The day before the scheduled American attack on Syria, Israel’s Prime Minster was lonely in his office. He didn’t remember such a hot summer, but he wasn’t getting younger. Yet, he still remembered intriguing remarks by Hezbollah and Syria that if attacking them Israel would be surprised.
What a riddle! He didn’t have time for that. He called his military secretary and gave the thumbs up to Operation Mirror. Foolishly, he forgot about it as soon as the secretary was out. A Sayeret Matkal commando* himself, he trusted them.
Benjamin Netanyahu The Terror
The Road to Damascus
National Security Headquarters—Damascus
July 18, 2012—First Attack Horror!
One hour before sunrise, the heat was already scorching. In the late summer, there was no hope of a relieving rain. Yet, fast flowing air cooled the motorbikes, making the trip sufferable. Half hidden in its morning gloom, the City of Damascus could already be seen.
On each motorbike, there were two men dressed up in a mishmash of colors and shapes, vaguely fitting Middle Eastern décor rules. They could be Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians, or even Israelis; yet they all were of similar size as if this had been a parameter in their selection.
Some of them had a keffiyeh scarf tied around their neck. An unusual knot apparently holding the garment was placed on the left side of the neck, identifying them as team leaders. One of them had the knot on the right side; this meant he was the commander of the entire operation.
They moved in operational silence; they couldn’t communicate even with the two large IDF intelligence bases behind them, on the Golan Heights. Yet, the dramatic caravan was being filmed from there right now. In their eyes, Damascus was practically part of Israel. There was no need to say anything. Everything had been planned down to the smallest detail.
On the agreed junction, the four teams separated. To a casual watcher, everything would have seemed almost normal, except for the odd packages some of the motorbikes carried. Elongated black bundles were carefully balanced, one on each side of these vehicles.
The metal front-end resembled hollow-point projectiles; yet, they had elaborate fasteners surrounding their front end. The casual watcher would nod his head in appreciation, and immediately dismiss his early-morning foolishness. You don’t put fasteners on a missile head. Well, except if you plan to fire it horizontally.
The soldiers approaching Damascus were professionals. They didn’t care about politics. They didn’t care about good and evil. They had been instructed to assassinate by their commanders, and they would do that, no matter what. Yet, due to the nature of the target, they had no choice but to understand the political considerations.
For a long time, Israel and Syria had peaceful relations. Formally at war, they respected their borders, fastidiously keeping an enforced quiet along them. This situation changed after the beginning of the Arab Spring in early 2011. Since then, Western regimes and their allies have been openly attempting to achieve regime change in Damascus.
On November 20, 2011, Russia blamed the West for creating and seeking provocations in Syria. Moreover, evidence has emerged for the US-backing for regime change in Syria. In mid-April 2011, WikiLeaks revealed that the US had funded $6 million to a London-based opposition group Movement for Justice and Development since 2006 to operate the Barada TV satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. Many other testimonies exist, including a violent Israeli provocation
Israeli soldiers taking aim next to the Syrian-Israeli border fence near Majdal Shams, June 5, 2011, Photo courtesy of Reuters
The Gestapo: A History of Horror
On June 5, 2011, Naksa Day, the 44th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, was commemorated. The events included demonstrations on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, mainly near the destroyed city of Quneitra and near the Druze village of Majdal Shams. Syria said on Monday that 23 people were killed in the rally.
Official Syrian news agency SANA quoted Health Minister Wael al-Halki as saying the death toll included a woman and a child, adding that another 350 people suffered gunshot wounds.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said live Israeli fire had caused casualties and UN monitors were seeking to confirm facts. The IDF said that since all the casualties were on the Syrian side of the border it was unable to provide an exact count, but didn’t deny its shooting. The Syrian president allowed Syrian citizens to be massacred by a formal enemy and took no action; part of the ongoing internal violence against the al-Assad regime may be attributed to this failure.
Yet, Syria is not Libya. It is neither Iraq nor Afghanistan, in the third year of the revolt, Bashar al-Assad still holds power. A personal attack on him was decided by the Western powers. In the July 18, 2012, explosion at the National Security Headquarters in Damascus, four high-ranking government ministers were killed, Assad was spared. It was just a matter of time until Israel attempted to end the war by killing the president.
One year later, the Western-backed mercenaries were losing. This was acknowledged even by Israel. In despair, USA President Obama announced an attack on Syria. Thinking himself back in Entebbe, Netanyahu laughed malevolently and signed yet another assassination order.
On December 15, 2010, the Lebanese Army announced that it had dismantled two Israeli espionage sites watching Beirut from Jabel Snin and Jabel Baruch. Two weeks before that, Lebanon filed a formal complaint at the UN Security Council against Israel after the existence of the devices was exposed by the Hezbollah.
The devices included watching equipment and signals sending and receiving communications gear; they could be activated from afar and were hidden under fake rocks in a mountainous area. Readers of The Cross of Bethlehem finally found a collateral corroboration of Kingfisher, a spinoff from Sayeret Matkal.**
Kingfisher Outwitting the Gestapo
Kingfisher is a special commando unit specializing in the placement of electronic beamers, cameras and other espionage equipment beyond the Israeli borders. Beamer is an electronic device used for guiding certain type of bombs to a target. Riding 500cc motorbikes, which can be attached to Cobra helicopters, the unit is active in Lebanon and Syria.
The latter has never released information on the beamers in its territory. Despite the danger in the placement of this equipment Israel favors this method since it saves costly flights; the lives of the soldiers involved are of secondary concern.
Kingfisher and Sayeret Matkal routinely cross the border near Quneitra in order to perform similar activities within Syria. That’s one of the reasons for the extraordinary size of an IDF intelligence unit at Tel Avital (the antennas atop the extinct volcano in the picture); that’s also the reason for other similar bases in the area, which can be clearly seen from the ground.
Israel doesn’t want citizens in the area, these can become witnesses to the routine violations of the Syrian territory by Israel. In the events described in this article, Kingfisher and Sayeret Matkal would have been the first choices of the General Command. The first is too small for such an operation; the latter would have provided highly-trained support members to the operation.
The Odd Package on the Strange Motorbikes
The odd bombs alongside the motorbikes had not been developed by Israel. They had been adapted from GBU-28 Bunker Buster provided to Israel by the USA since 2009. Lightened, thinned and adapted for a horizontal shoot, they wouldn’t be recognized even by their designers.
Israel’s policy of technological adaptations is a direct result of a decision taken by the Director General of the Ministry of Defense Shimon Peres in 1958.
The isotope research unit of the Weizmann Institute was where the first efforts of Israel to develop nuclear technologies took place, disguised as pure science research. Then, the Negev Nuclear Research Center was created and with it a conflict: How should the research be performed?
Where: Rehovot or Dimona? Who would get the prestige, resources and salaries? The solution of the problem was unexpected. Instead of developing the technologies from zero—as proposed by the Weizmann Institute—Peres decided to appropriatetechnologies from other sources, letting the scientists just adapt the technologies to the specific needs defined by the Israeli Administration.
Peres claimed that the state was too small and poor to develop the whole range of technologies needed. Since then, the Mossad and Israeli industries are occupied day and night in getting technologies from abroad while the scientists in Dimona, Rehovot, and other academic powerhouses, are busy adapting them.
Certain developments require massive installations and significant additional research. Others just need minor adaptations in order to enable them to successfully interface with other technological gadgets in their new environment. In the latter category enter many items used by commando units and Mossad agents.
For them, the IDF has a unit mockingly called the Mr. Q. Unit, after the James Bond’s movies; Mr. Q. prepared Bond’s gadgets. Located in Ramat Gan—within Gush Dan, Tel Aviv’s Metropolitan Area—it can modify everything, including a bunker-buster device to operate horizontally.
Instead of the kinetic energy used by these weapons to initiate the bunker perforation process, it used an ingenious series of directional charges. After all, the National Security Headquarters in Damascus were just buildings.
The IDF General Command knew this was a risky operation. The odds that such a large force could arrive at Damascus unseen were slim. Their only chance was if the Syrian command was so busy elsewhere that it wouldn’t have an opportunity to respond on time.
Accordingly, the IDF began a series of carefully planned clashes with the Syrian army. The border between Israel and Lebanon is based on the 1949 Armistice Agreement. Israel had several times ignited tensions there along an area known as the Shabaa Farms on the former border between Lebanon and Syria.
This time, an IDF platoon openly entered the area when the attack plan entered the operational phase and erected a tiny military base with mock missile launchers (The Israeli Air Force has a unit of mock missiles placed on real trucks for disinformation purposes).
In two days, the area became the site of a bitter fight between the armies. In addition, IDF fighters flew repeatedly over Syrian territory, though not in the Damascus area. The Syrian air force was directed in such a way to other areas of the country.
In parallel, some of the forces that had entered overland were not part of the operation, but a decoy. They would attack the Presidential Palace half an hour before the beginning of the real attack.
Damascus | Targets Highlighted Related: 911 Obama Bombs Syria
Since the attack on the National Security Headquarters, Bashar al-Assad had made this complex his headquarters. If he were a naval officer, this could be blamed on the odd belief of such officers that bombs don’t fall twice on the same spot (this is the origin of a naval defensive tactic that places a ship on the exact spot where a bomb hit).
However, Bashar al-Assad had made his decision as a symbol of his power and also for practical reasons. The area was much better protected than the Presidential Palace. That is why Kingfisher had brought the strangely adapted bunker buster.
Many of the weapons favored by Israel feature odd directional characteristics. Until 2006, the fact that Merkava tanks were heavily defended on their sides, but poorly so at their top and bottom was a national secret. That year, the knowledge leaked and the incursions of Israeli tanks into Gaza were easily blocked by regular landmines.
On the other hand, strike forces favor entering from the side by breaking walls. This makes defense from inside a very complex task. The most famous instance was the 2004 Arafat’s Siege at the Palestinian Authority Mukata Complex in Ramallah. The IDF was ready to act against Arafat from across a 3m thick wall, though this attack didn’t materialize.
In Damascus, Israel wanted to breach an entrance to the complex. It didn’t have accurate intelligence regarding the exact position of Bashar al-Assad, but this mattered little. They had enough bombs to open any obstructive wall along the way, and Bashar was an easy target. Like his father, he was very tall and had a narrow, elongated head. He could be recognized immediately.
The soldiers entered the compound finding little resistance. The early attack on the palace had caused mayhem. The bunker buster had transformed parts of the building into liquified butter.
Once inside, the corridors resembled the models they had studied at their base. They were running. There was no time to careful analyses. Along one corridor, the first soldier saw the target’s back. Without questioning his orders, without considering good and evil, he raised a small hand weapon and fired a soft-point bullet.
Amid the sweat partially blocking his view, the commando couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
The hit target did not collapse. Instead, it was clearly seen walking away on the shattered mirror the commando had hit. Before completely analyzing his error, the fished Kingfisher dropped dead to the ground.
“Was this the Syrian surprise?” Netanyahu kept mumbling while making sure that the door to his office was secured. Even he understood that was not the case. Ominously, America kept planning its putsch.
* Finding errors in reports and reviews of IDF special units is common. Contradictions between different descriptions seem to be the norm and eventually discredit most sources. Oddly enough, many times the reports are correct; their only fault being that they are incomplete. With few exceptions (Kingfisher being the most obvious one), these units rate as battalions. However, beyond the formal definition and their subdivision into platoons, there is no operational similarity between them and regular battalions. Each commando platoon has a specific training, which transforms it into a military expert in that topic. Then, specialties are constructed in a matrix fashion across the army. Every commando unit has a counterterrorism specialized platoon. This makes it easier for the IDF to have at any moment an available specialist on the topic. Moreover, it allows a combination of capabilities that increases maneuverability. In special conditions, such a grid-organization enables it to answer complex situations. Imagine a need to perform a counterterrorism operation atop Mount Hermon, at the ski resort. Sending a commando unit accustomed to work in the desert will cause difficulties. The soldiers would not have proper equipment; they would not know how to behave in the snow. In such a case, a mixed team from Sayeret Matkal Alpinist and its Counterterrorism platoons would be formed and delivered.
** The wheel of history made a sudden turn and the confusing matrix scheme hit back at the IDF. Sayeret Matkal—formally Battalion 262, de facto an administrative brigade—is an elite special forces unit, best known for Operation Thunderbolt in Entebbe. Modeled after the British Army’s Special Air Service (SAS), its main function is as a field intelligence-gathering unit, used to obtain intelligence behind enemy lines. Shaldag (“Kingfisher” in Hebrew), a unit appearing twice in The Cross of Bethlehem was initially a specialized company within Sayeret Matkal, which was separated and became an unusual commando unit within the IDF.
I met them not only in the IDF, but also before. A future Kingfisher soldier had studied with me in high-school. He was slightly deformed. His legs were like thin sticks; his arms belonged to a superhero. At the age of 15, he climbed a rope effortlessly all the way up to the gymnasium’s ceiling without using his legs. After the class was over, he did that three times in a row; he kept chatting all the time and easily won the bet (a moneyless bet; in our Communist kibbutzim money was a reactionary term). He was perfect for a military unit heavily dependent on helicopters and motorbikes. Kingfisher specializes in their use for the sake of placing beamers behind the enemy lines. They enter Syria and Lebanon as if they were suburbs of Tel Aviv. In 2002, during Operation Defensive Shield, they failed to show in Bethlehem, becoming the reason for the disastrous Siege of the Nativity Church.
Mr. Tov Roy is one of the frequent contributors for The 4th Media.