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Behind the Headlines: IDF Anti-terror Unit in Territories is Gaining Exposure and Popularity

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Unlike many of their older brothers who tried to avoid service in the administered territories, new recruits to the Israel Defense Force seem eager for it.

They are passing up the prestigious paratroop and commando units to volunteer for an undercover operation aimed at destroying the intifada by infiltrating its strongholds.

IDF soldiers, often disguised as Arabs, use James Bond-type tactics to track down the most wanted leaders of the 4-year-old Palestinian uprising.

On Sunday, an IDF special force killed three Palestinians and wounded a fourth in a raid on the Askar refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus.

All four men were high on the list of most wanted terrorists.

The operation was carried out by the undercover unit code-named Duvdevan (cherry), which operates in the West Bank.

Among those killed was local intifada leader Na’im Laham, 25, a suspect in numerous shooting attacks on Israeli vehicles or IDF patrols in the Nablus area.

Duvdevan’s counterpart in the Gaza Strip, code-named Shimshon (Samson), suffered its first fatality last week. A soldier, Baruch Ben-Shimon, was shot to death during a raid on a terrorist hideout.

By then, the Israeli public was aware of the covert activities and was engaged in a hot debate over the wisdom of disclosing what was until last year a top-secret operation.

REVEALED SECRET OR POWERFUL DETERRENT?

During a prime-time newscast one Friday night several months ago, Israel Television broadcast a special report about Duvdevan.

Israeli viewers saw films of what appeared to be old men or women in the streets of Arab towns who in reality were IDF soldiers in disguise.

They were tracking a wanted terrorist, put off guard by their harmless appearance until surprised and overpowered by a tough young soldier whom they thought to be an arthritic oldster.

Israeli television viewers were delighted by the real-life action drama. But there was overwhelming criticism from the public for exposing the secret.

The criticism was aimed at the IDF High Command because, clearly, the film report could not have been made without full cooperation of the IDF and the approval of its chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak.

The IDF replied that publicizing the work of the undercover squads was a powerful deterrent because now intifada activists cannot be sure who is friend or foe.

Moreover, while the Israeli public was kept in the dark, the special squads were hardly a secret to the Palestinian population in the territories.

Shimshon and Duvdevan are now the most popular outfits among new recruits. And the IDF has announced that it plans to beef up the units to cope with increasing violence in the territories, especially the Gaza Strip.

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