Special Operations Forces of Israel’s Armed Forces

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Special Operations Forces of Israel's Armed Forces

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Written by Colonel N. Turchin, Colonel M. Mikhailov; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review #10 2019, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront

Special Operations Forces (SOF) are created, trained and equipped formations, units and divisions in the armed forces (AF) of a number of states intended for conducting sabotage and intelligence operations, organising insurgent and guerrilla activities, armed attacks, assisting foreign states in ensuring their internal security and other tasks. The SOF include Special Forces Units, which in most states are referred to as Commandos, or Rangers, combat diver units in the Navy, and special aviation units.

The SOF of the Israeli Armed Forces are aimed at solving intelligence and special tasks in peace and wartime, both on the territory of the country and abroad.

The main objectives of the SOF are:

– in peace time: intelligence collection; the fight against extremist and terrorist groups;

– release of hostages; protection and defence of critical infrastructure; psychological operations; special operations outside the national territory;

– in wartime: gathering intelligence for the benefit of groups of troops in the theater; disabling (destruction) of important military and industrial facilities in the enemy’s rear; conducting ambushes and sabotage; actions in the enemy’s rear with the purpose of disrupting the state and military management systems, communications and logistics support; aiming aircraft at enemy objects, correcting air strikes and artillery fire; conducting psychological operations for demoralising the enemy; obtaining samples of weapons and military equipment; conducting search and rescue operations at the theater and providing assistance; evacuation of Israeli soldiers who were in distress or were captured while performing combat tasks on enemy territory.

Currently, the Israeli Armed Forces have more than 40 elite special forces that perform tasks set by the General Staff, the Joint Command of Special Operations Forces (JCSO), districts, divisions and brigades, special services and police.

Special operations forces regularly participate in combat actions and operations.

Special Operations Forces of Israel's Armed Forces

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The Special Purpose Brigade (commando) is organised in four special purpose battalions: “Maglan”, “Duvdevan”, “Egoz” and “Rimon”, in peacetime, it is part of the 98th Airborne Division along with the 35th Airborne brigade and two airborne reserve brigades. This is the largest Special Forces unit in the history of the Israeli defence forces, formed in December 2015.

The brigade can be used as a whole in one operational direction or may be assigned to battalion divisions operating in the first tier; while in the enemy’s rear, it is suppose to be used by individual units or special purpose groups.

The “Maglan” Special Forces battalion, intended for the destruction of armoured vehicles and protected enemy objects behind the front line, consists of three companies that have their own specialisations: a company for raids, a company for special operations, a company for precision weapons.

The precision weapons company is armed with Nimrod missiles with a launch range of 30-50 km and a firing accuracy of less than 1 m (the target is corrected by laser beam). It interacts with the Air Force and directs aircraft at targets; it is used to strengthen other units operating behind enemy lines, and is the most secret special unit of the IDF.

The “Duvdevan” Special Forces battalion is designed to search for and destroy terrorist groups, as well as demonstrations organisers and protests actions in the West Bank. Some of the unit’s military personnel are constantly operating in the area, masquerading as local residents.

The “Egoz” Special Forces battalion is designed to protect borders, conduct guerrilla warfare in enemy territory, conduct counter-partisan operations in the Lebanese operations area, and destroy rocket launchers firing at Israel. Organisationally, it is part of the “Golani” infantry brigade, but in reality it is an independent unit.

The “Rimon” Special Forces battalion is intended for border protection, guerrilla warfare in enemy territory, and counter-guerrilla operations in the Sinai operational area.

The separate special-purpose battalion, “Sayeret Matkal”, reports directly to the chief of the “Aman” intelligence directorate of the General Staff of the Israeli Armed Forces.

The battalion’s purpose is for conducting strategic intelligence, conducting sabotage and intelligence operations, and fighting terrorism outside the national territory. It consists of management and support groups, three combat groups and has a strength of 150 troops.

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The “Tibam” division of computer planning is a special unit of hackers that acts for the benefit of other special forces.

The main tasks are hacking the enemy’s computer systems, protecting their own systems and information, three-dimensional modeling of the operation object, and so on.

The “Modiin Sade” special unit is part of the field intelligence structure and is permanently attached to “Sayeret Matkal”. It provides other units with intelligence information about the area of operation, monitors changes in the situation during its planning and implementation, and clarifies the operation results.

Reconnaissance companies: “Sayeret Golani”, “Sayeret Givati”, “Sayeret Tsankhnim”, “Sayeret Nahal”, “Sayeret Shirion”, “Sayeret Andasa-Kravit”, “Mahsar” (engineering reconnaissance troops) as part of the corresponding motorised infantry (mpbr), armoured brigades (brtbr) and engineering troops. Intelligence companies, in addition to army intelligence and sabotage training, take the “Lothar” course (fight against terror) and operate during operations for the benefit of their units and on their front lines, and can also be used to support other special forces as auxiliary anti-terrorist units.

The “Sayeret Shaked” special unit of the southern military district (SWO) specialises in operations in the Gaza Strip and the Negev Desert.

The special canine unit “Okets” performs specific tasks.

The “Yahalom” Special Forces is a unit of engineering troops (undermining or clearing targets, solving engineering problems in the enemy’s rear), which closely cooperates with “Sayeret Matkal” during operations.

The “Psagot” Battalion – a division of specialised communications and electronic warfare, which is responsible for maintaining communications with the rest of the special units during operations, the suppression of communications systems, and target detection of the enemy.

The Special Forces of the Israeli Air Force include:

The separate special-purpose company of the Air Force “Shaldag” is designed to search for and destroy air defence equipment, airfield infrastructure objects in the depth of enemy territory, as well as adjust air strikes and artillery fire. In peacetime, it is used as an anti-terrorist unit and its number is about 50 soldiers.

The Special Unit 669 of the Israeli Air Force (air rescue and evacuation unit), is designed for operations to rescue pilots from downed and crashed aircraft, evacuation of military personnel from behind the front line, as well as medical evacuation from the battlefield; it is used in peacetime as a rescue unit and used to assist sailors in distress, tourists lost in the desert, victims of car accidents in remote areas of the country.

The Special Unit 5700 of the Israeli Air Force (symbol – a red owl), intended for equipping landing sites behind the enemy or capture ready-made sites when performing long-range raids, providing intermediate landing and maintenance of aircraft and helicopters.

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Special Forces of the Israeli Navy include:

the 13th separate reconnaissance and sabotage battalion, which is designed to conduct special operations to destroy enemy objects at sea and on land (reconnaissance, sabotage, anti-terror), numbering about 350 soldiers. It consists of three specialised companies: the offshore company “Haposhtim”, designed for reconnaissance, ground and maritime special operations, as well as the release of hostages; the company of underwater operations “Hatsotselim”, which conducts sabotage operations underwater, mining ships and the enemy’s port infrastructures, as well as exploration of the coast for the landing of marine troops; the surface operations company that conducts operations to deliver combat divers to designated targets and escort marine cargo by submarines and surface ships of the Israeli Navy, as well as boats such as the “Zaharon”, “Snunit”, “Moulit”, and “Morena”.

The “Yaltam” Division, staffed by deep-sea divers, underwater minesweepers who are engaged in mine clearance of underwater objects, underwater search, rescue, repair and construction works, works closely with “Shayetet-13”, participating in ensuring their operations.

The “Snapir” Unit is a special unit of anti-sabotage forces and means, whose divers and scuba divers are engaged in fighting enemy combat divers, as well as providing anti-sabotage support to the Israeli Navy bases.

The Mossad Special Forces, police and other structures include:

the special unit “Kidon”, which is included in the department “Metsada” (security operations department) of the Mossad and is designed to eliminate and kidnap enemy officials abroad;

the “Yamam” special central division, which operates independently and is the main anti-terrorist division of the police;

the “Yamas” pseudo-Arab division, which performs the same tasks as “Duvdevan”: detection, destruction and capture of criminals hiding in the Arab territories, and targeted destruction of terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

the “Yasam” division, intended for the detention of especially dangerous criminals, patrolling in the Palestinian territories, the suppression of local riots, demonstrations;

the 730 Unit (“Shabak”) is responsible for protecting senior Israeli statesmen;

the 7707 Unit “LOTAR Eilat” is one of the main anti-terrorist units.

In order to plan and organise the use of special operations forces in the depths of the enemy’s territory, which is considered to be Iran, Lebanon and Syria, the headquarters of the joint command of the SOF was formed in December 2011.

At the formation stage, the Joint Command (JC) had a headquarters (about 100 people), the Special Forces Units battalion of the Army, Air Force, Navy, 669th Search and Rescue Aviation Squadron and the UAV Squadron. The Special Forces Command Centre (SFCC) immediately began to develop operational plans and the number of subordinate units was already about 1,500 people, combat and transport helicopters were allocated for aviation support. Presently, the structure of the joint command has changed somewhat.

In the organisational plan, the SFCC reports directly to the chief of the General Staff, and the transfer of special forces units under the command is provided only during the preparation and conduct of special operations abroad, as well as other military operations or military exercises (command and staff training).

In this case, the set of assigned forces and means is not permanent and depends on the complexity of the tasks, the characteristics of the situation and the characteristics of the intended area of action.

In general, depending on the tasks currently being solved by the SFCC, it is planned to create operational and tactical special-purpose groups, and if necessary, the allocated contingent can be strengthened by airborne and engineering troops.

The General Staff of the Israeli Armed Forces plans to use the V-22 “Osprey” transport and landing aircraft for the needs of the joint command of special operations forces.

The C-130N or C-130 transport aircraft from the 103rd and 131st transport aviation squadrons (28th AVB Nevatim), CH-53B helicopters (114th, 118th helicopter squadrons, 8th AVB Tel-Nof), and CH-60A helicopters (123rd and 124th helicopter squadrons, 30th AVB Plamachim) can be used to move personnel from other special operations forces to areas of mission performance outside the national territory as well as submarines and surface ships of the Navy.

The special forces of the 13th separate reconnaissance and sabotage battalion “Shayetet-13” use several types of speedboats as means of delivery to the areas of operation, and large vessels, planes and helicopters are used to participate in operations at remote distances.

Currently, the personnel of the SOF of the Israeli Air Force during operations use modern small arms, unmanned aerial vehicles, means of reconnaissance, delivery and airlift of special forces to the areas of operation, means of protection against enemy influence of foreign and domestic production, as well as robotic means.

As for small arms, the shortened version of the M16 rifle with a telescope sight, the “Uzi” submachine guns and its modifications, additional weapons: “Glock” and “Jericho 941” pistols, and from the support weapons, the FN MAG and “Negev” machine guns are used.

The “Tavor” TAR-21 assault rifle, developed in Israel, is the best example of local gunsmiths and is gradually replacing the American M16.

The new rifle has been designed on a “bullpup”, when the trigger is in front of the store, the length of the arms decreases, and the accuracy and range increase. The casing “Tavor” is made from reinforced polymers, which are not inferior in mechanical properties over traditional materials, but substantially lighter, axle stock TAR-21 is in line with the barrel, which considerably reduces recoil impact.

The special forces of engineering troops for reconnaissance, mine clearance and demolition of enemy objects has the latest autonomous robot terminator, developed by General Robotics. The terminator weighing about 11 kg has eight cameras that transmit the image to the operator, easily copes with obstacles and strikes the enemy.

A Glock-26 type pistol with ammunition is placed in the centre of the machine and there is the possibility of installing non-lethal weapons: devices for shooting gas and light special ammunition, and with some modification of the robot and other types of short-barrelled weapons.

The robot is able to destroy the detected ammunition. It is assumed that the Israeli terminator will become a reliable assistant for the commandos, will reduce the loss of personnel to a minimum and will perform all the dangerous and rough work when freeing hostages and defeating the enemy.

Thus, the Israeli Armed Forces have trained SOFs for intelligence and special tasks (including abroad). The military and political leadership of the Jewish state continues to improve the staff structure and the programme of operation and combat training of special operations forces.

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