Israeli Special Forces Units

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Special forces units in the Israel Defense Forces encompass a broad definition of specialist units. Such units are usually a company or a battalion in strength.

Sayeret (Hebrew: סיירת, pl.: sayarot), or reconnaissance units in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), specialize in intelligence gathering and surveillance. In practice, these units specialize in commando and other special forces roles, in addition to reconnaissance (the degree of specialization varies by units and current needs).

Mista'arvim (Hebrew: מסתערבים‎, lit. Arabized; Arabic: مستعربين‎, Musta'arabin), also spelled as mistaravim, is the name given to those counter-terrorism units of the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Border Police in which officers are specifically trained to operate undercover, in enemy territory, in order to assassinate or capture wanted terrorists.

On late December 2015, some Ground Force special forces units have been assembled in the Oz Brigade.[1]

Special forces units in the IDF[edit]

Israeli officers of the Paratrooper Battalion 890 in 1955 with Moshe Dayan (standing, third from the left). Ariel Sharon is standing, second from the left.

Unit 101[edit]

Main article: Unit 101

Commando Unit 101, the founding Israeli special forces unit, was established and commanded by Ariel Sharon on orders from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in August 1953.[2] They were armed with non-standard weapons and tasked with carrying out retribution operations across the state's borders—in particular, establishing small unit maneuvers, activation and tactical insertion and exit tactics.

Members of the unit were recruited only from agricultural Kibbutzs and Moshavs. Membership in the unit was by invitation only, and any new member had to be voted on by all existing members before they were accepted.[3]

The unit was merged into the 890th Paratroop Battalion during January 1954, on orders of General Dayan, Chief of Staff, because he wanted their experience and spirit to be spread among all infantry units of IDF starting with the paratroopers. They are considered to have had a significant influence on the development of subsequent Israeli special forces units.[4]

Sayeret units today[edit]

All combat brigades in the IDF have a unit with improved weaponry and training used for reconnaissance and special forces missions, trained to use advanced weapons and reconnaissance technology, as well as hand-to-hand combat. Historically the brigades used to only have one company-sized unit outfitted to do this job, known as Palsar (Hebrew contraction of: פלוגת-סיור, Plugat Siyur (singular) / Plugot Siyur (plural), "Reconnaissance Company"). Although the Palsar are mostly oriented at battlefield support (which is their raison d'être), many have participated in special operations during recent years. All infantry units as well as some armored units have Palsar.

Meir Har-Zion, "the best soldier ever to emerge in the IDF".[5]

While in the past there were differences between the siyur units, due to the experiences of the past decades the IDF is now consolidating them into larger units with many different capabilities: battalion-sized units called Gadsar (contraction of Gdud siyur, "Reconnaissance battalion"). Each Gadsar is made up of three specialized Plugot (companies): Demolitions and combat engineering (Plugat Habalah Handasit, or Palhan), Reconnaissance (Plugat Siyur, Palsar) and Anti-Tank (Pluga Neged Tankim, or Palnat).

This is part of the Yatah ("Low-Intensity Combat Unit") Project. This project aims at changing the Reconnaissance battalions into specialized urban counter terror units, that are specifically trained and equipped to operate in current combat situations.

Other sayarot are larger units, operating under corps and commands. There are several battalion-size special forces units which report directly to regional, functional (navy/air-force) and the general commands. The best known of these are Sayeret Matkal, Shayetet 13 and Yehidat Shaldag.

Known Sayeret units[edit]

Principal 3 special forces units[edit]

These are the most well-known commando units. Their operators are proficient in long range solo navigation, as opposed to other units where long range navigation is done with a minimum of 2 fighters.

Infantry Corps[edit]

Egoz operators blend into the landscape of the Golan Heights.

Also, four of the five infantry brigades (Golani, Givati, Nahal and Paratroopers) operate their own Palsars (today joint with Pal'nat and Pal'han as "Gad'sar"/Gdoud Siour), the infantry "sayarot". Each unit is subordinate to a specific regional command, though they are not restricted to these.

Armored Corps[edit]

Artillery Corps[edit]

Combat Engineering Corps[edit]

Combat Intelligence Collection Corps[edit]

  • Special forces detachments belonging to the Corps.

Air Force[edit]

  • Unit 669 - The Israeli Air Force's airborne rescue and evacuation unit, used for complex operations involving mountaineering, rescues mid-sea, evacuations of high-ranking personnel and retrieval missions outside Israel's borders. Founded in 1974, the unit only accepts recruits who passed Sayeret Matkal draft tests.
  • Unit Yanmam – airborne-capable anti-aircraft unit.
  • Unit 5700 - aircraft landscape and desert specialist.


Other units[edit]

  • Duvdevan Unit – special undercover unit, surbordinate to the Judea and Samaria Division. As a mistaravim unit; operators in the unit are trained conducting undercover operations disguised as Arabs in urban areas. They traditionally do not allow their real identities to become known to people outside their unit, and go to great lengths to avoid being recorded electronically or otherwise.
  • Maglan – a commando unit which specializes in operating behind enemy lines, only became publicly known in 2006.
  • LOTAR Eilat – reserve force counter-terrorism/hostage-rescue unit based at the southern Israeli port city of Eilat.

Disbanded units[edit]

Special Forces Units in the Israeli Border Police[edit]

  • The Yamam is the Israeli elite counter-terrorism unit. This is one of the best units in the world, due to the courage and experience of the unit and its fighters. The unit's activity is classified and works closely with the Shin Bet.
  • Yamas is a special operations and mista'arvim unit directly subordinate to the Army.

Special departments within the Mossad[edit]

  • Kidon, the name of a department within Israel's Mossad that is allegedly responsible for the execution of terrorists.

Gibush (Selection)[edit]

Young Israelis wanting to serve in the sayarot usually go to Yom Sayarot (Reconnaissance Units Day). Held at the Wingate Institute, Yom Sayarot is a day where prospective recruits undergo a series of physical and mental tests to evaluate their aptitude for service in several units. Those wanting to join Sayeret Matkal, Shaldag, Unit 669, Shayetet 13, the submarine service or Hovlim (Naval Officers Course) must go to Yom Sayarot and perform the respective tests for each service option.

Other sayarot recruit their operatives from the best recruits of the respective parent units. For instance, those who excel during training in the Paratroopers Brigade are invited to try to join Duvdevan, Maglan or the Special Forces battalion of the brigade; the best of recruits of the Armored Corps are invited to apply for service in the Armored reconnaissance units, etc.

Drop-outs from some sayarot might be able join other, less demanding sayarot units. For instance, drop-outs from Shayetet 13 might be able to go to Unit Yaltam or Yaban; drop-outs from Shaldag can end up in Unit Yanmam.

The reserve sayarot such as Alpinistim or LOTAR Eilat usually recruit its members after they finished the mandatory 3-year service in some units: Alpinistim draws its members primarily from Golani and LOTAR Eilat draws its members from former kravi (soldiers that served in a combat unit) that live in Eilat.

See also[edit]

  • Yamam – the elite SWAT unit in Israel
  • Yamas – the Israeli police special operations unit
  • Shin Bet – Israel's internal security agency
  • Aman – Israel's military intelligence agency
  • Mossad – Israel's covert intelligence and special operations agency
  • Isayeret
  • Oz Brigade - the Ground Forces formation grouping some of the Israeli special forces units.


  1. ^ Zeff, Michael (27 December 2015). "New Israeli Special Operations Infantry Brigade". Special Forces International. Tazpit News Agency. Retrieved 14 January 2016. 
  2. ^ "Unit 101". Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  3. ^ Like Dreamers, by Yossi Klein Halevy, (New York 2013), pages 42–43
  4. ^ "Jewish Virtual Library — Israeli Special Forces History". Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  5. ^ Morris, Benny (1993) Israel's Border Wars, 1949–1956. Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-827850-0. Page

External links[edit]