JULY 29, 1993
IDF Spokesman’s Office
IDF SPECIAL COUNTERTERRORISM UNITS
Terrorism in the Territories
In recent months, there has been an intensification of terrorist activity in the territories. Consequently, the security forces have had to take firm steps to prevent this violence.
The hard core ‘wanted’ terrorists are responsible for much of this terrorism. Today there are about 200 armed terrorists ‘at large’ operating in the territories, assisted by local Palestinians.
Their acts of terrorism have caused the death and injury of Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers. In addition, these terrorists have murdered hundreds of fellow Palestinians, suspected by them of cooperating with Israeli authorities. Since January 1, 1993, 11 Israeli citizens, 8 IDF soldiers and 70 Palestinians have been killed in the territories by these Arab terrorists.
The Special Units Operating in the Territories
The primary role of the special undercover IDF units operating in the territories is to apprehend those who carry out acts of violence. A fundamental part of their task is to clearly differentiate between those engaged in terrorist activity and the local population who do not.
These units are exposed to daily threats to their lives. They are engaged in a constant confrontation with hard core terrorists, who are not restrained by any law and who are armed with various lethal weapons, including firearms. The task of these units is complex and is carried out in a hostile environment, amid constant friction with the civilian population. However, it is stressed that all of these units must comply fully with the Rules of Engagement (‘open-fire’ regulations) which apply to all IDF forces operating in the field.
The Legal Basis of the Rules of Engagement
It should be emphasized, first and foremost, that the Rules of Engagement have undergone no basic change, and remain as follows:
IDF soldiers are permitted to use live fire in two situations only:
1. When a soldier finds himself in a life-threatening situation, in which case he may direct fire toward the threat (the recent intensication of terrorism in the territories has demonstrated that one type of life-threatening situation encountered is that of a soldier engaging an individual carrying a firearm).
2. While carrying out the standard procedure for apprehending a suspect, in which case the fire is directed to halt the suspect and not to kill him. During violent rioting, soldiers may be permitted to use plastic and rubber bullets to disperse the rioters.
These regulations apply to all IDF soldiers, including those serving in special units.
Following the rise in violence in the territories and the new circumstances in which IDF soldiers find themselves, the regulations were updated and modified, without reference to the special units, in order to meet the immediate threat posed by those suspects identified as carrying weapons.
This update constitues part of an ongoing process of adjustment and modification to situations in the field, without changing the basic legal basis of the regulations as detailed above. Furthermore, every such adjustment or modification is reviewed by the military advocate.
Dealing with Deviations from Orders
The IDF has routine and strict procedures regarding the investigation of cases in which Palestinians are killed. In cases in which deviations from IDF regulations and instructions have occurred, those responsible are brought to justice. In all cases of death, a military police investigation is immediately opened, and the findings are brought before the military prosecutor. In cases when those involved are found to have deviated from regulations, they are courtmartialed.
The norm, whereby IDF soldiers and officers, including senior officers, are courtmatialed and punished for these offenses, is proof of the resoluteness of the IDF penal system to prosecute these cases. This penal standard applies to the special units as well. For example, a senior special unit commander with the rank of lieutenant colonel was involved in an incident in which a local Palestinian resident was killed. He was found to have deviated from the Rules of Engagement, was brought up on criminal charges, and was punished. Moreover, the prosecutor submitted an appeal to the military court of appeals, and the sentence was increased.
Currently, there are two indictments pending against two officers from the special units suspected of involvement in cases in which local Palestinian residents were killed as a result of the failure to abide by the Rules of Engagement.
It should however be emphasized that these cases are clearly the exception. In thousands of operations and life-threatening situations, the Rules of Engagement have been strictly followed this under difficult conditions, when the soldiers lives were in danger and when split-second decisions must be taken.
The Achievements of the Special Units in the War against Terrorism While operating in accordance with the high ethical norms of the IDF, since their establishment, the special units have recorded many successes in the war against terrorism.
The greatest achievements have been against the hard core terrorist groups and in the apprehension of fugitives.
Since January 1, 1993, 18 wanted terrorists have been killed, 7 have surrendered, 59 have been apprehended, and 42 have fled across the border.
Openness to Inspection
As an army in a democratic state, the IDF operates in accordance with military law and the laws of the state as passed by its elected leaders. The IDF is subject to constant inspection and investigation by both military and civilian bodies.
The IDF permits regular visits in the territories by human rights organizations from Israel and abroad, and allows unprecedented open and free press coverage in the territories. As a rule, bona-fide human rights groups enjoy the cooperation of the IDF, which has replied to hundreds of inquiries on questions of human rights in the territories.