April 19, 2019

A Top-Secret Israeli Anti-Terrorism Operation Is Changing the Game

“On a spring evening in late April, I traveled to a fortified compound in the Ayalon Valley between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The location is not identified on Waze, the Israeli-built navigation tool, and so, as far as my app-addled cabdriver was concerned, it does not exist. Then again, the same could be said for its inhabitants: YAMAM, a band of counterterror operatives whose work over the last four decades has been shrouded in secrecy.

Upon arrival at the group’s headquarters, which has all the architectural warmth of a supermax, I made my way past a phalanx of Israeli border police in dark-green battle-dress uniforms and into a blastproof holding pen where my credentials were scanned, my electronic devices were locked away, and I received a lecture from a counter-intelligence officer who was nonplussed that I was being granted entrée to the premises. “Do not reveal our location,” he said. “Do not show our faces. And do not use our names.” Then he added, grimly, and without a hint of irony, “Try to forget what you see.”

YAMAM is the world’s most elite—and busiest—force of its kind, and its expertise is in high demand in an era when ISIS veterans strike outside their remaining Middle East strongholds and self-radicalized lone wolves emerge to attack Western targets. “Today, after Barcelona,” says Gilad Erdan, who for the past three years has been Israel’s minister for public security, “after Madrid, after Manchester, after San Bernardino—everyone needs a unit like YAMAM.” More and more, the world’s top intelligence and police chiefs are calling on YAMAM (a Hebrew acronym that means “special police unit”). During his first month on the job, recalls Erdan, “I got requests from 10 countries to train together.””

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