Israel's Death Squads: A Former Soldier Breaks His Silence The Independent | Donald Macintyre | March 1, 2009 12:42 PM The Israeli military's policy of targeted killings has been described from the inside for the first time. In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, and in his testimony to an ex-soldiers' organisation, Breaking the Silence, a former member of an assassination squad has told of his role in a botched ambush that killed two Palestinian bystanders, as well as the two militants targeted. The operation, which took place a little over eight years ago, at the start of the present intifada, or uprising, left the former sharpshooter with psychological scars. To this day he has not told his parents of his participation in what he called "the first face-to-face assassination of the intifada". As the uprising unfolded, targeted assassinations became a regularly used weapon in the armoury of the Israel military, especially in Gaza, where arrests would later become less easy than in the West Bank. The highest-profile were those of Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2005, and of Said Siyam in the most recent offensive. But the targeting of lower-level militants, like the one killed in the operation described by the former soldier, became sufficiently common to attract little comment. The incident described by the ex-soldier appears almost trivial by comparison with so much that has happened since in Gaza, culminating in more than 1,200 Palestinian casualties inflicted by Operation Cast Lead this January. It might have been forgotten by all except those directly affected, if it had not been for the highly unusual account of it he gave to Breaking the Silence, which has collected testimony from hundreds of former troops concerned about what they saw and did - including abuses of Palestinians - during their service in the occupied territories. That account, expanded on in an interview with the IoS, and broadly corroborated by another soldier's testimony to Breaking the Silence, directly challenges elements of the military's official version at the time, while casting new light on the tactic of targeted assassination by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). So do comments by the father of one of the Palestinians killed, and one who survived, also traced by the IoS. Our source cannot be identified by name, not least because by finally deciding to talk about what happened, he could theoretically be charged abroad for his direct role in an assassination of the sort most Western countries regard as a grave breach of international law. From a good home, and now integrated into civilian life in the Tel Aviv area, the former soldier is about 30. Intelligent and articulate, and with a detailed memory of many aspects, he is scrupulous in admitting his recall of other points may be defective. The former conscript said his special unit had trained for an assassination, but was then told it would be an arrest operation. They would fire only if the targeted man had weapons in his car. "We were pretty bombed it was going to be an arrest. We wanted to kill," he said. The unit then went south to Gaza and took up position. It was 22 November 2000. The squad's main target was a Palestinian militant called Jamal Abdel Razeq. He was in the passenger seat of a black Hyundai being driven north towards Khan Younis by his comrade, Awni Dhuheir. Both men were wholly unaware of the trap that was waiting for him near the Morag junction. This section of the main Salahadin north-south road in Gaza went straight past a Jewish settlement. Razeq was used to seeing an armoured personnel carrier (APC) beside the road, but he had no idea that its regular crew had been replaced by men from an elite air force special unit, including at least two highly trained sharpshooters. Story continues below Since before he even left his home in Rafah that morning, Shin Bet - the Israeli intelligence service - had been monitoring Razeq's every move with uncanny accuracy, thanks to a running commentary from the mobile phones of two Palestinian collaborators, including one of his own uncles. The man who was to kill him says he was "amazed" at the detail relayed to the unit commander from Shin Bet: "How much coffee he had in his glass, when he was leaving. They knew he had a driver [and] ... they said they had weapons in the trunk, not in the car. For 20 minutes we knew it was going to be a simple arrest because they had no weapons in the car." But then, he says, the orders suddenly changed. "They said he had one minute to arrive, and then we got an order that it was going to be an assassination after all." He thinks it came from a war room set up for the operation and his impression was that "all the big chiefs were there", including a brigadier general. The two militants would still have suspected nothing as they approached the junction, even when a big Israel Defence Forces (IDF) supply truck lumbered out of a side turning to cut them off. They would have had no way of knowing the truck was full of armed soldiers, waiting for this moment. A 4x4 was deployed by the road, only in case "something really wrong" happened. But something did go wrong: the truck moved out too soon, and blocked not only the militants in their black Hyundai, but the white Mercedes taxi in front of them. It was carrying Sami Abu Laban, 29, a baker, and Na'el Al Leddawi, 22, a student. They were on their way from Rafah to Khan Younis to try to buy some scarce diesel to fire the bread ovens. As the critical moment approached, the sharpshooter said he began to shake from the waist down. "What happens now is I'm waiting for the car to come and I am losing control of my legs. I have an M16 with digicom [special sharpshooter sights]. It was one of the strangest things that ever happened to me. I felt completely concentrated. So the seconds are counted down, then we started seeing the cars, and we see that two cars are coming, not one. There was a first car very close to the following one and when the truck came in, it came in a bit early, and both cars were stopped.Everything stopped. They gave us two seconds and they said, 'Shoot. Fire.'" Who gave the order, and to whom? "The unit commander ... to everybody. Everybody heard 'Fire'."