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03-31-2009, 11:33 AM
Analysis: IDF's most elite unit trio takes the reins

Back when they were both in the IDF's elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, Binyamin Netanyahu was subordinate to Ehud Barak.

Ehud Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier, was the commander of the IDF's most elite unit, known by its Hebrew name, Sayeret Matkal. Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni later became commander of the unit and was killed during the 1976 raid on Entebbe, was a junior team leader under Barak's command in the early 1970s.

Netanyahu was described as a courageous commander who jumped at the opportunity to carry out some of the more complicated missions assigned to the unit.

"Netanyahu was a contractor," Barak used to say of his former subordinate. "He received a mission and immediately carried it out."

With the swearing-in of the new government on Tuesday, the relationship between Barak and Netanyahu has changed - Netanyahu, the new prime minister, is the commander in chief. Barak is the "contractor," and as the defense minister, he will have to carry out missions assigned by Netanyahu.

Netanyahu and Barak are not the only members of the new government with origins in the army's most elite unit. Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon, the former chief of staff slated to become the minister of strategic affairs, served as commander of the unit between 1987 and 1989.

This Sayeret Matkal trio will now be leading the country's defense and security apparatuses at a time when some of the most critical decisions in the country's history will have to be made - from whether to use military force to stop Iran's race toward nuclear power, to the Hizbullah threat in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, who made a failed bid to get a spot on the Likud list in the party's primaries, served with all three in the unit. He was the company commander of Netanyahu's squadron under Barak's command in the '70s, and in 1980 took up command of the unit with Ya'alon as his deputy.

"The common origins in the unit create a sense of familiarity and mutual respect between all three," Dayan said Monday. "Politics is not like the IDF, so it's not a military hierarchy where one gives orders to the other. In most cases, I believe they will all get along with one another."