Sgt. Polina, a security inspector with IDF (Zahal)’s Military Police stationed at a border crossing, shares personal experiences with weapons smuggling infiltrators

Date: 03/10/2010, 7:05 PM     Author: Alexandra Mann

Sgt. Polina Pentlaib, security inspector in the IDF (Zahal)’s Military Police, doesn’t stand around at crosswalks signaling to pedestrians when to cross. She is looking for clues leading her to catch the next attempt at infiltrating Israel. From a spoiled high-school student, she turned into a security guard who stops infiltrators and weapon smugglers.

Her military journey began with the Classification Officer at the Classification and Induction Base, where soldiers report to on their first day of enlistment. She missed the day for special unit placement tests for personal reasons but didn’t give up on her dream to take a combat position. As far as she was concerned, there was no other option. “I want to give the maximum amount possible of myself during my service, and I felt I could do that best in a frontal position,” she explained.

She received a note on which was written “Military Police Corps” by the Classification Officer. She had prejudices and negative opinions about the Corps from stories of friends who had already enlisted, but her mother encouraged her to try it anyway. She told her that in the worst case scenario she could switch positions.

So Polina was drafted in August 2008 to the basic training of the Military Police. After a year in the Company she was moved to the Tzofim Base near Qalqilyah. “In basic training I discovered that there is a unit which deals with border crossings -including contact with the Palestinian population, weapons, ceramic bullet-proof vests and combat soldiers. Again, I told myself that I would try it, and in the worst case scenario I’d leave. I arrived to the Company, which at the time was situated near Nablus, and was very impressed by the position.”

At the end of basic training she was told to rate her preferences for positions offered to her, but she wanted only one. “You are allowed three choices in the Military Police. I wrote Security Inspector for all of them. I was convinced that that was what I wanted to do.”

The only thing preventing terrorists from attacking is us

Due to the frequency and intensity of a security inspectors’ work, it is hard to be sharp all the time. “The only thing that separates a terrorist from carrying out an attack in Kfar Saba or Netanya is us,” she explains. “Our eyes and our inspections, and even our attitudes. It’s enough that one time we’ll say something inconsiderate to someone at a crossing. He’ll get annoyed and irritated and the next day will try to transfer something through a crossing with the intention to carry out an attack.”

As an aside, Polina has a very impressive record of catching terrorists. On one watch in December 2009, a vehicle which had entered twice on the same shift and wasn’t found suspicious asked to enter a third time, with two other people and a locked trunk door.

“He was very nice and friendly. When I asked him to open the trunk door he said the key broke inside, and I did see a piece of metal stuck in the keyhole. I asked him to move the backseat so I could see what was in the trunk. He got nervous and asked to turn around, said he didn’t want to take up my time. I said he couldn’t move until I checked the trunk, regardless of the direction he was going in. He refused and argued for a few minutes and I called the police officer at the crossing. She approached the steering wheel, pressed a button under it and the trunk popped open. Inside were two guns, a bullet magazine, an improvised weapon and a hunting rifle.”

This frightening situation shook the experienced security inspector. “One of the problems with the position and one of its weaknesses is the mundane routine. You stand at a crossing for long hours as opposed to units which go on an operation or to make an arrest and they are physically and mentally prepared. For us it’s just day-to-day routine. Every day you can catch a fake ID, a weapon or an infiltrator. Everything is of great importance.”

Another time, it was simply Polina’s awareness and preparedness which helped her to stop an infiltrator. “When checking IDs, we compare the photo to the person standing in front of us. The picture isn’t always of high quality or up-to-date. One time, the person who came looked a lot like the one in the picture,” she remembers. “Something bothered me about the nose in relation to the ears and chin, really miniscule things which could be caused by camera angle or lighting. After they checked him they said it really wasn’t his ID, but his brother’s who they caught trying to infiltrate earlier that same morning.” Her senses didn’t fail her this time either, and her attention to the tiniest details is one of her greatest strengths.

“We owe our peace and quiet to the security fence and crossings”

When she began her position, she was quickly exposed to the sensitive situation that we are part of. “When there were talks of building a security fence, before I enlisted, I didn’t know that they were speaking of these crossings, and that the goal was to prevent attacks,” she says. “When I got to the crossings and started in my position, I understood that most of the big cities in the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area owe their peace and quiet to the security fence and the crossings, and they have this peace because of these 18 year olds who stand and check every single person. It would be enough for one of them not to check well, and we could have an attack in one of the big cities.”

It was unavoidable that a position like this would change her world view. “Every little thing can arouse suspicion. Sometimes they use reverse psychology, they sway our attention to irrelevant details and hope that we’ll be less focused; they also do comprehensive intelligence work on us. I understand that the peace and quiet and fact that me and my family are protected shouldn’t be taken for granted, everything can change in a moment.”

When asked to describe the change that her IDF (Zahal) service has caused in her she says, “this experience has changed me completely. My perspective on the world has changed. I was drafted a spoiled teenager and now everything is different.”