JERUSALEM -- The film was grainy, the images distant, but the picture was searing nonetheless.
Two Arabs, a man and a woman, sauntered up a busy alleyway somewhere in the West Bank. Casually, they wandered toward two Palestinian men who were lounging beside an automobile. Suddenly the "woman" leaped on one of the Palestinians and dragged him to the ground while a partner pulled out a gun, whipped off an Arab headdress and started shouting at their captive in Hebrew. Then they dragged him away.
The surprising thing about the film was not that the special undercover army unit -- two Israeli soldiers disguised as Arabs -- had caught another Palestinian suspect. To most Israelis, the shock was to see this startling documentary about the military's most secret soldiers broadcast on Israeli television, and with the army's approval.
The government and much of the public exploded in outrage xTC yesterday, saying the army and the state television network had betrayed the nation with the weekend broadcasts.
By contrast, Palestinians had little to say, noting that they had known about these units, and loathed them all along.
But among Israelis, the reaction was volcanic. Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan, a former army chief of staff, said he "could not understand the stupidity behind the decision."
"We're giving Palestinian activists very important intelligence information on a silver platter," he said.
The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Shimon Peres, said he was "astonished by the report." Yitzhak Rabin, who was defense minister when the units began operating, berated his successor, Moshe Arens, saying "it was a serious mistake."
The small, far-right-wing Moledet party said it was so angry that ithad decided to pull out of the government. And all day, Israeli television was flooded with irate calls.
The army explained that the purpose of publicizing the unit's activities was simply to scare the Arabs.
"This was a good and important message to the Arab population in the territories," Nachman Shai, the chief army spokesman, said yesterday.