Police counterterror chief to light torch on Independence Day — in disguise

Commander of elite Yamam unit, who can only be identified by his first initial, is expected to obscure his appearance with a wig and sunglasses during the official state ceremony

Illustrative: Border Police officers with the Yamam counterterrorism unit during an operation. (Israel Police)
Illustrative: Border Police officers with the Yamam counterterrorism unit during an operation. (Israel Police)

The commander of the Yamam police counter-terrorism unit will be granted the honor of lighting a torch at the official state Independence Day ceremony next month, police announced Thursday.

Lighting a torch on Independence Day is considered one of the highest honors in the state and is awarded to a select few each year. But unlike the other honorees, the commander will do so without his name or face being revealed.

The commander of the special unit within the Border Police, identified only by the first letter of his first name for security reasons, will reportedly don a wig, hat and glasses to carry out the honor at the ceremony next month, in a highly unusual move.

The announcement of the honor described the commander as 53, married with three children, and a “bold and accomplished officer who began his service as a Yamam fighter in 1990.” He has been selected to light the torch “on behalf of Israeli police officers, Border Police officers, volunteers and reservists who are at the forefront of protecting state security and its citizens.”

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai welcomed the decision “precisely at this time, when the Israel Police, the Border Police, including Yamam, are fighting for the security of Israeli citizens in all sectors.”

Shabtai said the honor is “a huge sign of appreciation to all 32,000 Israeli police officers and fighters who work all year long on a variety of missions and face countless challenges.” In recent weeks, he added, “all Israeli citizens have witnessed the sacrifice, determination and heroism of the police and fighters.”

Shira Isakov and Adi Guzi light a torch during the 73rd anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several attacks in Israel over the past few weeks took the lives of 11 people, one of the deadliest strings of terrorism Israel has seen in recent years. In one of them, two Border Police officers were shot dead in Hadera in a terrorist attack before the gunmen were killed by other officers nearby. And in Bnei Brak just two days later, five people including a responding officer were killed right before police shot dead the perpetrator.

The ceremony marking Israel’s 74th Independence Day is slated to take place on May 4.

Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper announced Wednesday that the central Independence Day ceremony will not include a fireworks display, due to concerns over the impact they have on military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The ceremony will emphasize the common good,” Tropper said, declaring that “the torch-lighting ceremony belongs to everyone, in every political situation.”

This year’s festivities will not include an address from the prime minister — a return to the previous custom, which had recently been changed under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will attend, but won’t speak.

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