The YAMAM is an Israeli elite counter-terrorism unit, one of four special units of the Israel Border Police. The Unit is capable of both hostage-rescue operations and offensive takeover raids against targets in civilian areas. Their primary role is related to SWAT duties and undercover police work, but they are often engaged in military operations.
The Unit’s name is an acronym for “יחידה מרכזית מיוחדת” or “Special Police Unit.” YAMAM was founded in 1974 as a response to the increased terrorist activities worldwide. It is one of the leading security elements within the Israeli security establishment. It is undoubtedly one of the best of its kind, if not the best. It is often mistaken for YAMAS, another special unit of the Israel Border Police.
YAMAM is a SWAT unit (tiny and highly selective) with more than 3000 counter-terrorism operations under its belt in less than 45 years of activity (an average of 70 missions every year). They won Urban Shield – the world’s most prestigious international SWAT teams contest in all three times they participated in it, once with the highest scores ever achieved. The Urban Shield has grown into a full-scale regional preparedness exercise.
In late 1974, shortly after the Ma’alot massacre, YAMAM was founded. The Ma’alot massacre was a failed operation executed by military special forces units, resulting in the 21 children being murdered before the hostage-takers were killed. Since hostage rescue in the 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) and CQC (Close Quarters Combat) 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. Still, 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 and personal security for VIPs and counter-terror operations within the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
They are recognizable by unique operational capability. Their operators are schooled in basic Arabic and dress to assimilate within the Arab population to avoid detection to carry out raids to arrest suspected terrorist activities within Israel. However, most of Yamam’s activity is classified, and published Yamam operations are often credited to other units.
The Yamam has around 200 officers and consists of a headquarters element, an intelligence section, and a small team responsible for developing new operational techniques and testing new equipment. Aside from these central elements, the bulk of the Unit is divided into several 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.
Training and selection
Applicants for Yamam must be between 22 and 30 years old. They must have completed their three-year infantry service in the Israel Defense Forces (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 Yamam is self-dependent, training its 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.).
The selection process includes a “hell week” said to be one of the hardest in the world. This difficulty level is achieved because all the applicants are already seasoned combat soldiers, like the American Tier 1 operators. The skills they are looking for in every candidate are intelligence, physical fitness, motivation, trustworthiness, accountability, maturity, stability, judgment, decisiveness, teamwork, influence, and communication.
Basic training after selection lasts six months and is carried out in the Unit’s training center, although some use is made of the IDF Counter Terror Warfare School (LOTAR, Unit 707.) The course is divided into a three-month general Counter-Terrorism (CT) training period. In the end, recruits are selected for their specialization and then concentrate on that specialization for the remaining four months.
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.
Most of the Unit’s activity is highly classified, but still, there is some publicly available information about its engagements since it was established.
- March 1978: a Yamam force engaged the militants who took over a bus in an event known as the “Coastal Road massacre.”
- March 1988: Yamam was called into action after a group of three Palestinians hijacked a bus full of women traveling to work at the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona in an incident known as the “Mothers’ Bus attack.” The terrorists killed three passengers while Yamam returned fire and killed all three hijackers in a 40-second takeover.
- September 8, 1992: Yamam snipers shot and killed Eitan Mor, a mentally disturbed man who killed four women and injured two more in a shooting spree at a mental health clinic in Jerusalem
- May 3, 1994: Yamam snipers shot and killed an armed man in Uzi Meshulam’s compound after he shot at a police helicopter
- March 3, 2000: Yamam captured an armed group hidden in Maybe’s Israeli–Arab town. One man was arrested, and four militants were killed by Yamam snipers and an IDF Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer.
Under the Second Intifada, under the Shin Bet’s command, Yamam forces intercepted many militants by arresting them or killing them. Yamam operators killed several high-profile militants. When the wanted Palestinian militants were barricaded inside a building, Yamam operators laid siege to it while IDF Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozers forced them out by razing the structure. According to the records, YAMAM killed 179 terrorists from 2000 to 2005; 50 were suicide bombers and arrested hundreds more.
On September 23, 2014, the YAMAM operators and the Israel Defense Forces Combat Engineering Corps bulldozers killed the two Hamas terrorists who kidnapped and murdered 3 Israeli teenagers in June 2014. During the wave of Palestinian terrorism in 2014 and 2015-2016, YAMAM operators killed or arrested high-profile Palestinians who murdered Israeli civilians.
Weaponry and gear
- Remington 870 Combat Shotgun
- Benelli M4 Combat Shotgun
- M4A1 carbine (highly modified and customized)
- Colt Commando
- SR-25 Mk 11 Semi-automatic Sniper rifle
- PGM Precision Bolt-action Sniper rifles (PGM Ultima Ratio, PGM 338, PGM Hecate II)
- Barrett MRAD Multi-Role Adaptive Design Bolt-Action Sniper rifle
- Barrett M82A1 Anti-materiel rifle