Analysis: IDF's most elite unit trio takes the reins

Netanyahu, Barak and Ya'alon may face their toughest mission yet.

Netanyahu and Barak shake hands 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski [file])
Netanyahu and Barak shake hands 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski [file])
Back when they were both in the IDF's elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, Binyamin Netanyahu was subordinate to Ehud Barak. Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier, was the commander of the IDF's most elite unit, known by its Hebrew name, Sayeret Matkal. Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni later became commander of the unit and was killed during the 1976 raid on Entebbe, was a junior team leader under Barak's command in the early 1970s. Netanyahu was described as a courageous commander who jumped at the opportunity to carry out some of the more complicated missions assigned to the unit. "Netanyahu was a contractor," Barak used to say of his former subordinate. "He received a mission and immediately carried it out." With the swearing-in of the new government on Tuesday, the relationship between Barak and Netanyahu has changed - Netanyahu, the new prime minister, is the commander in chief. Barak is the "contractor," and as the defense minister, he will have to carry out missions assigned by Netanyahu. Netanyahu and Barak are not the only members of the new government with origins in the army's most elite unit. Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon, the former chief of staff slated to become the minister of strategic affairs, served as commander of the unit between 1987 and 1989. This Sayeret Matkal trio will now be leading the country's defense and security apparatuses at a time when some of the most critical decisions in the country's history will have to be made - from whether to use military force to stop Iran's race toward nuclear power, to the Hizbullah threat in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, who made a failed bid to get a spot on the Likud list in the party's primaries, served with all three in the unit. He was the company commander of Netanyahu's squadron under Barak's command in the '70s, and in 1980 took up command of the unit with Ya'alon as his deputy. "The common origins in the unit create a sense of familiarity and mutual respect between all three," Dayan said Monday. "Politics is not like the IDF, so it's not a military hierarchy where one gives orders to the other. In most cases, I believe they will all get along with one another." When it comes to Iran, all three have made similar declarations on the possibility of a military strike against the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities. As recently as January, Ya'alon said: "The Iranian regime is funding and arming most of the terror organizations. This wave must be stopped, and this can be achieved by diplomatic and economic isolation and, if necessary, military force." Barak has also said that military force was one of Israel's options to stop Iran. Recently he said that "time is slipping through our fingers" to stop Iran and that Israel has therefore kept the military option on the table. Netanyahu himself is believed to be a proponent of military action if diplomacy fails. In meetings he held just days before the elections in February, Netanyahu said his government would do whatever it took to stop Iran's nuclear program. "Under my government, Iran will not be allowed to go nuclear," he said at the time. As former members of Sayeret Matkal, the Netanyahu-Barak-Ya'alon trio carried out some of Israel's most covert and complicated operations - some of which are still classified. However, what they will face - once again together - over the coming year may prove to be their most daunting mission yet.