The Yamam is an acronym for Special Central Unit (Yehida Merkazit Meyuhedet). The Yamam is an Israeli elite counter-terrorism unit, one of four special units of the Israel Border Police. The Yamam is capable of both hostage-rescue operations and offensive take-over raids against targets in civilian areas. Besides military duties, The Yamam also performs SWAT duties and undercover police work.
History of The Yamam
The Yamam was established in late 1974. It was short after the Ma’alot massacre, where a failed operation by military special forces units resulted in the 21 children being murdered before the hostage takers were killed. Since hostage rescue in friendly territory is different from that in hostile areas, it was decided to establish an elite civilian force, which develops and practices a special CQB (Close Quarters Battles) doctrine for counter-terrorism operations in friendly territory and hostage rescue.
In Israel the Yamam is also known as the “Unit for Counter-Terror Warfare”. It is subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Security central command and is part of the civilian Israel Police force, specifically the Israel Border Police. Its operators and officers are professional policemen on payroll, usually with infantry experience from their military service within the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). The Yamam recruits its members exclusively from Israeli units.
The unit is primarily responsible for civilian hostage rescue within Israel’s borders, but from about the mid-1990s it has also been used for tasks such as arresting police suspects who have barricaded themselves in structures and requiring specialized extraction methods, as well as in personal security for VIPs and in counter-terror operations within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Yamam are schooled in basic Arabic and dress to assimilate within the Arab population to avoid detection in order to carry out raids to arrest those suspected of conducting terrorist activities within Israel.
However, most of the Yamam’s activity is classified, and published Yamam operations are often credited to other units.
The Yamam has around 200 officers, and consists a headquarters element, an intelligence section and a small team responsible for the development of new operational techniques and testing new equipment. Aside from these central elements, the bulk of the unit is divided into a number of sections, each consisting of five teams, each containing operators with a particular specialization, so that the section includes within its numbers all the elements needed for a successful operation: roping team, entry team, medic team, sniping team, dog team, EOD team (demolition and bomb disposal). Thus, whereas an IDF special forces operation needs to assemble elements from different specialist units, in Yamam, they are all permanently part of the same unit, living, training and operating together.
Applicants for Yamam must be between 22 and 30 years old and must have completed their three-year infantry service in the IDF with a level 7 of IDF training or higher, although no previous police experience is required. Unlike American SWAT teams, the YAMAM is a professional unit with only combat duties and no other police type work. The selection process includes a “hell week” said to be one of the hardest in the world. This level of difficulty is achieved because all the applicants are already seasoned combat soldiers, like the US Delta force. The skills they are looking for in every candidate are: intelligence, physical fitness, motivation, trustworthiness, accountability, maturity, stability, judgment, decisiveness, teamwork, influence, and communication. Training lasts six months and is carried out in the unit’s own training center, although some use is made of the facilities at the IDF Counter Terror Warfare School (LOTAR, Unit 707.) The course is divided into a three-month general CT training period at the end of which recruits are selected for their specialization and then concentrate for the remaining four months on that specialization. Upon graduation, individuals are posted to fill gaps in the sections. Yamam considers that it has several advantages over the IDF counter-terror units, first, because the men are more mature, most in their mid 30’s and early 40’s, and spend much longer in the unit than the equivalent military units, and, second, because the units contain a far broader range of ages and experience.
The Yamam is self-dependent, training its own operators in all fields, such as sniping, reconnaissance, dog operating, bomb disposal, etc. As a result, the Yamam has a rapid deployment time and high coordination between various squads (sniping squad, entry team, engagement force, etc.).