“Come on! Come on! Get in; it’s time, go!” I heard for the second time in five minutes. I got inside our truck and waited. We waited for about half an hour and then got back out again. It was summer and the night air was hot. I felt a nice breeze against my face as I sipped from my clear civilian 1.5-liter water bottle. We waited behind a fire station in a “Moshav” as some curious kids stared while passing by. A Moshav is a type of kibbutz-like commune or community in Israel that is located in the West Bank, gated in and carefully guarded by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and the residents.
I looked out into the valleys and hills beyond the barbed wire fence and thought of how many soldiers—Persian, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, Mamluk, Ottoman, Jordanian, British—had battled on this land before me, all fueled with their own cause and justification. Just then, the mission commander said, "Okay, this is it; get in, let’s go!”
The unit commander was also on this mission with us and it was going to be one of his last. Our unit changed its commanding officer every two years, as with most positions for officers in the IDF, whereas an NCO (non-commissioned officer) can remain in the same assignment for twenty years. The unit commander, Colonel A, was going to be working in the United States with the U.S. Marine Corps as a liaison, so he wanted to get some action in for old times’ sake before taking up a desk in Washington. He was a nice man, he really knew how to move the unit forward, and, most importantly, he always ensured that we got the best missions. We were working quite closely with the operational wing of Israel’s internal security force in the department of defense while the unit was attached to the army’s central command. Our very close affiliation and success rate strengthened our relationship and made us the go-to unit for CT operations.
Again, we packed into the truck, squeezed in like sardines. So, why the delay? The best answer I can give is because you only go when you are absolutely certain that it is the optimum moment to strike. The unit commander was standing one man behind me in the truck. All of us had IR markers on our helmets turned on. These cheap little lights light up bright when viewed through night vision goggles. Once inside the truck, we checked one more time with our night vision to make sure everyone’s marker worked. They did. We kept a small piece of tape over the area directly in front of the light bulb so that it was not bright enough to see with the naked eye at night in the pitch black. The unit commander noticed that my tape had fallen off, and put a fresh piece on. He had some tape wrapped around the stock of his rifle and he ripped it off just for me. At 35 years old, with fifteen years in the field, he didn’t miss a thing. He did not know whose head it was that the helmet was on, he just whispered what he was doing and placed the tape as we moved closer to an area just on the edge of one of the refugee camps (about 92 acres with a population around 12,000) in Jenin.
No vehicle could drive inside because it was just too dense and the streets were way too narrow. Our target’s dwelling was right on the edge of the housing block, which was good, so we didn’t have to travel too far on foot and worry about being compromised before we could start working on our structure.
We wanted our man dead or alive, but we knew that alive was the preferred option, for interrogation purposes. He was 33 years old. He and his group of militants from a Hezbollah branch operating in the territories with Hamas recruited suicide bombers. They would find confused youths (I was surprised to learn that 42 per cent of suicide bombers in this camp were under the age of 15) and introduce them to the ways of the jihad, the holy war. They taught them about what it means to become a martyr, about sacrificing themselves for the greater good of the Muslim brotherhood, and of course the most ridiculous part; the 72 virgins. That seemed to be enough motivation for them, considering that 224 of 300 reported suicide terror attacks from 1980 to 2003 involved Islamist groups i . Friends and family members aren’t recruited for this, of course, but the weak-minded ones are given instruction on exactly how, what, when and where to detonate. They are showered, clean-shaven, nicely dressed, and pocket their personal suicide note.
When it comes down to it, they just want the bombers to blow up and take as many Jews or Israelis with them as possible, and a non-Jewish Westerner is always a bonus. If the boys consider backing out, they are given an ultimatum of violence- fully threatened and intimidated by the faction. If they do not comply, their families are destroyed: their mothers and sisters often raped, beaten and then sold, their brothers killed, and their fathers exiled. What if you were given such an ultimatum? Kill and sacrifice yourself on a kamikaze mission, or watch the lives of the people you love destroyed while you sit helplessly like a coward with nowhere to turn. It is undoubtedly twisted, but very much a reality.
Our target would be armed. We expected that he would fight to the death, and we needed to be prepared for that. We also had a secondary mission to recover a suicide (explosive) belt in his house. It was go-time and I stepped into the unknown for the third time that week, at close to 1 a.m. We broke out of our truck at a fast running pace just outside the dense structures of the encampment. There was a beat-up schoolhouse to our right and the edge of the refugee camp to our left. Four of us moved down a flight of steps into the camp’s depths; everything was uneven in these places because of the natural foundation of the hillside. We made it to the side of the target house with entrances facing us in a narrow alley. The unit commander, communicator, mission commander, radio man, and two more men quickly broke open the schoolhouse entrance, which was now perpendicular to my position on the side of the wanted man’s house. The old schoolhouse was known to be unoccupied and was our safe point to fall back on and retreat to for our pick up and departure.
The most dangerous position was on the roof of the enemy’s building, which was a location held by a four-man team, also known as a “monkey squad,” that specialized in working with ladders and ropes. They used ladders and ropes to shimmy onto the roof of the three-story structure. This was not a dangerous spot due to its location, but more so because of the exposure and vulnerability of climbing onto the roof safely. One man stood back far enough in the street below the ladder, so that if someone were on the roof and approached the side of the building, the man positioned below would have a clear shot at him. Once the first man was up, he would take responsibility for clearing the roof and the safety of the climbers. Then the other three men would climb up, one at a time, while the others held the ladder and watched the street.
The streets, made of cobblestone, were virtually empty. The homes were brick, stone and mortar. The building walls were lined with posters of dead, terrorists who were killed or blown up and were now idolized and glorified, further feeding the fire.
I was on the side of the house with the entrances and needed to break into the house across the narrow street of steps. We descended the three levels of steps and landings and reached the door of the house that we needed to enter. At about 1 a.m., I inserted our hydraulic door splitter in the seam of the double door as the three others in my squad covered the area we came from, the rooftops, the entrances to the house with our target across the street, and the direction the steps went down.
One man pumped the device, working it in the door to get it open. The noise and commotion attracted a woman on the other side of the door. I told her: "Iftach elbab. Achna jesh," which means, “Open the door. We are the army,” in Arabic. The steel double door had upper and lower bolts or pins. The door, which would be hard to breach quickly without the use of pyrotechnics, was common to the Middle East and this area. The woman started to open the door nervously and slowly. The pins were bent and distorted from my efforts, making it hard to open.
Our terrorist had a lookout and the lookout told him we were there. The lookout was his brother, who was also in the house with him. There was a group of guys who were sleeping in shifts to guard the main entrance to the structure.
Just then, a man emerged from the window with a Kalashnikov (AK-47) assault rifle. Throughout the world, Russian- and Chinese-designed AKs are among the most commonly smuggled small arms, sold to governments, rebels, and criminals alike. The same rifle carried by the Viet Cong is carried by ISIS. At 8.5 pounds, it is not very light, and it is not as accurate or reliable as our M4 either, but what do you expect from a weapon that has not changed in 60 years? The proliferation of this weapon is evidenced by more than just numbers—the AK is included in the very flag of Hamas and Hezbollah; the weapon is notorious.
Our target had opened fire on us without even looking or aiming at all, basically using the spray and pray technique. He simply held the rifle out through the window and pulled the trigger on full auto. The bullets danced on the ground in front of our tight squad. Luckily no one was hit with a direct hit or a ricochet. I took a piece of shrapnel to the ankle, which barely broke the skin thanks to my Asolo boots.
I screamed at the woman, "Open the door!" in Arabic, and at this point one side of the double door was open, which is half the space of a normal doorway and with my gear I was too wide to fit through. My squad fired back at the gunman in the window, but it was too late. He had disappeared inside. At least now we knew he was home. I dropped my backpack and forcefully squeezed through the door while the woman, in full burkha, was flustered and confused. I got in and opened the other side of the door by lifting the pin that held the concrete floor pin that gripped the ceiling. We all piled inside the house—which was exactly like being in a modern cave and did a quick search. Like Fred Flintstone’s house, the ceilings were low and the walls were made of stone; it looked like a prehistoric family lived there, a lair-like structure in which everyone must walk around hunched over. It smelled like old trash. I was the first one up the steps inside the door. The floor plan curved around and led to the kitchen-bedroom-closet area. I put all the inhabitants (a woman and two men) in the bedroom. The woman sat on a chair and I cuffed the two men, searched them, and sat them on the bed.
One soldier was downstairs manning the doorway in an alcove to the house watching for any activity that might come from across the street or in the alley. Two soldiers moved to search the rest of the building. They moved up the steps and radioed me that they were sending people my way, one at a time, who were searched but not cuffed. In about eight minutes I had twelve people in the bedroom. I searched them again, one by one, then I cuffed the men and they sat on the floor. I was looking for a weapon only the size of a hand grenade or pistol (or larger) on them. There were some children and a baby sleeping in a mother’s arms. We never physically searched the women out of concern for their safety after we left.
The structure was secure. We positioned two men from my squad—soldiers K and S—on the roof, a designated marksman and a team breacher/medic. The squad leader was down at the entrance and I was with the civilians, who were being inconvenienced at 1:33 a.m. by the terrorist antics of their neighbor.
Once we had control of the people and structure, we radioed for one of two squads that had moved into the old schoolhouse to come in. It was clear at this point that he would not come out without a fight, so we waited for our clearing team to kill him.
The squad leader called the occupants of the adjacent house- the house that fired on us- on a megaphone and commanded them to come out one at a time, slowly, with hands raised.
Eventually, I heard some shooting from outside but heard nothing of it on my radio. A few of the men started to complain about the flex cuffs on their wrists, saying the cuffs were cutting off circulation. I checked them and replaced a few of them, but one of them still complained. Finally, three men were brought up blindfolded, this meant they had been identified as enemy forces. They, too, were seated on the floor of the cluttered, dirty kitchen. There was a zoo of roaches throughout the kitchen and bedroom, but no one seemed to be bothered by them. I had some of the heavier people of the group sit on overturned buckets that I found in the kitchen. One of the blindfolded ones, we later found out, was the brother of the wanted man who first spotted us.
Once they were all in the small apartment, our designated marksman radioed down from the rooftop and asked to be relieved. I offered to be the one to replace him and headed up to the roof.
I could see everything: the team on the roof across the street, the old schoolhouse, and light coming from the doorway below where we came in. We were watching the windows and the side of the house. We also paid attention to the rooftops around us in case a rooftop shooter (and there are many around) noticed us. A rooftop is a dangerous place because of open exposure to fire from other rooftops on the periphery.
The entry team received the order to work on the interior of the house. They were about to enter the open door across the street and securely search their way through the interior of the structure. They slowly crossed the street, one at a time, under the safe cover of each other and all of us.
Just then across the street on the perpendicular side of the building, I saw some movement in one of the windows. It was coming from the second story. A man with a rifle slung around his back hung from the windowsill and dropped out onto the street below. I raised my rifle from the ready to sight. He looked quickly right and then left down the alley, and he ran with his AK-47 in hand in the direction of the alley we came from with all the steps.
The entry team was just getting into the house on the side street and couldn’t see him. I took aim at his center-mass through the reflex red dot optic on my weapon. This sight system used a solar powered/tritium powered laser beam that illuminated the target, but was only visible through the optic. It was sighted like a regular scope and had a battery that charged by daylight and worked best at night when there was no ambient light. My target was about 65 meters away and moving. I fired once and he went down. He lay belly down and face to the left, left leg over his right. I delivered a follow-up shot for safety. The man with me on the roof radioed to the mission commander that the target was down, and that the fire was good (which means that the fire came from one of us, and that the hit was successful). The entry team was instructed to continue the search of the house as if he was still inside, and the squad on the other rooftop (his) moved to the far edge of their roof for a closer view of the body. They requested permission to fire two shots to confirm the kill. Permission was granted, and two headshots were carefully placed. Soon the alley was soaked in pooling cranial blood. Mission accomplished.
Inside the house, the entry team seized three more rifles that were abandoned by his cohorts who surrendered. We were about to move to the old schoolhouse building to rally and depart when the brother—who at that point knew from all the shooting that someone was likely dead—wanted to cut a deal. He bargained using information on the whereabouts of the suicide belt, which was scheduled for tomorrow’s delivery, in return for his temporary freedom. He pleaded on the spot, but it was too late. The entry team in the house had already located the bomb belt.
We held our position while a bomb squad from the engineering division (Yalome- “Diamond” in Hebrew) moved into the house to neutralize the bomb and destroy it. Meanwhile, two soldiers went quickly to recover the weapon from the dead man. About 40 minutes later, we went to the old schoolhouse, one at a time with three blindfolded terrorists, at a jogging pace. Our transport was ready and we departed without incident.
U.S. Army General Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” We all shared his perspective, and this mission was just one more piece of evidence to support that idea.
Mr. Machine (www.counterterrorwarfare.com) served in the Duvdevan counter-terrorism unit of the Israeli Defense Force. He was a firearms and tactics instructor for his unit and later served on personal security details for senior Ministry of Defense officials. Machine has released two DVDs on combat shooting (Pressure Makes Diamonds), and Israeli Security Concepts, a book on tactics available on Amazon.