Book review: The Ghost Warriors: Inside Israel’s Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism by Samuel M. Katz

The Ghost Warriors: Inside Israel's Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism by Samuel M. Katz
The Ghost Warriors: Inside Israel’s Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism by Samuel M. Katz

By their very nature, special forces units are media-shy and secretive. The more that is known about them, the less able they are to operate effectively while retaining an element of surprise in how they respond to enemy action. This is particularly true to undercover units, such as the Israeli Border Police’s “Yamas”.

An acronym for “Yechidat HaMistaravim”, the Yamas’ purpose is to counter Palestinian terrorist threats against Israel, particularly through the use of undercover operators fluent in Arabic and well-versed in local culture. This has included urban reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, infiltrating riots, arrests, and targeted assassinations. Given their role centred on the penetration of Palestinian population centres, the Yamas and its operators are particularly secretive: they will almost never be photographed without wearing a balaclava or on the understanding that their faces will be pixelated. Little is known about the unit, which makes Katz’s recent book on their activities in the Second Intifada a welcome addition to his numerous works on Israeli military history.

Primarily focusing on the Yamas’ work during the Second Intifada in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, Ghost Warriors offers a fascinating look into one of Israel’s more secretive and effective special forces units.

Tracking the unit’s origins during the First Intifada up until the present day, Katz considers not only its operational achievements and tactics, but also the men within it. A remarkably diverse unit, the Yamas is comprised of Israeli Jews, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and large numbers of native Arab-speaking Druze and Bedouins. As much as tales of operational derring-do, this book was driven by the stories of the men who carried them out.

Ghost Warriors reads like a thriller, albeit at times a deeply disconcerting one. Well-written and compelling, I enjoyed it a lot, and would recommend it to the reader interested in Israeli special forces or counter-terrorism.

About the Author
Daniel J. Levy is a graduate of the University of Leeds and Oxford, where his academic research primarily focused on Iranian proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. He is the Founding Director and Lead Consultant of the Ortakoy Security Group, and has contributed editorial pieces to The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and Israel Policy Exchange. In his free time, he enjoys reading, running, and cooking. He can be followed on Twitter @danielhalevy.
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