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Double Identity

Daniel Hofstadter

We dress up for one day. They’re in disguise all year long. As soldiers, they are the elite members of Israel’s military. As Arabs, they blend into a hostile population. These undercover commando squads have become one of the IDF’s most brazen and daring strategic military tools for combating terror, but when a group of them posing as vegetable merchants were exposed in a daytime raid recently, these Mistaarvim — who for years have operated beneath the radar — were in the news again. A fight to the finish.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

mishpacha magazineHe might be the heavily perspiring vegetable merchant standing in the corner of the marketplace and hawking his wares at the top of his lungs. He could be the well-dressed businessman emerging from a silver Mercedes in a cloud of cologne. Or maybe he’s the crazy-looking, drooling beggar filling the doorway of a house with his stench, or the long-robed cleric solemnly pacing about an open area behind the village.

In real life, he’s a member of the Mistaarvim (literally, “enmeshed”), a special operations unit attached to the IDF and Border Police whose recruits carry out undercover missions while disguised as Arabs — one of Israel’s most brazen and daring strategic military tools for combating terror coming out of the Arab population centers in Yehudah, Shomron and Gaza.

The IDF must often conduct unconventional and undercover operations to thwart Hamas recruiters who scour refugee camps and villages for people willing to blow themselves up in the name of jihad. And so the Mistaarvim elite, undercover commando squads have become one of the IDF’s most effective — if controversial — tools in fighting an ongoing war of survival.

Israeli military raids into Palestinian areas to seize wanted terrorists and agitators are fairly common and the Mistaarvim are usually the key — but the golden rule is that surprise attacks are generally carried out at night with little violence or public notice. That’s why last month’s midmorning nab of wanted Islamic Jihad terrorist Murad Beni Udah in thevillageofTamounnear Jenin caused such a ruckus. A team of Mistaarvim entered the village disguised as vegetable vendors, targeting Udah while he was lounging in his yard. Because waiting until nightfall would likely allow for his escape, breaking with general policy, uniformed soldiers moved in and were able to take him by surprise in broad daylight without firing live ammunition. The mission was a success, but once the “vendors” were exposed, locals at the scene began hurling rocks, bottles, and large pieces of metal at them. The daytime raid meant that after years of operating beneath the public radar, the Mistaarvim were in the news again. In Tamoun, for the next while at least, undercover agents will have to come up with a more original disguise.


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