Tricks Aplenty

Sayeret Matkal. The elite commando unit. Sneaking behind enemy lines. Tight lips. Poker faces. Half a wink to those in the know. And, here and there, deceiving friends and superiors. Whoever needs to, knows. Whoever needs to doubt, especially doubt dubious people, forgets.

One Boaz Harpaz, although by no means he alone, epitomizes the thin line between reality and imagination, truth and lies, in the myth surrounding the underworld of special military and intelligence operations - not just in the Israel Defense Forces, of course, but also in the Shin Bet and the Mossad. Most of the flak is usually taken by senior commanders whose identity is publicly known. Officers like Harpaz usually remain in the shadows, and even when flushed out, they take into their private and defense business a resume of service in an illustrious unit, minus the embarrassing details.

As army chief, “Raful” disliked the Sayeret.

Rafael Eitan, when chief of staff, didn't like the Sayeret and most of its most outstanding commanders. A military hero, "Raful" believed, is a fighter who risks his life in the face of open enemy fire. Brilliant planning, daring infiltration and departure without the opponent's realizing what had happened - that didn't count as heroism in Raful's book.

Whatever Raful lacked in love for the unit, he more than compensated for in gossip about the senior brass. The gossip was usually brought to Raful; only rarely did he have to generate it. When he became hostile to a top military figure, say a brigadier-general who used to be a favorite but fell from grace after being accused of the mortal sin of being an "Arab-lover," Raful would say of him that he stole gold and took bribes. The brigadier-general came, choking back tears, to Menachem Begin, whose moving speeches far outranked his understanding of IDF ways. Begin spared the innocent officer, but Raful's trick was well understood by all.

The method remained way past Raful's tenure. Harpaz grew up in the system, though not as a combatant. He was first a munitions officer and then an operations officer, all in Sayeret Matkal; the latter is an impressive title but is usually meant for staffers, not for combat officers on their way up the chain of command. Later, he attached himself to the career of his Sayeret commander, Ran Shachor, and progressed together with him, until Shachor had become a brigadier-general and Harpaz had become his military intelligence officer. Then he got in trouble. Investigators traced a mysterious letter against the then head of military intelligence to Harpaz's computer, where they found prohibited materials. The chief intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Moshe Shchori, didn't relent in response to Harpaz's begging and kicked him out.

Harpaz tried to go back. He waited until Shchori retired and approached his successor, Brig. Gen. Yuval Halamish, but was refused point blank, perhaps because some lessons of years gone by have been learned - and people with a problematic past were no longer welcome.

The connections being slowly revealed in this affair are not self-evident. Siboni, for instance, never met two of the key players, journalist Amnon Abramovich and Harpaz, who was Siboni's source through two intermediaries, Ashkenazi and his aide, Erez Weiner. Ashkenazi now appears as a certain victim of whoever brought him the document, and as a possible victim of whoever wrote it - which, those acquainted with Harpaz say, may not be one and the same. To be continued.