Maritime intelligence gathering
Maritime hostage rescue
|Garrison/HQ||Atlit naval base|
|Nickname(s)||השייטת (HaShayetet, The Flotilla)|
War of Attrition
Operation Spring of Youth
Occupation of South Lebanon
2006 Lebanon War
Gaza flotilla raid
Shayetet 13 (Hebrew: שייטת 13, lit. Flotilla 13) is a unit of the Israeli Navy and one of the primary special operations units of the Israel Defense Forces. Shayetet 13 specializes in sea-to-land incursions, counter-terrorism, sabotage, maritime intelligence gathering, maritime hostage rescue, and boarding. The unit has taken part in almost all of Israel's major wars, as well as other actions. The unit is one of the most secretive in the Israeli military. The details of many missions and identities of active operatives are kept highly classified. The unit is respected as among the best of the world’s special forces, and is often compared to the US Navy SEALs and Britain's Special Boat Service. Unlike many other Israeli Special Forces Units which take men only for their 36-month mandatory service, volunteers for Shayetet 13 must agree to service at least four and a half years (18 months over and above the normal commitment).
- 1 History
- 1.1 Founding
- 1.2 Early years
- 1.3 1967–1973
- 1.4 Lebanon
- 1.5 Operation Moses
- 1.6 Second Intifada
- 1.7 2006 Lebanon War
- 1.8 Syria 2008
- 1.9 Operation Cast Lead
- 1.10 Francop Affair
- 1.11 Gaza Flotilla Operation
- 1.12 Victoria Affair
- 2 Organization
- 3 Training
- 4 Equipment
- 5 Cancer controversy
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Shayetet 13 is a veteran Israeli special forces unit. It was formed in 1949 by Yohai Ben-Nun with men drawn from the ranks of the Palyam, the naval branch of the Haganah. The need for such a dedicated unit was a matter of debate during the early years of the IDF, and the unit subsequently suffered size and budget restrictions. The existence of Shayetet 13 was only made public in 1960 and the general Israeli Navy insignia worn by members until then was replaced with the bat-winged insignia used at present.
During the 1956 Suez Crisis, Shayetet 13 commandos performed several failed reconnaissance missions before the campaign. They later participated in the land campaign as regular soldiers, and almost carried out a plan to capture an Egyptian Navy frigate. The plan was called off because the elite unit's soldiers were deemed too valuable to risk for low-priority targets.
On July 9, 1958, Shayetet 13 operatives infiltrated Beirut harbor in Operation Yovel. They were discovered, and a gunfight and chase ensued. The commandos were able to retreat without any casualties.
In August 1966, the unit was given the mission of retrieving the wreckage of a Syrian Air Force MiG that had been shot down and crashed into the Sea of Galilee. Near the end of the operation, Syrian troops opened fire, and the salvage rope attached to the aircraft was dropped. The Syrians were later able to pick it up and drag their aircraft to safety.
During the 1967 Six Day War, the unit was tasked with neutralizing enemy fleets. Shayetet 13 commandos infiltrated Port Said, but found no ships there, and during a raid into Alexandria, six divers were captured and taken prisoner, and released in January 1968. Several other missions also failed.
Operation Barak was an Israeli naval mission to fly the flag in the Suez Canal carried out in July 1967, following Egyptian artillery attacks and firing on Israeli ships in the Suez Canal. Shayetet 13 participated in the operation. The operation was carried out in daylight, and the Egyptians opened fire from their positions, sinking a boat.
Operation Bulmus 6
In 1969 during the War of Attrition, the unit successfully carried out the Green Island raid in cooperation with Sayeret Matkal. Three of the six Israeli soldiers killed during the operation were Shayetet 13 operatives. The Egyptians lost approximately 80 soldiers.
War of Attrition
On September 7, 1969, Shayetet 13 carried out Operation Escort, raiding the Egyptian anchorage at Ras Sadat and destroying a pair of Egyptian P-183 torpedo-boats. Three operators were killed on the way back from the mission when one of their charges detonated. Escort, nevertheless, allowed the IDF to carry out Operation Raviv, a highly successful 10-hour raid on Egypt's Red Sea coast.
During the 1970s, the unit underwent a rebuild with more emphasis placed on sea-to-land incursions and on effective training. More issues rose with other IDF Special Forces units, which at the time suggested that that Shayetet 13 should only provide the transportation to the target and assistance in crossing water obstacles, while leaving the surface warfare to the other IDF Special Forces units.
Operation Bardas 20 took place on January 14, 1971, to neutralize a guerrilla base in Lebanon, near Sidon, where about two dozen militants were training as frogmen. During the operation, a number of buildings at the base were destroyed, and a number of guerrillas were wounded, including commander Abu Youssef. During the course of the raid, the commandos discovered a house with several women in it, and decided not to blow it up.
Shayetet 13, Unit 707, and Sayeret Tzanhanim commandos jointly raided guerrilla bases in Nahr al-Bared and Beddawi on February 19, 1973 in Operation Bardas 54–55. During the operation, about 40 guerrillas were killed and 60 wounded, and a Turkish military trainer was taken prisoner.
Operation Wrath of God
Shayetet 13 took part in Operation Spring of Youth in 1973, in which Israeli special forces raided Beirut and killed several members of Black September, the terrorist group which carried out the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes in the Munich 1972 Summer Olympics.
Yom Kippur War
During the Yom Kippur War, Shayetet 13 commandos infiltrated Egyptian ports numerous times, sinking five Egyptian naval vessels and heavily damaging another. Two commandos went missing during one of the raids.
Following the Yom Kippur War, the Shayetet 13 carried out various missions against guerrilla boats and those who assisted them, with mediocre success. During Operation Litani in 1978, Shayetet 13 carried out ambushes, killing a senior enemy commander in one of them. From 1979 to 1981, the unit carried out 22 successful Special Forces raids against guerrilla targets in Lebanon. The successes resulted in a unit decoration.
Following intelligence reports that a guerrilla unit based south of the mouth of the Zaharani river in Ras a-Shaq, Lebanon, was preparing to carry out a kidnapping and "bargaining" operation on a community in northern Israel, Shayetet 13 commandos raided the base on April 19, 1980. During the raid, about 15 guerillas were killed, including the commander of the would-be infiltration unit and two of its members, and two structures were destroyed. Several commandos were wounded.
During the 1982 Lebanon War, Shayetet 13 commandos participated in creating a beach head at the mouth of the Awali river, enabling armor and infantry to land. The unit also carried out three raids on PLO targets in Beirut, and carried out several other raids and ambushes during the war.
From the early 1980s the unit became increasingly involved in the Lebanon conflict, demonstrating an excellent track record of dozens of successful operations each year, inflicting massive losses on Hezbollah, both in life and equipment. Typical missions at the time were interdiction of guerrilla vessels, blowing up enemy headquarters and key facilities, conducting ambushes and planting explosives in guerrilla routes. On November 25, 1988, the unit, along with other forces, conducted a raid on the base of PFLP-GC commander Ahmed Jibril. The IDF estimated that 20 guerrillas were killed in the raid. However, several commandos were killed, and Jibril managed to escape.
On September 5, 1997, the unit suffered a major blow during a raid in Lebanon. A number of Shayetet 13 commandos landed on Lebanon's coast, south of Sidon between the towns of Loubieh and Ansariya. Speculation about their mission was that they were trying to assassinate a senior Shia Muslim cleric of the Hezbollah movement. They landed in the dark early hours of that Friday and started moving inland. The army said the force had been "on its way to its mission" when it was struck by a powerful explosive device and came under fire from Hezbollah. The clash took place outside a 15-km deep security zone which Israel occupied in south Lebanon. The force's commander, Joseph Korakin, was killed in the first burst of fire. Israel immediately dispatched a rescue team in a CH-53 helicopter. A rescue force of helicopters and naval ships arrived, joining in a battle that lasted until dawn as the rescuers evacuated the dead. Mortar shells exploded nearby and shrapnel hit the CH-53, but it was able to take-off. As a result of being hit by an IED, twelve Shayetet 13 commandos were killed including their commander and an unknown number injured. The uncollected remains of the Israeli soldiers were returned to Israel on June 25, 1998 in a prisoner exchange deal. After 14 years, Hezbollah revealed that they knew the position of the commandos in advance thanks to the interception of video footage broadcast by Israeli Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that were hovering over the area in the days before the mission. The soldiers were killed as a result of entering an orchard booby-trapped with bombs that exploded when they entered.
During the mid-1980s, Shayetet 13 played an active part in Operation Moses, which brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. After the Mossad had established a diving resort on the Sudanese coast to serve a conduit for Jews fleeing Ethiopia, Shayetet 13 operatives would arrive on dinghies at night to ferry the refugees to an Israel Navy boat waiting offshore.
During the Second Intifada, Shayetet 13 commandos took part in ground counter terror operations deep within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Shayetet 13 participated in hundreds of operations, including the arrest and killing of members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. The unit also participated in the Battle of Jenin. It earned high acclaim due to the successful capture of three Palestinian vessels which attempted to smuggle in weapons: Karine A, Santorini and Abu-Yusuf. The Karine A incident, in particular was considered a highly difficult operation. In 2004, their operations were temporarily suspended following a complaint from B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, that operatives had shot an unarmed Palestinian fighter for no reason. An investigation found that the commandos had good reason to assume the guerrilla was concealing a grenade, and the unit was put back into action.
In 2002 and again in 2003, Shayetet 13 won the Chief-of-Staff citation for successful counter terrorism operations.
2006 Lebanon War
On August 5, 2006, during the 2006 Lebanon War, Shayetet 13 commandos raided an apartment block in Tyre, claiming to have killed "a number of militants" and to have destroyed "several rocket-launchers", while suffering eight wounded. The Lebanese government claimed that one Lebanese soldier and "at least four civilians" were also killed in the operation.
Operation Cast Lead
During Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from December 2008 to January 2009, Shayetet 13 commandos landed on the Gaza Strip coastline to strike Hamas targets on land. They were also reportedly involved in two Israeli airstrikes in Sudan against Iranian-supplied arms being smuggled into the Gaza Strip. The strikes hit a 17-truck convoy carrying arms, and an Iranian arms ship docking in Sudan.
On 4 November 2009, the Antiguan-flagged vessel MV Francop which had been carrying arms and munitions from Iran to Hezbollah was successfully boarded and taken over by Shayetet 13 commandos. The commandos subsequently found the well-hidden weapons.
Gaza Flotilla Operation
On May 31, 2010, Shayetet 13 took part in Operation Sea Breeze or Operation Sky Winds against a flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza. The commandos, armed with non-lethal weaponry and 9mm pistols as sidearms, roped down from helicopters and boarded from speedboats, and apprehended five ships with mostly passive resistance. Aboard the MV Mavi Marmara, the commandos were attacked by dozens of activists armed with knives, iron bars, slingshots and improvised weapons, and allegedly with firearms, including those seized from commandos. Three soldiers were captured, carried below deck, and were temporarily held in a passenger hall. The commandos initially used non-lethal force, but after this proved ineffective, they opened fire with live ammunition and seized control of the ship. Nine activists were killed, and several dozen were wounded. Seven commandos were also wounded, two of them seriously. International condemnation of the action followed. Subsequently, Shayetet 13 commandos boarded and seized the aid ship MV Rachel Corrie with no resistance.
On March 15, 2011, Shayetet 13 took part in "Operation Iron Law," conducted on the high seas against the Liberian-flagged, German-owned Victoria, a cargo vessel found to be carrying 50 tons of weapons which intelligence reports indicated had been consigned to Hamas. The Victoria was interdicted approximately 200 nautical miles from the Israeli coast, as it traveled from Turkey to El-Arish port in Egypt (other sources give the destination as Alexandria, Egypt). According to the Israel Defense Forces, Victoria loaded the cargo in the port of Latakia in Syria and sailed to Mersin, Turkey. The ship was intercepted by Israeli Navy Sa'ar 5-class corvettes and boarded by commandos from Shayetet 13, without resistance. The IDF has stated that the ship's crew was unaware it was carrying weapons, as they were concealed in 39 of the 100 containers on deck beneath bags of Syrian lentils and cotton. When seized by Shayetet 13, Victoria was redirected to the Port of Ashdod. There, further inspections were conducted and the contraband was unloaded. Israel then announced it would release the ship and allow Victoria to continue to the Egyptian port of Alexandria.
Shayetet 13 is divided into three specialized company-sized units (Hebrew: Pluga):
- Raids (Plugat Haposhtim): Special Reconnaissance and Direct Action missions on land, Maritime Counter-Terrorism and Hostage Rescues.
- Underwater: Underwater Attacks and Sabotage, Hydrographic (Beach) Reconnaissance, and Beachhead Reconnaissance and Security.
- Above water: Surface Attacks, Sea Transportation of units to and from target areas.
The training of Shayetet 13 recruits lasts 20 months, and is considered one of the toughest courses in the IDF. The training phases consist of:
- Selection process. A selection camp to recruit for the unit is held twice a year. Cadets are put through physically and mentally challenging tests. Doctors and psychologists are at hand to prevent burnout and physical injury. This phase stresses psychological toughness, and tests recruits in their ability to take and operate under stress and fear.
- Six months of basic and advanced infantry training with the Nahal Brigade.
- Preparation phase: this phase lasts for three months and consists of advanced infantry and weapons training, parachute training, basic elements of maritime warfare, operation of small vessels, long swims, forced marches, and demolitions.
- Four weeks of advanced training in combat diving. During this course, cadets learn the basics of combat diving, and how to cope with situations such as cold, darkness, clouded water, and how to survive high-risk underwater situations.
- Dedicated phase. This phase of training lasts about a year and includes training in advanced diving techniques with close-circuit systems, underwater demolition, sea-to-land incursions via diving, ships, submarines, and parachuting into the sea. This phase includes a three-week course at the IDF counter-terrorism school. Cadets then train in maritime counter-terrorism operations, such as the boarding of vessels, oil rigs and near-coast buildings. During this phase, soldiers are divided between the three specialized units based on their capabilities and personal interests, and train on their future specialty.
- M4 carbine
- M203 grenade launcher
- CTAR-21 carbine
- X95 carbine
- Uzi 9mm Sub-machine gun
- Negev machine gun
- SR-25 sniper rifle
- M24 sniper rifle
- Glock pistols
- Limpet mines
- Zodiac RHIB boats
- Morena RHIB boats
- Snunit fast attack craft
In recent years, it was discovered that Shayetet 13 veterans had a high occurrence of cancer, possibly due to training in the polluted Kishon River. A commission for investigating the matter did not find statistical evidence that diving in the Kishon caused cancer; however, Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz decided to compensate the families of the divers despite the findings of the commission.
- List of special forces units
- Israeli Navy
- Atlit naval base
- Commandos Marine
- Special Boat Service
- United States Navy SEALs
- Special Service Group Navy
- Marine Special Operations Regiment
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