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The Cross of Bethlehem

The Cross of Bethlehem II

Netanyahu: Between Uganda and Argentina

Sayeret Matkal performed a silent, South America-style coup d’état in Israel



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Netanyahu, Barak, Vilnai, Pardo | Path of War



Many years ago, the IDF published a thin but important book. Oddly enough it came out of the Galei Tzahal print; this is Israel’s military radio, as described in The Cross of Bethlehem, it is the most popular one there. The book deals with methods used by the USA to control South American regimes. Apparently I was one of its few readers; years later – when I found myself a refugee in that obscure part of the world – I could appreciate the frightening exactitude of that little book.

There were two levels to the American control of their “backyard,” as South America is nicknamed in the book. The first was political and was best defined by the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Monroe – then Secretary of State of the USA - defined an American position regarding the Americas: European powers are to be kept out at all costs. This has been strictly kept: French and Spaniards were ruthlessly sent away with the exception of a small failure at the French Guyana, which is still part of Metropolitan France. The second level is military; the book deals mainly with the situation in Argentina, but it applies also to what is known as the “Southern Cone” (Argentina, Chile and Uruguay). Interestingly, the last is also a dark star in Phillip Agee’s INSIDE THE COMPANY: CIA DIARY. Other South American countries are essentially similar to what will be described here. All of them experienced some of the most ruthless military-terror dictatorships during the 20th century; ignoring human rights, torturing and assassinating citizens were their credentials. This military-terror machinery had been trained by the USA and was designed to perform exactly that: civil terror for the profit of Empire.

To those knowing something about regular army’s structures, South American armies look weird. Their officers are structured according to their graduation class, advancing to their next post once a year or so. In such a way, highly consolidated groups (should I say packs?) are created. The same officers advance together along their entire career. This method creates a high loyalty of the officers to … their friends, the other officers. Loyalty to the society they are serving becomes a secondary value. Then, military units are static, seldom moving. Most South American armies are military unable of conducting offensive moves (or any moves at all) beyond their immediate vicinity; see for example the Falkland War between Argentina and the UK in the 1980s. They won’t move even for exercises (But give them a siesta twice a day! Yet, I admit they have exceptionally clean uniforms; groovy dandies they are). Finally, the officers are often trained by the US Army in topics like control of civilian populations. They behave like Mishmar Hagvul (“Border Patrol” a police unit within the IDF) in the West Bank: their target is controlling the civilians in their immediate vicinity. Due to my actual location in that continent I won’t finish describing the book, but the idea is clear.


Despite its many faults and crimes, the IDF doesn’t behave like that. There is no chance officers would make their career among close friends. This is often cited as the reason why a military coup d’état is impossible in Israel. However, this system has recently proven fallible.

Sayeret Matkal – formally Battalion 262, de facto an administrative brigade - is an elite special forces unit of the IDF, 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. The Shaldag (“Kingfisher” in Hebrew) unit appearing twice in The Cross of Bethlehem was initially a specialized company within Sayeret Matkal. The Alpinists Unit serving at Mount Hermon is a subunit of Sayeret Matkal.

This unit behaves different than all others in the IDF. I commented in several occasions in the lack of confidence of Israelis while acting alone. Israeli travelers seldom move independently (that’s one of the reasons I’m hard to spot as such – I do move alone, and fast); this is the result of military training insisting on at least two soldiers during navigation-orienteering training for safety reasons. Sayeret Matkal soldiers are trained to move alone. Also, soldiers there form tight and secretive packs, as in South American armies. Here, the IDF failed.


The extraordinary loyalty developed by members f this unit among themselves can be enhanced by special events. On July 4, 1976, Operation Entebbe was conducted by Sayeret Matkal in order to release a kidnapped Air France plane at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The list of participants in the Israeli forces is surprising. Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, the assault force leader and Benjamin’s brother was killed in action.

Benjamin Netanyahu, currently Israel’s Prime Minister was an officer in the force. Ehud Barak, currently Israel’s Minister of Defense, was an officer in the force and the direct commander of Benjamin Netanyahu. Matan Vilnai, currently Minister for Home Front Defense, was second in command of the force. Shaul Mofaz, currently Deputy Prime Minister, participated in the force. Tamir Pardo, currently Director of Mossad, was a member of the assault team, apparently in charge of its communications. These are the figures that have become public and hold significant positions in Israel as of 2011. They are tighter than brothers and would prove loyal to themselves no matter what. Between them, they hold all the significant powers in Israel.

Sayeret Matkal performed a silent, South America-style coup d’état in Israel, and Israeli citizens – deep in their Coca-Coma – didn’t notice that yet. What does that mean? Further militarization of Israel and little chance of success to any peace efforts. The Path of War is open; the wolves are willing.

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