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(S-13) Shayetet 13 / Flotilla 13

Israeli commandos of Flotilla 13 stormed on 31 May 2010 the six-ship fleet in international waters off the coast of the Islamist-run Gaza Strip as it carried some 10,000 tons of aid and up to 700 human rights activists to the Palestinian enclave. Nine activists were killed, dozens were injured. Hundreds were jailed and then deported.

The IN has one naval commando unit, based at Atlit naval base, with a strength of about 300. This elite special forces unit is known as Shayetet 13, or S-13. Shayetet 13, the Israeli equivalent of Britain's Special Boat Service, is one of the most decorated units in the Israeli military. Its role is to carry out special maritime operations; the unit has particular expertise in the area of counter terrorism (CT) and hostage rescue (HR) operations. Recruits to the unit undergo an intensive training course, some of which is carried out with the US Navy SEALs. Sea-to-land incursions are among the specialities of the unit. Members of the navy commando unit experience combination of five months of infantry training and three months of specialized operations, including guerilla warfare, parachuting, and raids from both the sea and air.

S-13 is organised into three companies, each company, or Palga, being assigned a particular role:

  • The Haposhtim Raids Palga specialities include commando sea-to-land incursions. Within this unit are the best specialists in the Shayetet 13th Organization. They are arranged in sniper, assault and anti-terrorist lines. A subordinate unit, the hostage rescue team, better known as Team four D4, specialises in counter-terrorism [CT] and Hostate Rescue [HR] operations.
  • Unit YALTAM Underwater Palga, the Navy Special Underwater Assignment Unit, has a number of missions, generally defensive. As its name suggest, the Israeli Navy Underwater Missions Unit ("Yechida Lemesimot Tat-Memiyot - YALTAM", in Hebrew) is in charge on complex underwater assignments. These missions include: Search And Rescue (SAR) and the retrieval of submerged ships and airplanes; Various underwater construction, such as welding and explosions; The unit also posses strong Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) ability, allowing it to explode or disarm devices such as old mines and other detonating weapons. During wartime the unit will perform preemptive dives in Israeli harbors in order to prevent enemy divers' incursions. Unit Yaltam training tends to be shorter than in other SF units. Yaltam is a frogman unit whose specialities include underwater demolition and underwater surveillance of targets. During the year of 2004, with the assistance of ANDI Israel, the Yaltam unit acquired operation ability in Technical and Tri-Mix diving. This ability included purchasing the necessary diving equipment and adjusting it to the unit's unique needs, purchasing and building the breathing gas production system, training and certification of Yaltam divers as ANDI Technical and Tri-Mix divers and the production of specific diving tables. This new knowledge and ability puts the Yaltam unit's Dive Team and the Israeli Navy at the forefront and among the most professional divers in the world.
  • The 'Above Water' Palga is similar to a US Special Boat Unit - using fast attack craft to deliver members of the Raids and Underwater companies to their targets, working closely with IN surface vessels and submarines during such operations. It is specialized in surface combat sudden action and attacks on vessels and coastal targets with the use of its Zaharon, Snunit, Moulit and Morena fast attack boats. One might even call the transportation company, as they often have the task of others will quickly and secretly transferred to the area of operations. According to numerical composition, it is the largest of the assault troops. Immediately behind it is the dive unit, and the smallest is the raids troop. All three work together very closely, supporting each other during the execution of a common mission.

The top recruits are included in the assault PALGO. Those with secondary qualifications (of course by S13 standards) are a part of the diving PALGO. Most of those ranked lowest included in the surface PALGO. Here it must be pointed out that it is a young, highly motivated people of the same age of 18-21 years, with the same or very similar military "background". Therefore, the results achieved are not dramatically different, but measurable.

The commandos ride to locations in zodiac inflatibles or the larger, faster Snunit fast attack craft. The Rigid Inflatable Boat [RIB] is a versatile vessel that can operate at varied-speeds in rough seas while providing tactical support of Naval special warfaremissions. The RIB's primary missions are insertion and extraction of sea, air, and land commando teams, Army special operations forces, and others; resupply missions along coastal waters; and nighttime offshore maritime surveillance.

The V-22, jointly developed by Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., has twin tilt-rotor technology that allows it to take off and land like a helicopter but after rotating its rotors to a horizontal position to fly as fast as a conventional aircraft. In 2005 a senior Air Force official said Israel must be on the constant lookout for new developments in aircraft and that the V-22 appeared to answer many of the IDF's future requirements. In June 2008 it was reported that the Israeli air force was planning a series of major enhancements to its rotary-wing fleet, including the upgrade of additional Boeing AH-64A Apache attack helicopters and a possible purchase of Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotors. In June 2008 it was reported that Shayetet 13 was interested in acquiring the V-22 Osprey, a tiltrotor vertical/short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) multi-mission aircraft developed to ferry soldiers, and particularly Special Forces, deep behind enemy lines. None have placed orders, but Israel, Great Britain and Japan are among the countries expressing interest. The V-22 will enable commando and rescue operation at greater distances than those currently possible. But by November 20089 the Israeli air force had abandoned its evaluation of the V-22 Osprey and was instead showing interest in the capabilities of Sikorsky's developmental CH-53K

Shayetet 13 conducted a raid that resulted in the near-destruction of Green Island, the Egyptian stronghold in the middle of the Gulf of Suez. Sayeret Matkal also participated in that operation. The naval commandos approached Green Island with Zodiac boats - rubber inflatables with outboard engines. During the War of Attrition beginning in 1969, the declared Egyptian intention was to wear Israel down by constant, small-scale attacks on Israeli positions along the Suez Canal. On July 10, 1969, Egyptian commandos made their way across the Suez Canal in dinghies and mounted a bloody attack on the Israeli position at Mezach on the East Bank of the Suez Canal. Seven Israelis were killed and five were wounded, and others were taken back to Egypt as prisoners. The IDF gave the responsibility of retaliation to Flotilla 13. Green Island, located at the southern end of the Suez Canal, was built by the British during the Second World War to protect the waterway from air and sea attack by Axis forces. The large and imposing facility measured more than 450 feet long and more than 240 feet wide. The Flotilla 13 unit left its base on the East Bank of the Suez Canal on 19 July 1699. The Israeli commandos wiped out about 80 of the Egyptian soldiers there, almost the entire garrison.

Flotilla 13 and Sayeret Matkal units were highly feted by the Israeli military brass. They were given many other chances to prove themselves, as the War of Attrition lasted throughout 1969 and into 1970. But none of the operations were as renowned for their daring and their success as the assault on Green Island - perhaps no other operations were until Flotilla 13 and the Sayeret Matkal participated in destroying PLO headquarters in Beirut in "Operation Spring of Youth" in 1973.

Ehud Barak participated in the operation that took out some of the main leaders of the PLO terrorist infrastructure in Beirut in the Spring of 1973. Barak was the commander of the Army's Sayeret Matkal, an elite special operations and reconnaissance unit. The Sayeret Matkal would use Zodiac boatse, only being taken in missile boats until they approached closely enough to shore to lower the Zodiacs and go in the rest of the way on them. They were assigned to take out PLO leaders responsible for heinous crimes against Israeli civilians, including the PLO raid on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics in 1972, In the end, three of the top PLO leaders they had intended to assassinate were dead. And George Habash's six-storey building was in rubble and ruins. Operation Spring of Youth is still known as one of the IDF's elite units' finest moments.

This unit plays a central role in combating terrorist organizations and has won honor from the Israeli military leadership for its innovative techniques. In January 2002, Israel captured the Karine A, a cargo ship laden with antitank rockets and light arms, which Israel said had been intended for the Palestinian Authority. On 03 January 2002, fighters of Shayetet 13 landed on the ship from Air Force helicopters. On board they captured two Palestinian police officers, three Lebanese civilians, including a Hezbollah activist, and five Egyptian citizens. That boat carried some 50 tons of military equipment including Katyusha rockets, antitank missiles, and high explosives. Yedidya Ya'ari commanded the navy during the operation by Shayetet 13 A former commander of the Israel Navy, Major General (res.) Ya'ari, later said Israel's naval commandos have developed capabilities allowing them to take over naval vessels, "in principle, anywhere in the world."

In 2002, after some deliberation and adaptation, Shayetet 13 spearheaded the war against Palestinian terrorism in Gaza and the West Bank. The land operations, assigned in parallel to naval ones, were thought by some tom have distracted the naval commando unit from its central task.

In September 2004 Israeli military operations in Nablus and Jenin resulted in the highest Palestinian death toll in the West Bank for months. On 13 September Shayetet 13 commandoes raided a building in an area of Nablus inhabited by many Christian families not far from the Latin Convent. Backed by tanks, Apaches, and armored vehicles, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militants for two hours. This is the same unit responsible for the killing of two PFLP activists - one of which was also executed at close range while trying to surrender - during a similar night time raid on July 6, 2004.

The Israel Defense Forces, with a motto of "win and remain a human being,"likes to see itself as setting a moral standard for militaries around the world. But that self-image was tarnished by incidents that had the country debating whether Israeli soldiers behaved inhumanely. In December 2004 Naval commando soldiers confirmed that they forced Palestinians in Jenin to be human shields despite the High Court of Justice's ruling banning what has come to be known in IDF [Israel Defence Forces] lingo as "neighbour practice". Reservists said in a debriefing conducted by the Shayetet unit that they had not been instructed not to use Palestinian civilians. IDF elite units carried out dozens of operations in Lebanon during the summer 2006 war, sometimes two a night. Most notable was a raid in the Beka Valley, executed by close to 200 soldiers from both Shaldag and Sayeret Matkal.

The General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) is subordinate to Military Intelligence, Shaldag to the Israeli Air Force and the Navy Seals (Shayetet 13) to the Navy. There are other elite units that are subordinate to the Ground Forces Command. The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, publicly applauded another special forces operation 01 August 2006 in Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon. There, commandos from Sayeret Matkal, the army's most elite unit, and from the air force's Shaldag Unit raided a hospital and captured five suspected Hezbollah guerrillas. Halutz said the operation showed Hezbollah the reach of the Israeli military. In more than four weeks of fighting, Israeli commandos captured about 20 Hezbollah operatives.

By January 2009 the elite naval commandos were taking part in the battle against Hamas in Gaza. According to details permitted for publication, the unit - also known as Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) - was conducting a wide range of operations, including strikes on Hamas terrorists and infrastructure. The commandos involved include sailors in regular service and teams of reservists.

Shayetet 13's most recent high-profile operation was the seizure on 11 April 2009 of Iranian arms on a ship smuggling them illegally to Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon. A special forces unit met no resistance and arrested those on board, approximately 100 miles off the Mediterranean Coast. The vessel was flying the flag of the West Indies island Antigua, and the weapons were hidden in a civilian shipment located in the belly of the cargo ship. Defense Minister Ehud Barak hailed the capture as "an additional success in the unending struggle against the attempts at arms smuggling and armament whose goal is to strengthen terror elements threatening the security of Israel." Brig.-Gen. Rani Ben-Yehuda, head of the Israel Navy Staff, briefed reporters on "Operation Four Species" in which the ship was located and captured. The Israel Defense Forces does not normally talk about the unit's work. Israel had intensified its battle against Iranian weapons proliferation since 2007.

The Israeli government continued its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip after the January 2009 military conflict with the HAMAS. Besides defeating Hamas, Tel Aviv demonstrated progress in transforming the Israeli military, based on lessons of the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. At least four types of special forces were used heavily during the invasion of Gaza including paratroopers; Shayetet 13 (navy seals); Shaldag, trained in counterterrorism; and the undercover Duvdevan Unit.

In July 2009 the Arctic Sea, a Panama-flagged Russian cargo ship, was purportedly seized by pirates -- or maybe by Israeli special forces. According to some Western, Russian and Israeli reports, the ship's cargo was not timber, as Moscow claimed, but S-300s -- the top surface-to-air missiles in Russia's arsenal, destined for Iran.

In November 2009 Shayetet 13 captured the Francop, a ship supposedly carrying civilian goods from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Syria's naval hub, Latakia. The seized cargo included 500 tons of crates filled with rockets, guns and grenades. Israel estimates that the materiel would have allowed Iran's client Hezbollah to exact a month of destruction on Israeli cities.

On 31 May 2010 a total of 9 passengers were killed, and dozens of others were injured, when Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla which had the declared purpose of breaking the blockade. The ship was led by a Turkish ship in international waters, about 60 kilometers off the coast of Israel.

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