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Half the Battle

Michal Ish Shalom

Once, they were known as “hired guns” and were considered beyond the pale. Today, they’re called “private security companies” and it seems even the superpowers can’t survive without them. What happens when private armies turn international conflicts into big business?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The small research ship flying under a European flag and anchored in Yemen’s Gulf of Aden should not have drawn any special attention. The small 20-crew vessel was tasked with unloading underwater scientific equipment to be used for investigating the ocean floor. But in the Gulf of Aden, anything that moves attracts the attention of Yemen’s neighbors to the southwest — the Somalis. For over two decades, Somali pirates — like the pirates of old — have overtaken ships at sea, plundered their cargo, and demanded huge ransoms. And these modern pirates aren’t discerning — commercial, research, and pleasure ships are all targets. For the ruthless Somali pirates, the research vessel seemed like an easy mark: after all, what do scientists on a research ship know about defensive protection on the high seas? But when their speedboats approached the ship, they were instantly pushed back by a group of sharpshooters who seemed to be waiting for them. Maybe, the Somalis thought, it was just luck — and for the 32 days that the vessel was docked at Aden, they made eight separate attempts to overrun the ship, rebuffed each time by the ship’s guards. But where did a benign European research vessel obtain soldiers who could fend off a cadre of brutal pirates?    Leave it to the Israelis. The ship’s guards weren’t official soldiers, but their IDF training definitely showed on this oceanside battlefield.

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