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No single set of folks go about their daily lives as constantly on the edge as do the Israelis. But then no other people are better trained and better equipped to defend themselves than the Israelis, existing as they do, ringed by hostile nations, some murderously so.

For a nation whose capital can count on only two minutes of warning of an attack from the east and maybe five, from the south, speed of reaction means the difference between survival and annihilation. Even at it’s widest spot, an enemy fighter bomber would take just six minutes to traverse it.

If I were to be living inside a country with such odds, I would be screaming murder at even the littlest sign that my existence was being threatened, just as the Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu has been doing of late. I don’t fault him at all for the rhetoric. It is not only his ass that is on the line but that of 8.2 million of his compatriots that are clinging precariously on to that tiny diamond-shaped sliver of land which measures just 106 by 244 miles.

In that same tiny sliver of earth lives a vibrant, burgeoning democracy with a very high standard of living, the only one in that part of the world, a rose inside a cesspool of villainous despots, fanatical zealots and crushing poverty. That democracy also happens to have companies in the private and public sector that employ path-breaking technology, surpassing even the established nations of the west. I know first hand. For a little while, I worked at a subsidiary of a company called Iscar – the largest, most profitable and by leaps and bounds the best in the field of cutting tool technology. I was let go because I was old but I don’t bear them the grudge.

Israel fills me with conflicting emotions. First – irritation at the no-holds-barred fight they are waging, on the Palestinians and everyone else, friends and foe alike. Second – indignation at the way they appear to manipulate their only real friend, the US. Third – tempering that indignation is the empathy I feel, at the fact that they are essentially alone, in the midst of the most volatile and politically unstable region in the world and still managing to kick butt.

Then there is alarm, at the way they stick together. Almost every Jew anywhere in the world actually owes allegiance to Israel, regardless of his nationality. Spread all over the world are the Sayanim, non-Israeli Jews who volunteer to lend Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, Mossad a hand in leaking classified information, subversion and industrial espionage on a massive scale. They are not in the least concerned about undermining the very nation of which they are the citizens.

It had been an American Sayanim who helped the Mossad smuggle 100kgs of highly enriched uranium out of NUMEC, a company based in Apollo, a suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the early 1960s. The founder-CEO of NUMEC, Zalman Shapiro, was Jewish nuclear scientist and there are reports of strong circumstantial evidence of his involvement in the disappearance of the nuclear fuel, a heist which came to be known as The Apollo Affair.

There is yet another emotion connected to Israel that most feel but are scared to admit having – fatigue, holocaust fatigue. I have frankly had enough of the holocaust. The Holocaust was bad but there have been genocides that have been far worse, where the number of victims have been higher by orders of ten and twenty. All those have been forgotten, hidden by selective amnesia. It is now getting to be three quarters of a century and the Jews have to find a way to move on.

There is admiration too, at their readiness to go all the way in order to make a point and to be known to send very firm messages. The most essential attribute in warcraft is leaving your adversary with no doubt that if he messes with you, you’re going to make him pay very dearly, no matter how painful his first strike is.

Israel might get only a two-minute warning of an attack but they have made certain that those two minutes are sufficient to beat back even the heaviest assault. It has the most sophisticated command and control structure in the world. Besides the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the Israeli security apparatus has many other tentacles……

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Agaf ha-Modi’in (Aman)

(Military intelligence)

Aman

With a total of 7000 active duty personnel, Aman produces comprehensive national intelligence estimates for the prime minister and cabinet, daily intelligence reports, risk of war estimates, target studies on nearby Arab countries, and communications intercepts. Aman also conducts cross-border infiltration and deep cover insertions.

Aman’s Foreign Relations Department is responsible for liaison with foreign intelligence services and the functioning of Israeli military attachés abroad. Besides that, units of Aman also carry out aerial reconnaissance by pilotless drones over Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, to keep a constant eye on strength levels of Arab ground forces and for target compilation across the border.

Like it’s sister agencies, Mossad and Shabak, Aman too has had a storied past. While it was held responsible for the failure to obtain adequate warning of the Egyptian-Syrian attack that launched the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, it has acquitted itself quite adequately over the decades. The world still remembers the stealing of a Soviet fighter aircraft from under the very noses of the Syrians….

By the end of the Korean War, the Soviet Union was trying out prototypes of a new jet fighter, a marvel of technological innovation which looked to be better than any other fighter aircraft of the time. Affectionately called Balalaika by those who didn’t have to face it’s ire and dreaded by those in the west who did, the legendary MIG-21 would go down in aviation history as the most-produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history and the most-produced combat aircraft since the Korean War, with the longest production run of a combat aircraft – from 1959 to 1985. Approximately 60 countries have had it in their air forces and some still do, even after the passage of six decades.

In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union decided to strengthen the hands of it’s allies in the middles-East – Syria, Iraq and Egypt – by introducing the MIG-21 into their arsenals.

The Russians were aware of the risks involved in stationing the MIGs outside their own borders and therefore the deal had a caveat – the Russians would have full authority to guard the jets and be solely responsible for security, crew training and maintenance. They didn’t want the jets falling into the hands of the Americans or the Israelis. The air bases were made impregnable, bristling with Soviet air force and security personnel.

Faced with a deadly adversary, the Aman chief, Aharon Yariv, decided to set in motion plans to steal a MIG-21. In all, three attempts were made and they succeeded in the third – An Iraqi Christian fighter pilot named Munir Redfa was first caught in a honey trap with an American woman who turned out to be an Aman agent. The Soviet personnel stationed at the Iraqi airbase used to treat their Iraqi counterparts like crap and therefore Redfa didn’t need much persuasion, besides the $ 1mill that he reportedly received from the Israelis/US.

HA0105-1

An Iraqi Mig-21

One morning, Redfa took off alone on a training flight that was to be a long-range recon sortie. After heading out toward Baghdad, he veered off on a westerly course that would take him over the Israeli border in the next twenty minutes. The Iraqi ground radar picked up a blip on the screen heading west and frantically radioed him to turn around. Instead, Munir Redfa sped toward Israel at close to twice the speed of sound. In 15 minutes, Israeli radar picked up the blip on the screen. They sent up a squadron of Mirages to escort him in and flew alongside him to a base deep in the Negev Desert.

Meanwhile Redfa’s immediate family had to be evacuated. The morning of the flight, they left Baghdad ostensibly for a picnic. The same afternoon, Aman agents in two large vans picked them up at a pre-arranged rendezvous point in the desert outside Baghdad. Those were pre-Ayatollah days, when Iran was a bum-chum of the Israelis. Redfa’s family members were driven to the Iranian border and guided across by anti-Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas. Once they were safely over the border, an Iranian Air Force helicopter collected them and flew them to a deserted airfield, from where a waiting American C-130 flew them non-stop to Israel.

For Aman, it was yet another feather in their cap.