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The Tahini File: How The Love Of A Middle Eastern Delicacy Cost One IDF Lt. Col. His Job, Put Another In The Brig And Got Their CO An Official Reprimand

The IDF has long been known for the larger than life egos and the gregariousness of its senior officers. This time it got a number of them in real trouble.

Insignia of AMAN, the Intelligence Directorate of the IDF

A rather appalling breach of military discipline in one of IDF’s most elite and secret units had been cleared for publication today by the military censor office. The unit in question is the famed “504” HUMINT (human intelligence), a detachment of the IDF combat intelligence corps, itself a part of the Military Intelligence Directorate. The unit specializes in running operatives from among the local populations behind enemy lines, including inside the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria.

The incident in question developed when the commanding officer in charge of all military intelligence operations, Brigadier General Yuval Shim’oni had been outed as a connoisseur of tahine, a savory dip made primarily of ground up sesame seeds. Now Israel is among those places in the world wherein a near-infinite variety of tahine can be obtained even in regular supermarkets, let alone in the various major and minor “shuks” (markets) that operate throughout the country.

None of those varieties would do for the senior officer, however. He had developed a taste for tahine that was handmade in small batches by peasants in the Palestinian-controlled territories. Thus two of Gen. Shim’oni’s subordinates, senior officers with the rank of Lt. Colonel, officers who supervised the recruiting, developing, and managing of intelligence assets among the Palestinians and whose names were not disclosed, took it upon themselves to obtain the forbidden delicacy for their CO.

In their ardor to please their superior, they directed one of their subordinates, an officer about whom nothing had been disclosed and who himself was in regular contact with the Arab population, to direct one of his sources to obtain the tahine. When he inquired whether this was to be done as part of another operation, one that had a military objective, he was told that, no, this would be a standalone operation. Operation “Tahine” as it were.

Not wishing to directly disobey his superiors, the officer nonetheless waited until a military objective was indeed available and instructed his operative to purchase the tahine as part of that operation. The coveted jar of sesame paste had indeed been purchased and upon being examined for booby traps and explosives by an IDF explosives specialist as per standing orders for all items brought back from the Palestinian territories, it was delivered to its destination.

When that tahine had run out and a second request was made to obtain some more, the seasoned intelligence officer had had enough. He approached the investigative arm of the IDF military police, who told him to play along one more time so that they could further their inquiry into the matter. “Operation Tahine” had thus been re-launched. Unlike its predecessor, this operation had no military objective, a fact well-known to the two Lt. Colonels who ordered it nonetheless.

The military police, having completed their investigation, reported the findings to Major General Tamir Heiman, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, most commonly known by its Hebrew acronym, AMAN. The general ordered a full internal review, the results of which were presented last week to the Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

The internal review concluded that the head of military intelligence, Brigadier General Shim’oni, though he had paid for the tahine out of pocket, did not know that it was obtained as part of a dedicated operation putting personnel at risk for no valid reason. The inquiry thus recommended that he receive a reprimand from the Chief of Staff Gen. Kochavi in his personnel file.

Of the two Lt. Colonels who ordered Operation Tahine to go ahead, one engaged in a cover up and it was recommended that he be relieved from his post and discharged from military service. The other was tried and found guilty of abuse of command authority by a court martial. He was sentenced to 28 days in a military prison.

Chief of Staff Kochavi accepted all the recommendations made to him by the Intelligence Directorate.

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