In Danny A. Abeckaser’s ‘The Engineer,’ the audience follows the manhunt of a terrorist named Yahya Ayyash, who is responsible for the deaths of several Israeli civilians in suicide bombings in Tel Aviv. The story unfolds from the point of view of the ex-Mossad and Shin Bet agents tasked with the responsibility of finding and bringing to justice the man who wreaked havoc on the country. Emile Hirsch stars as an American-born Israeli Shin Bet agent who leads the operation and sees it to the end. Because the film is based on true events, the audience is bound to wonder about Hirsch’s character, Etan, and where his real-life counterpart is now. SPOILERS AHEAD
Etan is Most Likely a Fictional Character Rooted in Reality
In ‘The Engineer,’ Israeli forces take charge as the suicide bombings in Tel Aviv claim innocent lives. When it becomes clear that the Engineer is behind the bombings, they decide to eliminate him through a highly covert operation. In real life, however, the Israeli authorities refrained from confirming or denying their involvement in the death of Yahya Ayyash, aka the Engineer.
Since 1992, Ayyash has been credited for being the mastermind behind the attacks on Israeli soil, which claimed several lives and wounded hundreds of innocent people. It was through arresting and interrogating the low-level terrorists in the organization that the Israeli authorities found out about the Engineer and how he was training others to build similar bombs. This made him a high-priority target for the Israeli forces, which doesn’t make it far-fetched to believe that they assassinated Ayyash, even if they didn’t officially admit it.
Reportedly, it was the Israeli state radio that first confirmed Ayyash’s death, having received the information through “informed sources.” Later, it was confirmed that a rigged phone detonated remotely caused Ayyash’s death, which all but confirms the nature of the assassination and the forces behind it. Still, the Israeli authorities never confirmed anything, but they also didn’t refute any claims made about their involvement.
When Abeckaser set out to make a film about the manhunt, considering the impact it had on Israel and Palestine’s relations, it made sense for him to approach the subject from the point of view of the people who were put in charge of the operation. He wanted to make the film an action-thriller, and the chase for the terrorist, with the increasing stakes as more and more bombings claim innocent lives, added to the thrill, making it feel more mainstream than biographical.
Because the Israeli authorities have never confirmed their involvement in the matter, there are no verifiable details about the operation, how it happened, and who was involved in it. Still, it makes sense that the people who were tasked with it would have to have been highly trained and possess experience in the field to prove themselves up to the task. These people would also need to understand the stakes and the risks that they’d be opening themselves to when accepting the mission.
Abeckaser would have kept all these things in mind while coming up with the character of Etan. He made him American-born because he wanted the cast to be diverse and international so that it would make sense for someone like Emile Hirsch to be cast in the role. It also allowed the film to be in English, making it more accessible to the audience. Above all, however, it allowed the writer-director the space to take creative liberties and create desired backstories for Etan and others like him so that the audience gets to know them on a personal level, as people who have their own lives and families and not just some mercenaries who go about assassinating people.
Considering all this, we can say that Etan is a fictional character, much like other ex-Mossad and Shin Bet agents in the movie. However, he and the other characters have a kernel of truth in them and were most likely based on secret agents that Abeckaser would have met or read about in his research for the movie.