Commander of elite counter-terrorism unit discusses loss of brother in arms

"It’s hard to tell his parents that he died, and I, as his commander, am still alive," says Meir Namir of Yosef Kirma.

YASAM Special Patrol Unit head Meir Namir at Jerusalem’s Russian Compound Police Station Monday. (photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
YASAM Special Patrol Unit head Meir Namir at Jerusalem’s Russian Compound Police Station Monday.
(photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
Less than 24-hours after attending the funeral of one of his best fighters, who was shot in the head at close range by a terrorist in Jerusalem, YASAM Special Patrol Unit Commander Meir Namir spoke candidly on Monday about life and loss in one of Israel’s most elite counter-terrorism units.
On Sunday morning, shortly after 10 a.m., Adv.-Staff-Sgt.-Maj. Yosef Kirma, 29, and his partner from YASAM’s motorcycle unit, chased his killer moments after the 39-year-old Arab man shot Levana Malichi, 60, dead, and wounded a man at the Ammunition Hill light rail stop.
Following a protracted gunfight in Sheik Jarrah, less than a mile away, Kirma was rushed to an area hospital in critical condition from the head wound. His partner was shot in the leg. Kirma died roughly one hour later, and was buried at 5:30 p.m. on Mount Herzl at a ceremony attended by his wife, family, friends, and hundreds of officers.
Kirma’s murder is YASAM’s fifth since it became operational in the early 90s, and it hit his commander with profound force, Namir, 49, said during an exclusive interview at the capital’s Russian Compound Police station on Monday afternoon.
YASAM, which is similar to SWAT, is comprised of 208 highly trained fighters from four units, including horseback, two vehicular platoons, and a motorcycle unit. The latter, which pairs two heavily armed men on each bike, was formed to expedite response times, and is renowned for arriving at terrorist attacks within seconds.
As a result, its 40 members – who are easily identifiable as they ride powerful BMW motorcycles throughout the country wearing full-body protection and armed with an M-16 and 9 mm. pistols –  frequently represent the country’s first line of defense, and face countless deadly scenarios.
Asked to describe Kirma, a mournful Namir spoke of him like a beloved brother, using superlatives including honor and loyal.
“He served in YASAM for four years, and joined the motorcycle unit a year and a half ago,” said Namir. “He was a great person, full of honor and courage. He was a very good friend with a great sense of humor who made his [co-workers] laugh a lot. He was loyal.”
As Kirma’s commander and mentor, Namir said his death was particularly painful.
“There are two things that are very hard,” he explained. “It’s hard to see the body of your guy, and after that you have to tell his family about his death. It’s hard to tell his parents that he died, and I, as his commander, am still alive. In the police and Israeli army, the commander goes in front, but in this unit I couldn’t because it happened in a place closest to him. He was the first responder.”
In terms of YASAM’s morale after Kirma’s murder, Namir said that the men in the unit mourn the loss as quickly as possible, and then must compartmentalize the pain to continue to function effectively.
“You think that nothing can hurt you because you work on the side of justice, but there’s a difference in the reality,” he said. “In reality you can get hurt, and when it happens it’s a shock, like: ‘Wow, this can happen to us.’ But you can’t think about it; you must move on quickly.”
Indeed, Namir said that after burying Kirma Sunday evening, every member of the unit arrived for duty Monday morning.
“These are warriors, who served in combat positions in the IDF, so they know about this life, and come to this job with a lot of experience,” he said. “It’s not like a 19-year-old soldier who just joined the IDF… The job, and what you have to do, has to always be on your mind, even if you are in danger. We know we must do it, and believe in the mission.”
Moreover, Namir said the elite unit attracts a certain “type.”
“They are highly-trained and experienced warriors who love this country, its flag, and the people,” he said. “They believe in this job. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t last.”      
Asked what he would say to Kirma if given the chance to see him one more time, Namir’s eyes began to water and his voice broke.
“I love you,” he said.