Younis/Reuters
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The trial and conviction of a senior police officer in an elite Border Police undercover unit for indecent acts against a policewoman has revealed that the unit uses untrained female officers and sends them into the field without the knowledge of their commanders.

The conviction came in the case of an officer in the so-called “mista’arvim” unit of the Border Police, which deploys police posing as Arabs in areas with an Arab population. He and the policewoman were posing as a couple at the time.

Policewomen are deployed in such operations without any clear rules on the matter, the judge in the case found. The officer was convicted of sexual offenses against a 19-year-old policewoman who was doing her compulsory military service in the police. He has appealed his conviction and the appeal is currently pending.

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He was sentenced to 16 months in prison in connection with two separate incidents. The officer had asked the policewoman to pose as his partner in a purported undercover operation. The court found that he took advantage of her consent to commit indecent acts against her. The testimony at trial indicated that the unit’s undercover and unsupervised activities set the stage for the sexual offenses. The ruling in the case was cleared for publication at the request of Haaretz.

The policewoman’s army service involved work as a photographer whose job was to take pictures of training exercises in Border Police units. In early 2018, she was sent to photograph training exercises of the undercover “mista’arvim” unit. The defendant, the officer in the unit, told her that a good friend of his was managed a production company and could help her professionally. He asked if she was a good actress and offered to have her participate in the unit’s activities.

He told her that the operations included blending in as a “couple in love” in the field. After warning her that the operation had to remain confidential, the two set out for what he called a “secret operation” in a forest in central Israel. He then stuck his tongue into her mouth and caressed her buttocks and breasts. In a second incident, the officer offered to have her join an operation in which they would pose as a couple in a city in central Israel. In that case, he kissed her several times.

In his defense, the officer said that he committed the acts in the course of exercises that he organized to determine if she was appropriate to work in the undercover unit, although she had not been trained for combat or undercover operations.

The Israel Police declined to answer questions regarding the rules governing undercover units, but did say that the police “view acts with seriousness that don't comply with the norms expected of a police officer ....”

In the case of the officer in question, the police said that when the investigation was opened in March 2018, he was placed on leave and later suspended from his job due to the seriousness of the allegations. "Following his conviction and sentencing, the officer was fired from the force. The Israel Police act and will continue to act, to create a safe and dignified work environment to prevent sexual [harassment] in any form," the police said.

One of the main issues that came to light at trial was the practice of use of personnel posing as couples in undercover operations – and the role that women have played in those units. The evidence in court revealed that no regulations exist governing the matter.

“The issue of the ‘cover’ used by male and female combat personnel is not regulated through clear procedures, and the only known rule is that a female combat [policewoman] would not be required to do anything that she is not comfortable with,” Judge Michael Karshen of the Kfar Sava Magistrate’s Court wrote in his verdict.

The trial revealed that the undercover unit dispatched women to undercover operations without their receiving any training for it. Karshen found that although women were never officially integrated into the unit as combatants, in practice, they were used from time to time in undercover roles – “and these women did not always have the training for the undercover units.”

It was also revealed that these units were operating without an orderly system of reporting to commanders, with every officer doing as they saw fit.

“From the evidence presented to me, it can be said that the defendant, in his position as an officer in the unit who is independent and acts at his own initiative did not need to report to his commander about every operation that he carried out. The expectation from him was to “produce results,” the judge wrote.

At trial, the officer’s commander testified that he would not have taken a policewoman “for the training exercise,” but the policewoman was sent into the field without his knowledge. The trial also demonstrated that there were no clear regulations governing physical contact between male and female police officers in undercover operations.

A policewoman in another mista’arvim unit testified that any such intimate contact was prohibited in her unit. But two other policewomen contradicted her, saying that some contact was possible.

“The conclusion that stands out is that precise rules do not exist, and the question of what is legitimate is for the most part placed at the doorstep of the [policewoman],” Karshen found, but he added that “all the witnesses testified that placing a hand under her clothes was not acceptable in this context.”

Border Police Commander Amir Cohen initially backed objections to the publication of news of the verdict in the case.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The judge’s verdict was delivered behind closed doors, but this week Karshen permitted reporting on the case at Haaretz’s request. With backing from its commander, Amir Cohen, the Border Police had initially objected its release on the grounds of national security, saying that the disclosure of the verdict would damage the “methods and means with which the mista’arvim units operate in the field, including the method of posing as a couple.” The Border Police also cited concern that disclosure would endanger the officer.

The Border Police withdrew their objection after hearing Karshen’s comments and agreed to the release of most of the decision.

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