Special Operations: Operating In Plain Sight


December 14, 2021: In late 2021 the Israeli Army revealed that an army commando unit had successfully operated inside Gaza during the May 2021 ten-day war. The army team was honored for carrying out a complex operation inside Gaza that played a major part in defeating Hamas quickly. The army would not provide any more details but it is known that teams like this have operated inside the West Bank, Gaza and Syria. This works because Israeli teams consist of troops whose families came from Arab countries. This was known to give Mossad (foreign intelligence agency) a major advantage over intelligence agencies in other nations. That was because in the first few years after Israel was founded in 1948 over a million Jews from all over the world moved to Israel. This proved to be a gold mine of candidates for an organization that analyzed and spied on foreign countries. All these immigrants spoke the language of their former home countries and understood the culture like natives. Thousands of these immigrants joined Mossad over the years, and some of them went back to the countries they were born and raised in to gather information and set up networks of spies. Mossad was thus exceptionally effective at what it did despite Israel’s small size. Mossad became the envy of much larger intelligence agencies in places like the United States and the Soviet Union. But the Israelis had to be careful because some of those spies were discovered and some caught and executed.

Less publicity was given to the Israeli army and Shin Bet (domestic intelligence) also using Israelis who could pass as Palestinians, Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Egyptians, or Syrians. The army recruits Israeli soldiers, who are doing their mandatory military service, to serve in special army or navy intelligence and commando units. These men are used for commando raids into hostile territory or longer missions where the special operations troops. The intelligence agents or teams operating in enemy territory often go unnoticed by the locals and unpublicized inside Israel. Once out of the army many of these commandos get jobs with Shin Bet or Mossad.

The foreign nations involved give these operatives a lot more publicity, often for missions the Israelis never carried out but the claims make for great ant-Israel propaganda. Most of the Israelis are described as Mossad, but many of the most valuable and dangerous missions are carried out by Shin Bet and the military.

Details of these missions only get publicity in Israel when the teams are detected, take casualties, and require extraordinary Israeli efforts to get the operatives out. For example, in November 2018 an Israeli special operations team was unable to complete its mission because it encountered a group of armed Hamas fighters. The commandos killed the Hamas gunmen (including a senior commander) but lost one of their own and another was wounded. A helicopter arrived within minutes and got the team out while an airstrike assisted in keeping more Hamas gunmen from intervening. Israel did not reveal what the special operations troops were there for but the most likely reason was for intelligence gathering, possibly related to Hamas tunnel construction.

These commando missions in Gaza are quite common and most are never detected by Hamas, or if they do find out about it, they say nothing unless they have managed to kill or wound some of the Israeli operatives. It was later revealed that the Israelis who got detected in 2018 had operated for several weeks in Gaza pretending to be Palestinians working for a foreign medical charity. The Israeli operatives distributed medical supplies and equipment and were not suspected until the team completed its intelligence mission and headed back to Israeli territory. At that point Hamas gunmen at a checkpoint suspected something was not right and the gun battle broke out. When a team is extracted, there are often elaborate backup plans to quickly respond to an emergency and in this case that worked.

Many other intrusion missions are very short term, often using commandos with a few members who can pass as locals to enable the team to get to an objective, destroy it and get out. A July 2014 operation in Gaza involved naval commandos going ashore in southern Gaza and destroying a facility used for launching long range rockets at Israel. Hamas detected the team after the explosions and four of the commandos were wounded. The mission was accomplished and all the commandos returned to Israel.

More recently Israeli commandos have been occasionally crossing the Golan Heights border with Syria to destroy Syrian observation posts that are too close to the Israeli border. Any Syrian observation post that is less than a kilometer (1,000 meters) from the nearest Israeli border fortifications is seen as a threat and are usually destroyed via a night time commando raid. Syria does not acknowledge such raids or disclose casualties. Going in on the ground allowed the Israelis to grab documents and perhaps even a prisoner. In 2020 two of these observation posts, each about 500 meters from the Israeli border, were attacked. It is believed these observation posts were established at the request of Iran and were compiling information on Israeli border activities for future Iranian attacks.

Details of how these operations are carried out are kept secret if possible because as the enemy does not know the details, such techniques can be used again and again, with enough variation to avoid becoming predictable.


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