Electronic copy of a paper published in Counterterrorism: From the Cold War to the War on Terror, Volume 2, edited by Frank G. Shanty. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO, 2012. Also available in print-friendly pdf format.
Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2012. "Yehida Mishtartit Mistaravim (YAMAS) (Israel)." Pp. 71-72 in Counterterrorism: From the Cold War to the War on Terror, Volume 2, edited by Frank G. Shanty. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO.
The YAMAS is a group of undercover counterterrorism units in the Israeli Border Guard (the Magav), a special branch of the Israeli Police. Unlike traditional undercover operations oriented at gathering evidence, the operations of the YAMAS typically involve hit-and-run raids targeted at apprehending or killing terrorists. An acronym for ‘Yehida Mishtartit Mistaravim,’ the YAMAS is one of four counterterrorism units in the Magav next to the Yamam which is a counterterror and hostage rescue unit, the Matilan which is specialized in intelligence gathering and infiltrations interception, and the Yamag, a rapid deployment unit for crime and terrorism.
The YAMAS was originally developed in the military when in 1990 undercover units were created to deal with terrorist activities originating from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In 1992, a counterterrorism reconnaissance force was established for the capital city of Israel, which in 1995 was reformed into an undercover unit. Until today, the YAMAS comprises the same three regional units. Because of the sensitive nature of YAMAS operations, the units were initially classified. But when in 1992 an undercover operative was accidentally killed by friendly fire, Magav commanders revealed the existence of the units.
Most members of the YAMAS are not ethnically Jewish but come from Arab minority populations in Israel, especially Druze, who have Arab as their first language. Because of the special dangers involved in conducting undercover operations in potentially hostile environments, recruitment into the YAMAS is very selective and the year-long training is challenging in physical and metal respect. Most all YAMAS members are male and typically unmarried.
YAMAS operatives engage in two kinds of operations. First, in direct actions, terrorist individuals are targeted on the basis of intelligence provided by police or military forces. Second, YAMAS operatives intervene in crowd control and riot situations to take out leaders and armed terrorists. At the moment a terrorist is apprehended, the YAMAS operatives will reveal their identity, typically by putting on a ski mask and a police cap, so that other incoming Magav forces are able to differentiate them from the apprehended terrorists.
As a police force that is highly professionalized with respect to the primary aim to conduct counterterrorism operations as efficiently as possible, the YAMAS places a very strong emphasis on the operatives’ ability to immerse themselves fully into the targeted communities. The Hebrew term for this deep-cover role is referred to as ‘mistaravim’. Appearing as the central term in the full name of the YAMAS, mistaravim is the plural form of a neologism that combines the Hebrew words for disguise and Arab. Literally to be translated as ‘disguised-as-Arabs’, mistaravim refers to the central skill among YAMAS operatives to appear to be Arab in every possible manner, including language skills, knowledge of Islam, and every conceivably relevant way of acting. The centrality of the mistaravim practice is revealed from the fact that YAMAS units are most often known and referred to among the general population as the mistaravim.
Deflem, Mathieu. The Policing of Terrorism: Organizational and Global Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2010.
Katz, Samuel M. “Task Force Gaza: Under Fire with the Israeli Border Guard’s Ya’mas Counterterrorist Unit.” Special Operations Report 3 (2005): 14-23.