No one ever dared to call Pascal Avrahami an old man. At 49 he could outrun, out-shoot and outperform men half his age. When he went to the market near his Jerusalem home, the vendors called him Rambo. The name embarrassed him.
Pascal was born in France, the son of Jewish refugees who fled the Algerian war of independence. The family moved to Israel when he was a teenager and Pascal was conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces at the age of 18. Determined to display his dedication to his adopted country, he volunteered into the paratroopers. In 1982, during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, Pascal fought in the bitter hand-to-hand fighting around Beirut. Like many Israeli young men, he was a seasoned combat veteran before his 20th birthday.
Undaunted by the horrors of war, Pascal was, in fact, intrigued by its dangers. Pascal wanted to be on the front row of his country’s fight against terrorism and he tried out for a spot with Ya’ma’m—Israel’s ultra-selective and highly secretive counterterrorist and hostage-rescue unit. The unit’s acceptance rate is one in 1,000 and Pascal turned out to be that one. He made it through the gruelling and highly competitive selection process and was offered a slot in the unit to become a ‘monkey’, the affectionate nickname for the operators specially trained to hang from helicopters or rappel toward a target on a fast rope. The fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled life of a counterterrorist operator was tailor-made for Pascal. He was always the first through the door, the first through the window and the first through the skylight. Pascal was decorated for valour on multiple occasions for courage under fire. He was something of a bullet magnet and was repeatedly wounded in action.
Pascal lived for the thrills and adventure of the secretive force, but Sima was the love of his life. A beautiful and stoic woman, Sima accepted her husband’s calling and realised that being a Ya’ma’m wife meant sitting at home waiting for her husband to return from God knows where doing God knows what. Pascal wore a gold wedding band on his finger and a Motorola pager on his hip. The Motorola pager was an extended extremity to unit personnel—they carried it on their person at all times—on base, while sitting in a restaurant eating a meal and even in bed. “The damn device buzzes in the most inopportune times,” a 20-year veteran of the unit commented, “when you are at a wedding, when you are in the shower and when you are alone with the wife. The terrorists aren’t on my schedule. When there’s an operation happening, we go.” Pascal, like others, never went anywhere without the Motorola, even when he wasn’t on call. He simply didn’t want to be left behind when the unit launched a mission only to have to hear about it the next morning.
The unit was always busy. There were call-outs and planned missions. There was always training going on. Somehow, in between the trigger time and danger, Sima and Pascal created a home for themselves. They started a family and raised three sons.
Pascal was observant and wore a yarmulke in deference to a higher authority. But, in many ways, his true faith was invested in his own special abilities and the combat skills of the men who served with him in the unit: precision, dedication, speed and firepower take on an almost religious meaning for the close-knit tightly wound men in the force; the battlefield of terror was their temple. One’s politics or background is irrelevant inside this tight-knit congregation. The mission and the men around you became the only higher authorities that mattered.
As good as he was kicking down doors, Pascal’s true calling was as a sniper and he quickly became the unit’s—and Israel’s—top marksman. His long-range shooting skills, able to pick off targets 1,000m off, became the unit standard, proficiency he used in the thousands of operations against Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). The older he got, when most men nearing middle age would have found it harder to keep pace, the better he became. He never let the aches and pains slow him down; and, if the aches and pains got to him, he never let the younger men in the unit know about it. While many of his friends left the unit because of injuries or age, Pascal remained on the front lines, the proverbial tip of the spear.
HE NEVER LET THE ACHES AND PAINS SLOW HIM DOWN; AND, IF THE ACHES AND PAINS GOT TO HIM, HE NEVER LET THE YOUNGER MEN IN THE UNIT KNOW ABOUT IT. WHILE MANY OF HIS FRIENDS LEFT THE UNIT BECAUSE OF INJURIES OR AGE, PASCAL REMAINED ON THE FRONT LINES, THE PROVERBIAL TIP OF THE SPEAR.
Because Pascal was the most experienced man in the unit, he was often asked to lecture visiting delegations from allied counterterrorist units—including those from the United States—that ventured to Ya’ma’m headquarters to see the Israeli secret sauce in fighting terror. On a few occasions, he even got a chance to use his native French, briefing visitors from overseas. But Pascal shunned the limelight and accolades. He lowered his eyes and blushed when asked to talk about his heroics. His wife and kids, and even his parents and brother, never heard any details about what he did on missions.
As the years added up and the scar tissue took longer to heal Pascal pondered retirement. He often told his wife that he just wanted to go on for just one more year. He was still healthy and strong, after all, why stop? His numerous in-the-line-of-duty injuries hadn’t slowed him down that much; the lacerations and bruises healed. But just one more year soon became many. He was closing in on a yet unprecedented milestone: 30 years of service as a frontline combat operator.
On the morning of 18 August 2011, Israeli intelligence learned that Salafist radicals in the Sinai were about to attack Israel’s southern border. Pascal and several squads of Ya’ma’m operators suited up with close to 36kg of tactical kit on their backs, and were flown south to be in position and at the ready should the reports be true. The temperature hovered above 37 degrees Celsius in the August sun, and the desert winds whipped the dirt and sand of the terrain violently.
The intelligence was spot on. Twelve terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and a lethal ISIS-like Salafist movement had tunnelled their way out of the Gaza Strip and trekked toward the Red Sea resort town of Eilat on a road that hugged the lightly fortified Israeli-Egyptian frontier. Armed with RPGs and light machine guns, the terrorists split into three four-man teams and attacked anything that moved on the desert highway that hugged the border fence. The terrorists attacked a bus with rocket and machine-gun fire, and one of the terrorists blew himself up near another bus, killing a driver; in another incident, another group of gunmen had opened fire on a sedan carrying vacationers killing four people. All of the terrorists wore suicide vests.
The Ya’ma’m raced to the kill zone and a full-scale firefight erupted. “We didn’t just shoot them from 100 yards out,” one unit squad leader explained. “Our guys charged at them and took them out quickly, and before the terrorists could detonate the IEDs they wore on their chests. We closed range on them and killed them. The firefights were fierce and they were over fast.”
Ya’ma’m operators spanned the battle zone to search the area and the surrounding caves for any hidden IEDs or terrorists. Pascal and his teammates deployed along the fence line alongside the Egyptian frontier to help protect the perimeter around four of the terrorists so that bomb disposal techs could render safe the booby-trapped explosive payloads worn on their chests. The winds whipped as Pascal and his team took a knee to look across the open spaces of the desert to see if anything looked out of the ordinary. And then a lone shot rang out from across the Egyptian border. The Ya’ma’m operators dropped to the ground to react, but one of the young operators saw that Pascal had buckled, only to fall mortally wounded by the side of the road. Ya’ma’m medics worked frantically to save Pascal but he was already dead.
THE WINDS WHIPPED AS PASCAL AND HIS TEAM TOOK A KNEE TO LOOK ACROSS THE OPEN SPACES OF THE DESERT TO SEE IF ANYTHING LOOKED OUT OF THE ORDINARY. AND THEN A LONE SHOT RANG OUT FROM ACROSS THE EGYPTIAN BORDER. THE YA’MA’M OPERATORS DROPPED TO THE GROUND TO REACT, BUT ONE OF THE YOUNG OPERATORS SAW THAT PASCAL HAD BUCKLED, ONLY TO FALL MORTALLY WOUNDED BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. YA’MA’M MEDICS WORKED FRANTICALLY TO SAVE PASCAL BUT HE WAS ALREADY DEAD.
Pascal had phoned his wife just hours earlier before he had hopped on board the Black Hawk chopper that flew him to the Egyptian border. He told her not to worry. Yet as dusk approached over the hills west of Jerusalem, Sima had a sixth sense that something had gone horribly wrong. It wasn’t like Pascal not to phone. Her worst fears were elevated when she couldn’t reach any of her husband’s comrades in the field; police headquarters refused to give her any information. The numbing gnaw inside her grew into a paralysing punch to the gut. Sima’s worst fears were confirmed by the knock on the door. Pascal’s buddies from the unit, some covered in dirt from the fighting hours earlier and still in their fatigues, were outside her door. They had raced straight from the battlefield to the suburbs of Jerusalem. A police rabbi, wearing the olive drab fatigues of the Border Guard, adjusted his green beret to his head and held his head down as he entered the house. In his hands was the book of Psalms.
Pascal was buried the following day with full military honours. Thousands attended the funeral. He was eulogised by the prime minister and the president as a true hero of Israel.
War is a young man’s domain. Forty-nine-year-old men are not supposed to die in the bloody carnage of counterterrorism’s trench warfare. But Pascal knew who he was and what he could still contribute. He never saw age as a factor to keep him from being the first through the door on an assault. Pascal could have hung up his M4 rifle and settled for a desk job or an administrative post. Who better to teach the future unit snipers than the legend himself? But Pascal, like the men he served with, believed that they were selected by divine fate or by sheer determination to be Israel’s go-to specialists.
Like so many things Israeli, the Ya’ma’m was born out of unimaginable bloodshed. On 15 May 1974, three Palestinian terrorists crossed Israel’s northern border from Lebanon and seized a schoolhouse in the town of Ma’alot. The terrorists held 115 students and teachers hostage and demanded the release of hundreds of their jailed comrades; Israeli authorities were given 24 hours to assemble the prisoners and fly them to an Arab capital. If their demands weren’t met the terrorists promised to kill the children in cold blood. Israel was still reeling from the murder of 11 of its athletes in Munich two years earlier and was not about to let the terrorists win—especially not on Israeli soil. Israel wasn’t about to negotiate with killers, so the Israelis responded the way they always did—with stubborn and innovative force. The army’s elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, a unit that two years later would amaze the global imagination with the rescue at Entebbe, was ordered to end the siege tactically.
The rescue assault didn’t go as planned, though. When the commandos stormed the schoolhouse the terrorists turned their weapons on the children, rather than at the soldiers streaming in through doors and windows. Before the smoke cleared, 25 children and three of the commandos were dead; 70 others were wounded. Ma’alot was where the Ya’ma’m began.
Ma’alot taught Israeli leaders that counterterrorism and hostage-rescue required a full-time professional force that could dedicate its time and resources to one specific mission. It was also decided that the new unit would be part of the Border Guard police. The new unit was called Ya’ma’m, the Hebrew acronym for Special Police Unit.
The unit’s formative years were a bloody learning curve. In March 1978, seaborne terrorists who had originated in Lebanon landed on the Israeli coast and seized hostages travelling on a bus tour; the attack was an attempt to derail delicate peace negotiations underway with Egypt. The Ya’ma’m was summoned. A tense standoff ensued around the tactical perimeter the unit established. But before the unit could launch its rescue bid, gunfire erupted from inside the bus. Shooting erupted from all sides and the bus exploded in flames. Thirty-eight civilians were killed in the melee; over 70 were wounded. The unit had a lot of work to do.
Catastrophe resulted in the unit receiving whatever resources it needed—money, suddenly, was no object and the unit acquired state-of-the-art equipment to enhance its capabilities. Tactics were re-examined and corrected. New tactics and strategies were created.
CATASTROPHE RESULTED IN THE UNIT RECEIVING WHATEVER RESOURCES IT NEEDED—MONEY, SUDDENLY, WAS NO OBJECT AND THE UNIT ACQUIRED STATE-OF-THE-ART EQUIPMENT TO ENHANCE ITS CAPABILITIES. TACTICS WERE RE-EXAMINED AND CORRECTED. NEW TACTICS AND STRATEGIES WERE CREATED.
The unit trained around-the-clock in order to be able to react quickly and decisively to the hijacking of an airliner, the seizure of a school and the holding of hostages. The unit incorporated K9 elements into its order of battle and invented new technologies around the art of breaching and remote tactics. Unit operators were at the range every day, throwing an uncountable number of rounds down range.
In March 1988 the hard work paid off. Three terrorists hijacked a bus in southern Israel packed with labourers—mainly working moms—heading to work. To prove that they meant business, the terrorists executed three of the women in cold blood. The Ya’ma’m was given the green light to assault the bus. Specially trained dogs, acting like diversionary devices, jumped through the open bus windows distracting the terrorists, while unit sharpshooters fired simultaneously onto the bus killing the terrorists before they could harm any more of the hostages.
The years to follow would be some of the bloodiest in the unit’s—and Israel’s—history. Hamas and the PIJ had commandeered the Palestinian war against Israel, and a new breed of terrorist—one driven by a fiery brand of zealous fundamentalism—had emerged inside the fault lines of the explosive Arab-Israeli divide. Unlike the old generation of hostage-takers, the new terrorists focused on suicide stands. The firefights were close range and bloody. Several Ya’ma’m officers were killed in action and many more were wounded.
Like a bad script that just kept on repeating itself, every promise of peace in the Middle East was always punctuated by spasms of senseless violence. The historic handshake between PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin initiated a period of great bloodshed on the streets of Israel.
LIKE A BAD SCRIPT THAT JUST KEPT ON REPEATING ITSELF, EVERY PROMISE OF PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST WAS ALWAYS PUNCTUATED BY SPASMS OF SENSELESS VIOLENCE. THE HISTORIC HANDSHAKE BETWEEN PLO CHAIRMAN YASSER ARAFAT AND ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER YITZHAK RABIN INITIATED A PERIOD OF GREAT BLOODSHED ON THE STREETS OF ISRAEL.
Hamas and the PIJ expressed their displeasure in the emerging détente by setting the streets of Israel on fire. Suicide bombers did not take hostages, and once the Palestinian terrorists began blowing themselves up on buses and inside cafés, the Ya’ma’m became expert in pre-empting mass carnage instead of reacting to it.
Between 2000 and 2006, the State of Israel withstood a relentless terrorist offensive by an alliance of Palestinian terrorist groups. The conflict, known as the al-Aqsa intifada, was nothing short of a total war waged against Israel’s citizens inside Israel’s cities; over 1,000 Israelis were killed and scores more wounded in what seemed liked daily suicide bombings and shooting attacks. Israel’s security forces tirelessly interdicted, deterred and terminated the terrorists before they could blow themselves up on an Israeli street corner. The campaign was spearheaded by the Ya’ma’m.
The Ya’ma’m carried out raids on top-tier terror targets a daily basis; sometimes, the unit was called out three times a day. “The operations all blurred one into another, even the larger ones” a team leader recalled, “but there were some missions where we received word that a suicide bomber was an hour away from entering Jerusalem. We deployed immediately to where the intelligence said he’d be and when we confronted and killed him the bomber was wearing a suicide vest. If we didn’t stop him, there would be a bus that would be blown up. That’s how that period was for us. The pressure was nerve-shattering. There were times we killed a suicide bomber heading toward a city and we felt good that we had prevented people from being killed. We took the work very personally. We felt as if we failed because somehow possibly we could have prevented it.”
“THE PRESSURE WAS NERVE-SHATTERING. THERE WERE TIMES WE KILLED A SUICIDE BOMBER HEADING TOWARD A CITY AND WE FELT GOOD THAT WE HAD PREVENTED PEOPLE FROM BEING KILLED. WE TOOK THE WORK VERY PERSONALLY. WE FELT AS IF WE FAILED BECAUSE SOMEHOW POSSIBLY WE COULD HAVE PREVENTED IT.”
In one 2002 operation, codenamed Swan Song, a Ya’ma’m task force raided a Hamas bomb factory in the West Bank city of Nablus. A hellacious firefight erupted between the Ya’ma’m team and the terrorists guarding the facility. All of the terrorists were killed in the gun battle, but not before several of the Ya’ma’m operators were seriously wounded by a Hamas operative who detonated his suicide vest after promising to give himself up. Israeli forces found enough explosives in the location to equip dozens of suicide bombers.
The Ya’ma’m killed close to 200 terrorists during the al-Aqsa intifada—50 of them were suicide bombers en route to their targets in Israeli cities. The unit also arrested over 500 terror suspects. It was a lot of work for a unit even three times the size of the Ya’ma’m.
The World Took a much greater interest in the Ya’ma’m and its counterterrorism capabilities following the 9/11 attacks when the blood reality that was once uniquely Israeli was now an ominous clear and present threat to London, Madrid, Moscow and elsewhere. The unit’s headquarters suddenly became a global centre of excellence attracting visits from similar teams from around the world. The Ya’ma’m is tight-lipped about its international outreach and its training of some of the world’s other top units, but cooperation between the Israeli force and Germany’s elite GSG-9, as well the tip of the spear of the United States anti-terrorist community, are strong and vibrant. “They view the chess board differently,” a US Navy SEAL and former JSOC operator commented. “There is no other way to describe their way of doing things.”
Even nations that don’t maintain official diplomatic relations with Israel have sent their counterterrorist forces to liaise with the Ya’ma’m, “They are like nothing else we’ve seen,” a veteran counterterrorist unit officer from a “nearby” country said of the Israelis with a begrudging smile and the demand for absolute anonymity. “They are without question the world’s gold standard.”
During one of these exchanges, this time with a top American unit, an Israeli was eager to show off his firearms skills, especially combat drills with his Glock Austrian-made semi-automatic 9mm pistol. The Israeli stood on line, lowered the black balaclava over his face and assumed his spot on the line, waiting for the range- master to blow his whistle. The Ya’ma’m followed the indigenous protocols of ‘Israeli point shooting’, designed specifically for close-quarter encounters, where the shooter draws, cocks and fires his weapon. When done properly, the tactical choreography of point shooting is seamless and incredibly efficient; and, it is very Israeli. When the signal sounded, the Ya’ma’m operator assumed his stance and then proceeded to empty 15 rounds from his Glock semi-automatic pistol into a cardboard target 15m away. The visiting American only saw one bullet hole and thought to himself that the shooter wasn’t very good. But seconds later he realised that all fifteen 9mm rounds were fired through the same hole. “I’d never seen that before,” the veteran American commented. “I was impressed.”
To be an operator in the Ya’ma’m is one of the most coveted accomplishments any man can achieve in Israel—it is far more prestigious than being a star soccer player or even a billionaire in this high-tech start-up nation.
Every year or so, 1,500 men compete for one of the few coveted open spots inside the unit. Some of the volunteers who have filled out the lengthy application forms have served, often as officers, inside one of the many special operations commando units of the IDF—the Israel Defense Forces. Some of the hopefuls are even veteran Shin Bet agents who have served as bodyguards for the Israeli prime minister or armed undercover sky marshals on board El Al flights.
All applicants undergo an extensive physical and psychological examination. Their backgrounds are checked and double-checked; their motives are questioned. Every effort is made to weed out the question marks and the process of attrition quickly turns the pool of 1,500 to just 300, and then down to 150. The tortuous physical fitness tests to see which of the remaining men meets the Ya’ma’m’s bionic-man standards whittles the list of remaining candidates to slightly over 30. By the time the selection process ends, only 15 men will have displayed the minimum mettle needed to pass the selection committee and earn the privilege to embark on the unit’s gruelling bone-numbing year-long training course. Less than one percent makes it through the process. This early phase is considered the easy part.
Life inside the unit is a daily grind of absolute preparation and imminent threat. The vast majority of the men in the Ya’ma’m have been injured in action—some quite seriously—at least once.
LIFE INSIDE THE UNIT IS A DAILY GRIND OF ABSOLUTE PREPARATION AND IMMINENT THREAT. THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE MEN IN THE YA’MA’M HAVE BEEN INJURED IN ACTION—SOME QUITE SERIOUSLY—AT LEAST ONCE.
Those who are sidelined by bullet holes or broken bones think about one thing while convalescing: when (never if) will they be able to return to active duty. One operator was shot four times in an operation, including taking a bullet in his carotid artery. Were it not for a live-saving field operation he would have most certainly bled to death, but he returned to his spot in the unit and remains one of the Ya’ma’m’s best—and most prolific—operators. Another officer, who for security reasons can only be identified as U, had the sole of his foot blown off when a suicide bomber he confronted blew himself up in a raid of a Hamas bomb factory. After a lengthy stint in rehab, U returned to active duty in the Ya’ma’m running as fast and shooting as good as before.
Even the unit’s current commander, Chief Superintendent N, should have been sidelined by a career-ending injury and resigned to a desk. A 15- year veteran of the unit, N lost an eye—his dominant eye—in a battle with Hamas terrorists in Bethlehem. But N refused to let the debilitating wound handicap him. He taught himself how to shoot again using his other eye and he quickly rose through the ranks. Today, he is the unit’s commander.
In order to be able to carry out so many dangerous assignments a year, Ya’ma’m operators are wound tight—very tight. In fact, the operators are so finely tuned that virtually everything that the unit does, they do instinctively; each of these instincts—planning, preparation, tactics—are sharpened day in and day out in the field. The average age of an operator is 33 years old, though most remain inside this closed and close-knit society until they are well into their 40s. Pascal wasn’t an aberration—he was the norm.
The operators refer to one another as Ahi, or ‘my brother’. They are brothers in arms and that, even in opinionated Israel, trumps everything else. Religion and politics are never discussed in the unit, which in itself is both mindboggling and refreshing in a country where politics and religion control just about every facet of day-to-day life.
THE OPERATORS REFER TO ONE ANOTHER AS AHI, OR ‘MY BROTHER’. THEY ARE BROTHERS IN ARMS AND THAT, EVEN IN OPINIONATED ISRAEL, TRUMPS EVERYTHING ELSE. RELIGION AND POLITICS ARE NEVER DISCUSSED IN THE UNIT, WHICH IN ITSELF IS BOTH MINDBOGGLING AND REFRESHING IN A COUNTRY WHERE POLITICS AND RELIGION CONTROL JUST ABOUT EVERY FACET OF DAY-TO-DAY LIFE.
The Ya’ma’m is made up of observant Jews who spend their Sabbaths in the synagogue, as well as secular Israelis who spend their Sabbaths on the beach relaxing with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The differences in political views are just as diverse. There are conservatives in the unit who agree with the policies of the current government, and there are those who are liberal and want there to be a two-state solution finally ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Religious and political beliefs never interfere with the day-to-day mission—too much is at stake. Radicals are weeded out during the recruitment and assessment process, and any operator who allows his personal perspective to get in the way of successfully and safely carrying out an operation does not stay in the unit. “I don’t care if the man next to me prays or who he votes for,” an operator explained. “I care that he is reliable, capable and that he’ll get the job done.”
When asked what it actually is they do for a living, Ya’ma’m operators will say that they save lives. Their mission is to rescue hostages and surgically neutralise terrorists before they could kill innocent civilians so that incidents don’t escalate into full-scale wars. Operators take great pride in that description, knowing that lethal force is always a last resort.
When asked to explain why they do what they do for a living, Ya’ma’m operators will give the standard company line: they talk of patriotism and wanting to protect their homes and families. While the ‘God, king and country’ response is genuinely sincere, there is more than just a simple answer to such a complicated a question. The operators certainly don’t go through the selection process, the gruelling training, the endless preparation and the incessant operational pace for the pay cheque or for the glory. Each man understands the dangers that Israel faces day in, day out. And these alpha males realise that when it comes down to Tachlis, the Israeli slang for ‘real deal’, they are the special ones with the right stuff, that special DNA, that sends them into a wall of hostile fire.
“THEY ARE LIKE NOTHING ELSE WE’VE SEEN. THEY ARE WITHOUT QUESTION THE WORLD’S GOLD STANDARD.”
The Ya'Ma'm established a memorial for Pascal at the desert roadway site where he was killed. The Ya’ma’m emblem, along with the brief story of the incident that resulted in Pascal’s death, was carved into a stubborn slab of reddish brown desert rock. The monument is one of the many seemingly endless landmarks honouring someone killed in battle.
At one of the events marking the Ya’ma’m’s ruby anniversary, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “For 40 years, Ya’ma’m fighters have protected Israel’s citizens. It’s an elite unit and one of the best in the world which is one of the pillars of Israel’s security.” Yet for all of the unit’s success, Israel remains surrounded by forces seeking its destruction. To the north, across the border in Lebanon, there’s Hezbollah and their Iranian paymasters. To the northeast, on the fragile Syrian frontier, the civil war and a whole slew of hostile forces—from ISIS to al-Qaeda—threaten to spill over into Israel. Hamas and the PIJ remain a clear and present danger, as do the other Palestinian factions and popular fronts. Gaza is, well, Gaza: the Hamas-run home to nearly two million Palestinians and twice as many AK-47s. Even the Sinai Desert, once a peaceful frontier, is now the domain of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist forces eager to strike at Israel whenever and however they can.
Ya’ma’m operators greet one another with the word shalom, Hebrew for peace. Peace is in their prayers and in their hopes that their children will live in a country and in a region where violence is the aberration and not the norm. The operators are realists, however, and they know that peace in the Middle East isn’t breaking out anytime soon. They know that at least for the moment their jobs are secure.
In the years that have passed since Pascal Avrahami was killed in action, the Ya’ma’m has seen men come and go. The old-timers who are still there refuse to let age, injury or the temptation of advancement dislodge them from a spot on the team. New men have come. Some of the younger men whom Pascal had taken under his wing 10 or 15 years ago are now themselves the middle-aged veterans who get to be called old men. They are now the ones in charge.
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