Yatar volunteers (Courtesy) (Courtesy)
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The dedicated, self-effacing elite volunteers of Yatar have never asked for any recognition. They draw their quiet satisfaction from the knowledge that they are doing as much as is humanly possible to protect the people of Israel.

By Jeff Daube

When asked to prioritize issues of greatest concern, Israelis consistently rank security #1.

When asked which institution in Israeli society is the most reliable and trustworthy, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is consistently rated #1. No wonder Israelis are most effusive in their praise and gratitude for the role the IDF plays in protecting Israel’s civilian population.

During this age of Corona, the IDF along with the Border Police and the National Police have been stretched to the limit as they have been asked — in addition to maintaining security — to take on a variety of tasks normally assumed by others or tasks like ensuring social distancing that simply did not exist pre-pandemic. Again, for this they deserve our undying gratitude.

First responders, emergency personnel, healthcare professionals, essential workers and an army of volunteers have also responded to the coronavirus crisis by going above and beyond the call. Yet, there is one group of 200 (and growing) security volunteers that simply does not seem to get the recognition and gratitude it has deserved both before and during this pandemic.

Yatar ATV

Yatar all-terrain vehicle (Courtesy)

These unsung heroes — often former soldiers from elite combat units — are part of a volunteer counterterrorism unit known as YATAR (Yechidat Tractoronim), ATV units in English, which patrols particularly vulnerable areas in ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) that allow them to reach locations and suspects much faster than ambulances, jeeps, fire engines and patrol cars.

Yatar works under the supervision of — and in direct coordination with — the Border Police and National Police command structures. Even during the pre-Corona days, Yatar was functioning at capacity in order to keep up with patrol and operations requests. In fact, Yatar had to expand its operations to cover additional areas prone to attack, infiltration and criminal activity.

Perhaps one reason why Yatar is one of Israel’s best kept secrets is because it is, more often than not, called upon to operate in the wee hours of the night when we are fast asleep. This is when police manpower is at its lowest. It’s also when terrorists, infiltrators and smugglers prefer to conduct their activities.

When Hamas arson eco-terrorism from Gaza and Bedouin agricultural terrorism in the Negev increase, Yatar’s highly mobile ATVs can be counted on to quickly traverse fields and terrain otherwise inaccessible by other emergency vehicles to extinguish fires and apprehend farm thieves.

All this in addition to the regular calls to assist with roadside car checks when tensions are high and ongoing security patrols within and around the perimeter of Jerusalem to prevent those tensions from escalating.

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Yatar volunteers (Courtesy)

Now, in this the age of coronavirus pandemic, terrorists, smugglers, infiltrators and assorted criminals do not necessarily feel obligated to obey the shelter-in-place guidelines issued by the authorities. Not surprisingly, many of them view the current crisis as a potential opportunity to carry out their dirty deeds.

Yatar during the age of Corona finds itself in the unenviable position of not only carrying out its regular security assignments, but also to assist with pandemic-related enforcement. Yatar volunteers have had to grab their weapons, leave families confined to homes while putting themselves at risk, all in order to provide the highest level of security, pandemic or no pandemic.

Yatar’s interventions during the age of Corona have ranged from the critical to the mundane and everything in between; from assisting in the interdiction of potentially dangerous infiltrators to the nighttime ATV rescue of four lost yeshiva boys who were biking in violation of Corona restrictions in a forest with streams swollen by winter rains.

In my experience, the dedicated and self-effacing elite volunteers of Yatar have never asked for any recognition or, for that matter, a word of gratitude. They draw their quiet satisfaction from the knowledge that they are doing as much as is humanly possible to protect the people of Israel.

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