Yamam hostage rescue team's tactics revealed

The public now knows it was Zohar Dvir who served as commander of the Yamam tactical hostage rescue team, the most elite unit of the Israel Police.

Zohar Dvir 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 1)
Zohar Dvir 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 1)
After five-and-a-half years, the public now knows that it was Zohar Dvir who served as commander of the Yamam tactical hostage rescue team, the most elite unit of the Israel Police. During his service, Dvir nabbed bombers minutes before detonation, settled the score with terrorist leaders and even survived near-fatal injuries that almost put an early end to his prestigious career.
  • Could you make it in this elite unit?
  • Known until now as "Z," Dvir revealed his identity for the first time as he concludes his service, after leading the unit since the early days of the second intifada. Dvir also made another disclosure, telling journalists that during the second intifada the Yamam managed to kill some 50 terrorists en route to suicide bombings and also killed an additional 129 wanted terrorists. But it is the number of arrests - rather than kills - that attest to the unit's significance in the Israeli security community. A total of 550 wanted terrorists were captured alive and arrested in the same period by the unit, considered internationally to be the finest anti-terror police force in the world. Apprehending terrorists wanted for questioning rather than simply killing them is one of the unit's specialties. Yamam was founded in 1974, following that Ma'alot terror attack in which terrorists infiltrating from Lebanon stormed a school, taking the students hostage. As a tactical and hostage rescue unit, the Yamam was organized for precision missions that require more finesse and a steadier trigger finger than any other existing units. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, a nine-year veteran of the Yamam, said the unit "is the most advanced anti-terrorist unit in the country and has prevented hundreds of terrorist attacks on all levels. The unit is "unique in its capability to be at any time in any place," allowing the Yamam to "continue to save lives every day," he emphasized. For over two decades, the defense establishment struggled with the question of how to differentiate between Yamam missions and missions for its IDF parallel, the Sayeret Matkal (famous for the headline-grabbing hostage rescue in Entebbe in 1976). But, said Dvir, both units have "grown up" and, since 2002, the two former rivals have begun to cooperate rather than compete. Following the mass-hostage situations in Beslan and the Moscow Stadium, the two units began to hold joint training sessions in which Dvir shared equipment and strategies with his IDF counterpart. Dvir himself came to the Yamam after a long service of command in elite IDF infantry and special forces units, including the Golani Reconnaissance Unit. He joined the unit in 1999, already holding the rank of IDF lieutenant-colonel (res.) and after a brief two years assumed command of the unit. It has been a busy period for the Yamam, which tries to maintain a low profile. Dvir told reporters that upon multiple occasions motorists frustrated by unexplained traffic jams in the Sharon never found out that the reasons for the slow-down were Yamam operations nabbing would-be bombers. "We met them on the way. We always give them the chance to surrender, but some choose to take a short cut [to paradise ] anyway." "The public is aware of only about 10% of what we do," Dvir explained, "and that is good for us. We mostly care that whoever needs to know, knows." Training is grueling, frequently including urban rappelling, bomb detonation and tactical entry to buildings. "This is a unit that is on one hand like an American Swat team, and on the other hand is like a military commando unit," Dvir explained. The unit likes to bring in former officers as team members, he said. "A company commander who is now the fourth team member from the right still thinks like a company commander, and from our perspective, that is a benefit." Many of the Yamam's operations focus on getting both terror leaders - and increasingly, their computers - out of the West Bank and Gaza alive and in a condition that allows security services to gain vital intelligence information from their prisoners. Of his long list of successful operations, Dvir said the one that remains closes to his heart was when his unit tracked down the terrorist who killed filmmaker Revital Ohayon and her two young sons Noam, 4, and Matan, 5, in their Kibbutz Metzer home in 2002. His team had found the young mother dead, hugging her children, but "one year and one month later due to intelligence from the Shin Bet" the Yamam was offered the chance to try to apprehend the terrorist who killed them. The terrorist was killed in the arrest attempt. "After that, I did something that I never do. I called Avi Ohayon and told him that the circle had been closed," Dvir reminisced. But despite the daring deeds and Dvir's distinguished combat history, his career was almost terminated in 2005 by a chance encounter with a reckless driver. En route to pay a condolence call to the family of Yamam officer Dror Shushan, who had just been killed in a motorcycle crash, Dvir pulled over to the side of the road to rescue a motorist in an overturned car. After pulling the injured man to safety and instructing another passerby to erect warning signs on the shoulder of the road, a truck disregarded the danger signs and plowed into the car where Dvir was administering first-aid to the crash victim. Both Dvir and the victim of the initial crash were thrown approximately 25 meters by the force of the truck slamming into them. While the other victim was killed immediately, Dvir was rushed in critical condition to Hillel Yaffe Medical Center suffering from massive head injuries as well as broken legs, a broken pelvis, a broken jaw and broken ribs. His next memory is six days later when he woke up concerned that if he didn't recuperate soon, he would lose command of the Yamam. Within two-and-a-half months of the crash, Dvir was back in the office, on crutches. "The crash reinforced my sense of how fleeting life is. You begin a day and you never know how you will end it."