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Ex-Israeli special forces agent says he went ‘undercover’ at UCLA protest encampment
By News Editors // May 10, 2024

On 2 May, while Los Angeles police were cracking down on a Gaza solidarity encampment set up by students at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), an Israeli special operations veteran was boasting online about running a "quiet infiltration operation" into the camp.

(Article by Umar A Farooq republished from MiddleEastEye.net)

"Ran a quiet infiltration operation into the UCLA encampment and now down here with LASD who’s staging now and preparing to make entry onto the to begin taking down the pro terror antisemitic encampment," Aaron Cohen posted on X.

It wasn't clear whether Cohen had conducted his operation in coordination with the Los Angeles Police Department or the Los Angeles Sherrif's Department, as mentioned in his social media post.

Middle East Eye reached out to the LAPD, LASD, and Cohen for comment.

The LASD and Cohen didn't respond to the request for comment, and the LAPD referred MEE to UCLA for comment. MEE reached out to UCLA, which also didn't respond by the time of publication.

But the post from Cohen, which has since gone viral with five million views, has shined a light on the ties between former and current Israeli intelligence officials and US police departments.

"We have seen over the years what some might describe as the Israelisation of our law enforcement, which is the phenomena of American law enforcement agents being trained by Israeli trainers, who are either former military or police officers," Hussam Ayloush, director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair-LA), told Middle East Eye.

Ayloush visited the student encampment several times over the past few weeks, including when he was invited by students to give a Friday sermon for Muslim students holding an on-site Friday prayer.

He said during the time he spent at the encampment that he saw several people on site who appeared to be instigating protesters.

"I was there at UCLA and I did see people like Aaron Cohen. I'm talking about fearmongers. I would say professional instigators and propagandists who represent the extreme right of Israeli politics with all its bigotry, violence, and dehumanisation," Ayloush said.

"What are they doing? They're trying to instigate violence against overwhelmingly peaceful, diverse students."

The police crackdown

The student encampment at UCLA began on 25 April, following the encampment that began earlier at Columbia University in New York City.

The students protesting at UCLA put up the encampment for several reasons, chief among them a demand for the university to divest from companies profiting from Israel's war in Gaza - a conflict that has been described by legal and UN experts and several countries as "genocide".

According to a timeline of the encampment constructed by UCLA's student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, on the night of Thursday, 30 April, pro-Israel counterprotesters attempted to enter the camp violently.

Three fireworks were then set off in the direction of the encampment, and soon noxious gas was released on the protesters several times. By 2am on 1 May, dozens of police officers had mobilised and arrived on the scene, according to the Daily Bruin, and officers initially stood by and watched while counterprotesters engaged with protesters.

On 2 May, police in riot gear then swept the encampment, reportedly using flashbangs and rubber bullets on protesters.

The social media post by Cohen, in which he explained his operation in a video, was published at 4:24 am on 2 May local time. It was unclear at what time the video was shot, and Cohen did not respond to MEE's request for comment by the time of publication.

"LASD, this is the biggest sheriff's agency in the country with some of the finest deputies that I've worked with. And their capabilities, their tactics are incredible for diffusing a situation like this," Cohen said.

"It's really important right now to support law enforcement. These are the peacemakers out here. And these are the guys that are going to be risking their life."

Cohen later went on Fox News, where he claimed to have used his experience in the Israeli Special Forces. The video footage aired during the interview segment cited Cohen and was dated "Wednesday", which would have been  1 May, the time in which counterprotesters engaged in violence against students at the encampment.

Cohen boasted that he was probably the only person to know how to wear a keffiyeh correctly.

"With Aaron, clearly he knows what he's doing. This is what he does for a living, he creates fear, he creates enemies. It's good for business, obviously, because he trains law enforcement," said Ayloush.

Israel-US police links

Cohen describes himself as an "Israeli-trained career special operations and intelligence veteran" with two decades of experience. He said he began his career in Israel's undercover "counterterrorism" unit known as "Mista'aravim".

He says on his website that he has "trained hundreds of police agencies and military units" with his experience in Israel, and also serves as a reservist in the US Sherrif's Department.

Hundreds of American law enforcement officials from several states have gone to Israel to receive training, while thousands have received training from Israeli officials in the US.

'These were UCLA students peacefully protesting ... And what they met with is police brutality similar to how Israeli police treats Palestinian protesters' - Hussam Ayloush, Cair-LA

These trainings date as far back as the early 1990s, a time when law enforcement officers, including police officers and agents from the FBI, CIA, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be sent to Israel through exchanges, or by attending summits within the US that were sponsored by pro-Israeli organisations.

Leading rights organisations have denounced the exchange programmes, warning that Israeli police standards and tactics only serve to exacerbate racial profiling and police brutality in the US.

The connection between Israeli and US police forces previously came under intense scrutiny during the George Floyd protests, when the video of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of the unarmed Black American, for nearly nine minutes as he slowly died, drew a parallel to footage of Israeli security forces using the same techniques on Palestinians.

Regarding the police response to the student's protest on UCLA's campus, Ayloush said the scenes were similar to how Israeli security forces deal with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"These were UCLA students peacefully protesting their university's financial support through its investment in the genocide," Ayloush said.

"And what they met with is police brutality similar to how Israeli police treats Palestinian protesters, or quite often just regular people."

Read more at: MiddleEastEye.net

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