Inside Israel’s Hunt for Arch Terrorists: How Shin Bet Always Gets Its Man
by Gabriel Eichler
The operation to track down and eliminate the the arch-terrorist Osama Bin Laden was a well- planned and ultimately well- executed American intelligence operation- one of the most successful in recent history.
It was the culmination of long years of patient intelligence gathering by at least sixteen top secret US organizations, among them: the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States Department of Defense Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (AFISRA), Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), National Security Agency (NSA), Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), United States Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (OICI), United States Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), Coast Guard Intelligence (CGI), United States Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of National Security Intelligence (DEA/ONSI), United States Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), and the United States Department of the Treasury Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI).
The total cost of taking out one really bad guy likely ran into the very high billions of American taxpayer dollars. For a base line: according to some credible media reports, on October 30, 2012, the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that the National Intelligence Program (NIP) budget for FY 2012 was $53.9 billion. The Military Intelligence Program (MIP) budget for FY 2012 was reported to be $21.5 billion. So the combined cost of American intelligence for a twelve month period alone amounted to a whopping 75.4 billion.
If you consider, that the hunt for Bin Laden went on for a number of years- combined with the associated costs of the mission- including the culmination brought about by the professionals of Seal Team Six on May 2, 2011- the ultimate total cost is nearly impossible to estimate.
Of course it was worth every penny – and the US intelligence professionals who pinpointed his ultimate whereabouts deserve the highest praise.
In recent months best-selling books were written about the Bin Laden assassination and to date at least two major motion pictures were produced on the subject.
The operation to take out Bin Laden will surely be going into the American history books.
With the world’s attention squarely focused on the current Gaza conflict, people take it almost for granted, that key Palestinian terror leaders with blood on their hands are eliminated with extraordinary precision, skill and even a certain amount of “elegance” by the IDF.
The current flare-up started with the superbly executed removal of Hamas armed wing Izzadin Kassam Brigades commander Ahmed Jabari in central Gaza last Wednesday. The textbook airstrike marked the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations in Gaza.
Grainy video footage shows a grey Kia saloon car driving through the crowded streets of Gaza City, at a speed designed not to attract notice. An ominous target cross-hair tracks the car from high above, which -as it enters an intersection with no one in the immediate vicinity-is suddenly engulfed in flames and smoke, as pieces of metal fly off.
The front of the Kia is blown away and blood, glass, shreds of carpet and one Nike tennis shoe are all that remains of the crushed, burned out chassis.
Two mangled bodies are retrieved from the burning wreckage, though parts of them have been hurled as high as the fourth-floor window of an adjacent building, with blood splashes on its white walls. A score has been settled with no innocent bystanders getting harmed in the process. Hamas armed wing Izzadin Kassam Brigades commander Ahmed Jabari is no more.
Operation Pillar of Defense is an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operation in the Gaza Strip, officially launched on 14 November 2012 with the targeted killing of bloody-handed arch terrorist Ahmed Jabari.
The stated aims of the Israeli operation are to halt the indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian targets originating from the Gaza Strip and to disrupt the capabilities of militant organizations.
The operation began in response to three events: Palestinian groups launching over 100 rockets at Israeli civilians over a 24-hour period, an attack on an Israeli military patrol jeep within Israeli borders by Gaza militants, and a tunnel explosion caused by IEDs near Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the fence.
Subsequently, the IDF has launched more than 1,400 air, tank, and warship strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip so far including rocket launching pads, weapons depots, individual key terrorist leaders and facilities of the Hamas authority in Gaza.
During the operation, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad further intensified their rocket attacks on Israeli cities and towns in an offensive code named by Hamas Operation “Stones of Baked Clay” in reference to a verse from the Quran (Surah 105:4).
It is known as “Operation Blue Sky” by members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The militant groups fired over 1,147 Iranian Fajr-5, Russian Grad rockets, Qassams and mortars into Rishon LeZion, Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon and other population centers; Tel Aviv was hit for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War, and rockets were aimed at Jerusalem. The Palestinian rockets have killed four Israeli civilians – three of them in a direct hit on a home in Kiryat Malachi – one Israeli soldier, and at least two Palestinian civilians.
By November 19, over 252 Israelis had been physically injured in rocket attacks, and thirty more had been treated for acute stress reaction.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted at least 342 of rockets fired into Israel, 664 rockets have landed in Israeli territory. (See my earlier column.)
In what the Shin Bet is calling one of the most successful intelligence-based operations since Operation Pillar of Defense began last week, four senior Islamic Jihad terrorists were hit during a well planned and executed precision airstrike on a high-rise building in Gaza City, on Monday afternoon.
It was the second strike on the above- mentioned building in two days. The Hamas TV station, Al Aqsa, is located on the top floor. The building also houses the offices of Britain’s Sky News and Saudi-owned Al Arabiya Channel. Most journalists heeding repeated Israeli warnings left the premises on Sunday following the initial strike.
Terrorist leaders targeted at that site were:
Baha Abu al-Ata, a member of the Higher Military Council, was the commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Gaza City Brigade and is involved in orchestrating rocket launching and terror attacks against Israeli civilians. Al-Ata was also deeply involved in the manufacturing of arms and firing long-range rockets at Israel.
Tissir Mahmoud Mahmedd Jabari was born in 1972 and is a resident of Sajaiya Turkman, Gaza City. Jabari was also a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative, a member of the Higher Military Council and Head of the organization’s operation branch. Previously, Jabari was the Gaza City Regional Commander for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
He was personally involved in carrying out various terror attacks against Israel, including massive rocket fire and attacks against IDF soldiers. Jabari also held responsibility for training within the organization and gave approval for the carrying out of terror attacks.
He is a key figure within the long-range rocket launching operations and responsible for internal security.
Islamic Jihad identified [one of] the dead men as Ramiz Harab, one of its senior commanders. Harab was born in 1976, was a resident of Shujaiyya Jadida and was responsible for the propaganda of the Gaza City brigade, he was an aide to Tissir Jabari and was formerly head of the Sheikh Rajuan Division.
Another terrorist killed in the surgical airstrike was Hallil Bahatini, a senior Islamic Jihad commander who has also played a key role in the rocket fire on Israel’s south.
Just think for a minute: who provided the essential “real-time” intelligence information on thousands of individual targets to the IAF and other IDF units?
Who gathered the extraordinary information that was so precise, that it also provided a reliable system to prevent loss of innocent Palestinian lives?
Who sent the thousands of text messages, warning emails, leaflets and Arabic-speaking phone calls to individuals in the conflict zones?
How much Israeli intelligence effort went into preventing as many innocent Palestinian’s deaths as they did by the pinpoint accuracy demonstrated in every one of the thousand targeted attacks so far?
In the mind of this writer, in the past week alone, Israel carried out -with extraordinary preparedness – well over one thousand individual intelligence coups on the scale of the single US assassination that had Bin Laden in the crosshairs!
The unsung heroes of Israel’s struggle to live in peace are the nameless faceless intelligence personnel that are on the front lines of the country’s defense.
I know what you are thinking, yes, of course you are thinking of the legendary Mossad.
Actually, in great measure, the true intel heroes of the current conflict are mostly members of the General Security Services (Shin Bet).
This security service lives in the shadows and only rarely is discussed in public.
One such earlier occasion was the elimination of a highly dangerous Palestinian terrorist master bomb maker.
Described as “well educated, ambitious, and soft-spoken,” Yahya Ayyash hailed from a relatively affluent family.
Married, with one child, Ayyash had planned to study for a master’s degree in Jordan, but was denied permission to do so by Israeli authorities. It was around this time he joined Hamas.
Ayyash built the bombs used in a number of Hamas suicide attacks: the Mehola Junction bombing, the Afula Bus massacre, the Hadera central station massacre, the Tel Aviv bus 5 massacre, the Egged bus 36 bombing, the Ramat Gan bus 20 bombing, and the Jerusalem bus 26 bombing.
As part of a strategic alliance between Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ayyash also built the deadly bombs used by Islamic Jihad at the Beit Lid massacre.
Because TNT and other high explosives were generally not available in the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza strip), Ayyash often used a combination of acetone and detergent, both commonly available household products. When combined, they form acetone peroxide, an explosive known as “Mother of Satan” for its extraordinary instability.
Ayyash first came to the attention of Israeli security forces as a result of the failed bombing of Ramat Ef’al. Following a high-speed chase, three would-be Hamas suicide bombers were arrested by police. When police inspected their car, they found it rigged with a bomb—five 12-kilogram (26 lb) gasoline tanks filled to capacity, connected to an acetone peroxide-based detonator.
After evacuating the area, sappers used a robot armed with a shotgun to shoot the detonator, in the hopes of defusing it. Instead, it detonated, in a massive explosion. [Police investigators] “were sure that if it had been detonated in a crowded area, it would have killed hundreds”.
Shin Bet investigators learned Ayyash’s name during subsequent interrogation of the three arrested suspects.
Following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Palestinian Authority began to cooperate more closely with Shin Bet in hunting Ayyash. Shin Bet learned (through means that remain classified to this day) that Ayyash had, on occasion, spent the night in the Gaza City home of Osama Hamad, a childhood friend of his. Shin Bet had previously had dealings with Kamil Hamad, Osama Hamad’s uncle.
In October 1995, Shin Bet operatives approached Kamil Hamad.
Kamil Hamad demanded money and Israeli identity cards for himself and his wives. After the Shin Bet threatened to inform Hamas of his betrayal, Kamil Hamad agreed to cooperate.
Shin Bet agents gave Hamad a cell phone, and told him it was bugged so they could listen in on Ayyash’s conversations. They did not tell Hamad that, in addition to eavesdropping devices, it also contained 15 grams of RDX explosive.
Kamil Hamad gave the phone to his nephew Osama, knowing that Ayyash regularly used Osama’s phones. At 8:00 am on 5 January 1996, Ayyash’s father called him.
Ayyash picked it up and talked with his father. Overhead, an Israeli plane picked up their conversation and relayed it to an Israeli command post.
When it was confirmed that it was Ayyash on the phone, Shin Bet remotely detonated it, killing Ayyash instantly.
The assassination was so elegantly masterful that a person standing right next to the terrorist bomb maker did not get hurt. Another feather in the cap of the Shin Bet: “The Militant”, an international communist newsweekly, reported that “100,000 Palestinians… attended the funeral”.
The State of Israel has a long-standing policy that it never confirms or denies its participation in selective assassinations. In line with this policy, Israel did not confirm or deny its role in killing Ayyash. This led to wild rumors and speculations as to the extent of their involvement.
As we watch in awe how individual terrorists are taken out of commission one after another in a systematic, highly professional and surgically precise fashion by the Israel Air Force, Navy and other special forces, we don’t think of the amount of painstaking intelligence gathering effort behind the scenes carried out by the undercover personnel of the Shin Bet.
On many previous occasions the Shin Bet has also worked closely with the Israeli Air Force in highly successful “targeted killings” of field commanders and senior leaders of the Palestinian militant factions of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and Fatah.
These high-precision targeted killings are usually done by helicopter gunships, where both IAF commanders and Shin Bet agents sit together in the command center monitoring the operation.
Shin Bet’s task is to give precise intelligence when and where the target will be available for a strike and then reacting to IAF drone feedback and ensuring the men on the site are indeed the correct targets.
Shin Bet’s motto is “Magen VeLo Yera’e” -or- “Defender that shall not be seen” .
Among thousands of highly skilled professional intelligence staff Shin Bet also employs a large number of fluent Arabic speakers, who are masterfully able to pass themselves off as Palestinians and go freely about the West Bank.
New recruits to these elite intelligence operations units are said to have to pass a test by going to a Palestinian market and engaging shoppers in conversations without raising any suspicions about their true identity.
The net result of years of meticulous information gathering under extremely dangerous circumstances in the back alleys of Gaza that is analyzed then processed- and later refined to actionable battlefield intelligence will long be remembered as one of history’s most spectacular intelligence coups.
Shin Bet agents play a highly dangerous game facing extraordinary personal dangers when they develop assets on the ground.
The terrorists are so paranoid that in many cases they also settle personal scores by accusing members of other clans of being informers to the Shin Bet.
Terror groups then publicly execute those accused of collaboration with Israel. At the time of this writing there was such an incident taking place in Gaza.
Masked gunmen publicly shot dead six suspected collaborators with Israel at a large Gaza City intersection Tuesday of this week, witnesses said. An Associated Press reporter saw a mob surrounding five of the bloodied corpses shortly after the killing.
Some in the crowd stomped and spat on the bodies. A sixth corpse was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets as people screamed, “Spy! Spy!”
The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, claimed responsibility in a large handwritten note attached to a nearby electricity pole. Hamas said the six were killed because they gave Israel information about fighters and rocket launching sites.
The killing came on the seventh day of an Israeli military offensive that has killed more than 120 Palestinians, both militants and civilians. Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes, targeting rocket launching sites, weapons caches and homes of Hamas activists, as Palestinians fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.
In selecting its targets for airstrikes, Israel relies on unmanned spy planes, or drones, but also on a network of Palestinian collaborators who feed information to their handlers from Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security service.
Israel has relied on informers ever since it captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast War. Some are recruited with promises of work permits or money, while others are blackmailed into collaborating.
There is broad consensus among Palestinians that informers for Israel deserve harsh punishment, and it is rare to hear someone speak out against killings of alleged collaborators. Such public killings have been carried out in the West Bank and Gaza since the first intifada — or uprising — in the late 1980s.
Last Tuesday’s highly publicized killings took place in Gaza City’s Sheik Radwan neighborhood.
Witnesses said a van stopped at the intersection, where four masked men pushed the six suspected informers out of the vehicle. Salim Mahmoud, 18, said the gunmen ordered the six to lie face down in the street and then shot them dead. Another witness, 13-year-old Mokhmen al-Gazhali, said the informers were killed one by one, as he mimicked the sound of gunfire.
They said only a few people were in the street at first — most Gazans have been staying indoors because of the Israeli airstrikes — but the crowd quickly grew after the killings. Eventually several hundred men pushed and shoved to get a close look at the bodies, lying in a jumble on the ground.
“They should have been killed in a more brutal fashion so others don’t even think about working with the occupation (Israel),” said one of the bystanders, 24-year-old Ashraf Maher.
One body was then tied by a cable to the back of a motorcycle and dragged through the streets. A number of gunmen on motorcycles rode along as the body was pulled past a house of mourning for victims of an Israeli airstrike.
In Israel’s last major Gaza offensive four years ago, 17 suspected collaborators who fled after their prisons were hit in airstrikes were later shot dead in extra-judicial killings.
During the current offensive, Tuesday’s killings brought to eight the number of suspected informers being shot dead in public. On Friday, the body of one alleged informer was found in a garbage bin, and another was shot dead in the street. Hamas claimed responsibility for both killings.
Since seizing Gaza in 2007, Hamas has executed four informers by firing squad, and about a dozen more are on death row in Gaza.
When Israel’s controlled Gaza and the entire West Bank, some informers openly cooperated with Israeli forces. For example, one informer in the West Bank town of Jericho displayed a photograph of Israel’s army chief at the time on the wall of his office, in a defiant display of his allegiance.
After Israel pulled back troops from parts of the West Bank, he and others were given refuge in Israel. Other informers were evacuated from Gaza after Israel withdrew in 2005, but Israel is believed to have maintained a network there. Human rights groups have alleged, for example, that Gaza medical patients seeking treatment in Israel are sometimes approached by the Shin Bet at the crossing into Israel.
Some time ago, I learned first- hand from a senior Shin Bet operative that developing intelligence assets among the opposing population requires a great amount of skill, patience and sensitivity. The operative told me about a deep cover Palestinian asset who developed his cover and reputation among the terrorists by assisting would be suicide bombers on their way to their targets. (Unbeknownst to the informer, the Shin Bet replaced the high explosives with a dummy bomb.)
What this particular asset wanted in return for serving as a highly effective informer over a long period of time was that the Sin Bet officer running him on his dangerous mission should -as a personal favor- help him prepare for higher education by actually becoming his de facto math tutor.
There is no school that can prepare an agent for dealing with the human and psychological aspects of running a valuable asset.
Gathering small- sometimes insignificant-sounding tidbits and then painstakingly connecting the dots- turning chatter into actionable intelligence requires extraordinary professionalism.
Such a high degree of professionalism then results in creating an effective real-time road map to the armed forces of the IDF so that they can carry out their missions with laser accuracy and – in most cases – without considerable collateral damage.
Members of Israel’s General Security Service carry out their vital work in total anonymity most of their careers, but the results of their diligent work make a huge difference in the outcome of their nation’s ongoing war on terror.
Those nameless, faceless field officers are Israel’s front-line of defense, standing guard against the various terror groups whose aim is to kill as many innocents as possible.
Israel’s citizens owe them a great deal of gratitude!