Israeli Interrogator Races The Clock To Crack A Terrorist

Dov Lachman Contributor
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The clock connected to two tons of explosives is already ticking away in the tunnel leading from the city of Gaza and ending in an Israeli kibbutz.

The terrorist who knows to point out how to release the bomb and prevent a catastrophe in which a hundred families will be killed has been captured by Israeli Intelligence, but he refuses to talk. It’s up to “Ron,” a prisoner interrogator, to draw the information out of him.

Three weeks ago, I met Ron in his small student apartment in Tel Aviv. He was short, with glasses, bald and a chain smoker. His talked quietly and gently: not what you would expect from a tough prisoner interrogator. Ron is an officer at the corporal level in the 504 unit that belongs to the Intelligence branch of the Israeli Defense Forces. He was called for reserve duty at the beginning of the “Protective Edge” operation.

Ron opened in a monologue, nearly without an introduction.

“He was called Hamid, and he was my tenth cross-examination that morning. Unlike him, I hadn’t slept most of the night. We were under tremendous pressure to expose the location of ‘tunnel 66’ loaded with hundreds of kilograms of explosives and meant to blow up in the heart of Israeli village.”

Ron finished his cigarette and immediately lit another. He got up and stood opposite the open window and continued to tell his story with his back to me.

“He was let in, shackled at his hands and legs, to the interrogation room accompanied by two guards. Unlike most of the other terrorists that entered ‘my’ interrogation room on the previous days, he sat opposite me with a flippant and arrogant look in his eyes.

“While the intelligence data about him was being loaded into the computerized system, I offered him a cigarette and he refused. The same with coffee and water. As well as offering to remove the handcuffs and the shackles on his legs, an action against regulations and which didn’t emit from him any thanks or any sign of gratitude. I asked him whether he knew about ‘tunnel 66,’ and, to my surprise, he replied positively. ‘I know everything about it,’ he told me in Arabic, ‘but you and all your IDF, the *#!* of yours will know about it only when it blows up on you and your children.’”

Ron turned around and asked me if I was familiar with the expression in Arabic. When I shook my head, he explained its meaning and continued:

“He was both vain and condescending. He arrived well prepared for the interrogation and while he declaimed the set Hamas terrorist speech about the great and unique Allah and about exterminating Zionist and American infidels and the call to Jihad, I checked the little data that the Intelligence system had on Hamid.

“He was only two years older than me but was already married. His oldest son was eight and his two twins five. I learned that he studied a year at Amman University in Jordan and was arrested by the special unit for fighting terror four days previously in the Shifa Hospital in Gaza. The Hamas leaders led the missile fire on Israel from its basement. Except for a mobile phone, nothing else was discovered on Hamid when he was arrested that might have aided me in the interrogation.

“I asked him about the hospital in an attempt to extract alternative information about the bunkers or the reservoirs of missiles in the Shifa site in Gaza, but he grew serious and sad and only told me in a quiet voice that he was there with his oldest and not because of any terrorist activity.

“Continuing to let him feel that I was discouraged and he was winning the battle of minds between us, I told the soldiers to take him back to his cell.

“While I obtained the mobile phone taken from Hamid when he was arrested, a fellow interrogator, who got help from two other prisoners, mapped Hamid’s family connections for me.

“A bit less than two hours later, a rather surprised Hamid was brought back to the interrogation room. This time, I gave instructions to shackle his legs to the chair.

“Again, he repeated the ceremony of refusing coffee or cigarettes accompanied by a flippant gaze until I told him that he had received several text messages on his mobile phone. I pulled the device out of my pocket and read the first one in which his wife begged him to answer and asked where he had disappeared to, the second in which she told him that his son was hospitalized in the ‘Head Injuries Department’ and the third: ‘Allah have mercy, call.’ Hamid sat up straight in the chair, and, forgetting momentarily that he was shackled, tried to stand up.”

Ron seemed upset, as well, telling a story where he was caught against his will in a human drama he was now a part of.

“I asked him whether he wanted to know what else was written, but on the condition that he would give me information about ‘tunnel 66.’ Hamid changed his approach and began to talk, but most of the information proved out-of-date or inaccurate.

“The pressure on us, the interrogators, to get the information that would expose the tunnel grew from hour to hour. From the Intelligence data that was gathered through technological means, it was clear that its explosion was planned for the early hours of the night, four or five hours later, and in addition, there were strong hints, verified from additional sources, that Hamid was in charge of the tunnel.

“I stood close to him. I showed him his device and flipped through the messages, one by one until I reached the last one. I told him that it would be possible to save the child on condition that he would be flown that very night to an operation in a hospital in Tel Aviv, but only if he would point out the opening of ‘tunnel 66’ and its exact location.”

Ron’s voice rose and fell; I watched the excitement in his eyes.

“Hamid broke; he screamed and went wild, cried and yelled. The two guards managed only with difficulty to control him. Through the screams, I understood that he agreed to the deal.

“In less than half an hour, after galloping crazily in a convoy of three armored Jeeps, we were again at the outskirts of Gaza City. Hamid, who was with me in the Jeep, directed us to the UNRA enclave. At its north edge there was a hospital run by nuns.

“A special force of infantry soldiers evacuated the enclave and the Engineering Corps extracted the charged explosives from the tunnel dug by Hamas terrorists and loaded them onto three trucks. On examining the tunnel, it became clear that it reached the center of a kibbutz within Israel, and it was orchestrated to blow up at the dinner meal held in common and to kill about a hundred Israeli families.

“We left Hamid, still handcuffed, in the area, free to whatever fate would bring in the form of Hamas.

“In his shirt pocket, I left his mobile phone, with all the forged and faked text messages, all in Arabic and seemingly by his close family, planted by our technological unit under my direction.”

I gazed admiringly at this young guy, who had yet to reach 26, who had returned to a daily life: the university, his apartment rent. I tried to estimate how many citizens, women and children owe him their lives and how he lives with the deed and its ramifications.

But I realized that it was already late and he was tired, so we separated by shaking hands and hugging each other warmly.