Dressing up so the rest of us can celebrate

Some elite Israeli units don't wait for Purim to don costumes.

By MICHAEL BAR-ZOHAR
March 14, 2012 17:09
4 minute read.
Children in costume during Purim.

purim costumes 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

“Why doesn’t Purim come twice a week?” is a line in a popular Israeli children’s song.

But while Purim, as children know it, may only come once a year, for some, Purim is a regular event. These people don disguises, assume false identities and mislead everyone on almost a daily basis. Their own lives and the lives of others depend on their ability to make-believe.

So who are these Purim celebrators? They are the members of prestigious commando groups such as the Mossad and Shabak, for whom deceiving the enemy is a daily task.

Some of the most famous feats of the Sayeret Matkal - the IDF General Staff’s Reconnaissance unit and the army’s most elite and classified unit   - were conducted by wolves in sheep’s clothing. When a Sabena airliner was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists and landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on May 8, 1972, then-defense minister Moshe Dayan dispatched the Sayeret unit to the aircraft to kill the terrorists and release the hostages.

The commandos donned white overalls worn by mechanics and headed toward the plane. At the last moment, General Rehavam Ze’evi stopped them and ordered them to roll on the runways, in order to soil their outfits. Mechanics don’t operate in spotless, pressed coveralls, he told them; the disguise must be perfect. It was. The terrorists were taken by total surprise and the operation was a success. Ehud Barak, Danny Yatom and Binyamin Netanyahu – to name just a few – were among the commandos who stormed the plane.

A few months later, on April 9, 1973, Barak donned a new disguise for Operation Spring of Youth. Sayeret Matkal, together with Mossad agents and paratrooper units, landed on a beach in Beirut snuck into the homes of the “Black September” terrorist leaders and killed them. The fighters were dressed in civilian clothes – some like hippies, while others posed as elegant locals. The best disguise, no doubt, was Barak’s: A curvaceous brunette, Barak wore a tight dress that emphasized an ample bosom. Except that the brassiere he wore was actually full of hand grenades!

Sayeret  Matkal members would chuckle over the incident in which Lebanese police officers approached the “brunette" who subsequently found refuge in the arms of her beau, a tall, elegant man who was none other than Muki Betzer, the Sayeret Matkal  deputy commander. The police officers, moved by the lovers’ tender embrace, didn’t bother them, and the couple continued to on their mission which proved to be yet another impressive success.

Three years later, another Purim-esque shenanigan occurred. On July 4, 1976, Israeli soldiers landed in Entebbe, Uganda, to save the hostages of an Air France plane hijacked by Arab terrorists. Out of the first Hercules aircraft to land in Entebbe, a black Mercedes emerged. The limousine, escorted by two Land Rovers, darted toward an old terminal building, where the hostages were held. The car’s colorful pennants flapped in the night wind. The Ugandan soldiers peered inside the vehicle and saw their president, Iddi Amin, who had apparently just returned from the Organization of African States’ conference in Mauritius. What the soldiers did not know was that “Iddi Amin” was just another Sayeret Matkal soldier wearing black face paint and Israeli fatigues under his resplendent uniform. Even the car had played dress-up. Before the operation, the operation’s planners had failed to find a black Mercedes that resembled Iddi Amin’s. They finally found the same model in Gaza but it was white so at the last moment they painted it black.

Even in the present day, the Israeli tradition of disguise is still upheld. According to foreign sources, on the eve of September 5, 2007, when the Israeli Air Force attacked the Syrian nuclear reactor, , the elite commando unit Shaldag (Kingfisher) was dispatched to the area. Their mission? To paint the walls of the reactor with red laser beams, allowing Israeli aircraft to zero in on it. The foreign press claimed that the Shaldag soldiers who arrived via helicopters were dressed in Syrian uniforms.

Finally, there is the case of the Mossad agents who allegedly participated in the assassination of arch-terrorist Mahmoud el Mabhouh on January 19, 2010. The agents, carrying foreign passports, arrived in Dubai in disguises that consisted of false beards, mustaches, wigs and spectacles. Many of them were filmed on various hotels’ security. The footage shows that some  of them even changed their disguises right in front of the cameras. After the operation was completed and Mabhouh’s body found, many Israeli and foreign commentators deemed the mission a fiasco and predicted that many Mossad agents would be arrested and indicted. Well, two years have passed and not one Mossad agent has been arrested.

Even today, members of specialized commando units are roaming the streets of Nablus and the squalid alleys of refugee camps in Gaza. They are the “mista’arvim” – soldiers who in all manners act and speak like Arabs. They risk their lives daily in order to obtain vital information about some of our more unsavory neighbors.

There is a sweet, elderly gentleman who frequents my local gym. To most people he is known as simply Mr. Yossi Yarom, the recently retired government employee. But should his picture ever be published in the papers, many Arab notables, including terrorist leaders, ambassadors and officers, might recognize Mr. Yarom as their dear old friend Abu Yussuf from Beirut. Or was it Baghdad? Or maybe even Damascus?

The writer is a former Labor Party MK and the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.


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