Gideonim

Overview


Gideonim (Unit 33) is the Israeli Police elite undercover unit. The unit was formed in 1990 to conduct CT intelligence gathering in East Jerusalem, as well as to fight crime in the area. Since then the unit has evolved into a national unit, operating throughout Israel with two primary responsibilities – CT and combating organized crime.

When formed, Gideonim premise was an end-to-end operational capability - acquiring intelligence by undercover personnel deployment and electronic surveillance and then tactically act upon it without requiring support from other units. Gideonim is therefore unique in its operational independence, which requires its operators to posses both surveillance and tactical capabilities, unlike other SF units which focus more on tactical skills while relying on internal or external technical personnel for surveillance.

When it was first created, the Gideonim operational necessity was considered questionable. While it was originally designed as an intelligence gathering oriented unit, Gideonim soon acquired considerable tactical capability and was converted into a full-scale CT unit, operating in the Arab cities and villages along Israel's frontiers and in the Territories, areas in which it was not originally intended to operate. The unit became the fourth Israeli undercover unit, alongside the IDF Duvdevan and Shimshon, and MAGAV YAMAS, all of which posses overlapping capabilities. Accordingly, the Gideonim has struggled to carve itself a niche in the Israeli SF community, with the main friction being between YAMAS and Gideonim, which were competing over manpower and budgets.

Contrary to other SF units, who often appear in the media, Gideonim managed to keep a low profile throughout most of it existence, and was mainly exposed to the media due to two unfortunate incidents – a mutiny in 1998 and a friendly fire incident in 2004 in which a Gideonim operator – Ronen Ben-Meiri – was killed. To date, Ben-Meiri is Gideonim only casualty.

As an elite unit, Gideonim enjoys an exceptionally generous budget, surpassing that of all other Law Enforcement SF units part from the YAMAM. It also benefits form quality manpower, consisting mostly of former IDF SF personnel. The unit’s training regime lasts nearly a year, and covers both tactical and intelligence gathering skills.

 

Mutiny


Up to the late 1990’s Gideonim and YAMAM focused primarily on CT and both units enjoyed unprecedented resources. At the same time, organized crime in Israel has dramatically increased. In 1998 a new Israeli Police Commissioner, Yehouda Vileck, was appointed and decided to refocus Police attention on classic police work rather then CT, including the involvement of Gideonim and YAMAM in SWAT type assignments, performing special police missions that conventional police units were undertrained or equipped to handle.

At the time, both Gideonim and YAMAM were also appointed new CO’s, which didn’t grow in the units. The appointment of the new external CO’s and the increased involvement with counter crime operations caused increased friction in both units. In August 1998 Gideonim operators began publically complaining about the unit’s CO leadership and professional skills, and threatened to resign if he wouldn't be replaced. The operators also complained about the unit’s new counter crime activities. A year later in 1999 a similar situation occurred in YAMAM. In both Gideonim and YAMAM cases, Commissioner Vileck intervened and supported the new COs, while discharging the mutinies' leaders.

 

Reorganization


With overlapping capabilities with other established IDF and MAGAV undercover units, various options were considered over the years regarding Gideonim future:

  • Merge the unit with YAMAM, while disbanding Gideonim as an independent unit.

  • Turn the unit into a tactical counter crime unit while resizing it down considerably.

  • Move the unit under the command of the Israeli General Security Service.

Finally in 2008 Gideonim had found its niche within the Israeli SF community. With organized crime in Israel peaking in recent years, and with much of it related to minorities and terrorism in 2008, the Israeli Police created a new national unit by merging the Israeli Police 4 national crime units and Unit 33, creating Lahav (“Blade in Hebrew) or Unit 433. Gideonim new role is to support the other Lahav sub-units by deploying their surveillance and tactical capabilities. Gideonim is also expected to maintain its previous roles in securing the Jerusalem area and conducting CT operations but will be expanded to allow the allocation of resources into fighting organized crime.

Shimon Peres (middle) visiting Gideonim. The operators are wearing Ghillie suits and armed with M4A1 fitted with Trijicon ACOG 4x32 (with a rubber eyepiece), stocks, forward grips/bipod combos, rail systems, flashlights and AN/PEQ-15. Also note a plain cloths operator disguised as a sheep herder (photo: Israeli Police).

 

Reuven Rivlin visiting Gideonim. Left and right operators are wearing Ghillie suits and armed with M4A1 fitted with Trijicon ACOG 4x32 (with a rubber eyepiece), stocks, forward grips/bipod combos, rail systems, flashlights and AN/PEQ-15; Middle plain cloths operators armed with suppressed Mini Uzi. Note operators armed with Glock handguns rappelling in the background (photo: Government Press Office).

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