Israeli Special Operations

Shayetet 13

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Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13, Hebrew: שייטת 13) is the Israeli naval commando elite special forces (SF) unit. The S-13 (shorthand for “Shayetet 13”) is considered one of the top-three SF units in Israel (along with Sayeret Matkal (the General Staff Special Unit) and Sayeret Shaldag (the air force special unit)). The S-13 is part of the Navy of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The S-13 symbol is a sword with in a shield with bat wings.

Originally the S-13 was designated and trained to perform naval raids and underwater commando operations. Aside from being the navy elite unit for special missions, the S-13 is also an elite CT (counter terror) unit which specializes in covert ops deep within enemy’s territory combining assault by sea, land and air.


History

The S-13 is one of the most veteran Israeli Special Forces (Sayeret) units. It was formed in 1949 based upon the Naval Brigade of the Haganah – the Jewish resistance movement during the British regime in what was then Palestine. In the unit’s early years, there was a debate in the IDF regarding the need for such unit so S’13 was small and with low budget. In 1960, S’13 existence was first made public and its operators received their renowned winged insignia rather than a general Israeli Navy insignia worn until then.

The breakout of the Israeli-Arab Six Day War in 1967 found the unit under trained. Several of the units’ missions during the war failed, the most noticeable one was in May 6 1967, when six operators were captured and taken as POW during a covert mission. S’13 POWs were released more then six months later in January 1968.

In 1969 the unit received another blow as three operators were killed and 10 more were badly injured during the Green Island Raid. In the 1970’s the unit had undergone rebuilding with more focus placed on sea-to-land incursions and on effective training. More issues rose with other IDF SF units, which at the time suggested that that S’13 should only provide the transportation to the target and assistance in crossing water obstacles, while leaving the surface warfare to the other IDF SF units.

Another problem was that in the 1970’s the unit’s training guideline was that S’13 operators should master all types of warfare. So all operators learned both advance diving and boats usage, causing a lack of specialization. In addition, all of S’13 training at the time was done internally within the unit, which later led to communications issues with other IDF units.

In 1979 the unit was appointed a new CO, Ami Ayalon. After assuming command, Ayalon led a major reorganization in the unit’s structure and training regime, which led to an increase in the training commonality between S’13 and other IDF SF units. Once the reorganization was completed, S’13 was larger, better trained and more combat ready than ever before.

From the early 1980’s the unit became increasingly involved in the LIC in Lebanon, demonstrating an excellent track record of dozens of successful operations each year, without casualties. Typical missions at the time were interdiction of terrorists’ vessels, blowing up enemy headquarters and key facilities, conducting ambushes and planting explosives in terrorists routes.

In the late 1980’s the IDF realized that it wasn’t exploiting the full potential of S’13 operators. So S’13 officers were encouraged to assume commanding positions in other SF units. This was especially done in new units, which needed to quickly gain operational readiness. Such units were Sayeret Duvdevan and Sayeret Shimshon, which were formed in the late 1980’s and Sayeret Egoz, which was formed in the mid 1990’s. All three units were appointed CO and other senior officers from S’13.

In recent years, S’13 was heavily involved in the LIC in the Territories. Its operators conducted maritime missions such as interception of terrorists ships carrying weapons and explosives as well as numerous highly complex CT missions. Due to S’13 increased land warfare deployment, the unit now place more emphasis on land based CT and CQB .

On September 8, 1997 the unit suffered a serious blow during a raid in Lebanon, when it was caught in a Hezbollah ambush and 11 of its soldiers were killed, including the unit commander.

In recent years, it was discovered that S-13 veterans had high occurrence of cancer, probably due to training in the polluted Kishon River & Haifa Bay. A commission for investigating the matter didn’t find statistical evidences that the diving in the Kishon caused the cancer. However, Minister of Defence Shaul Mofaz decided to compensate the divers’ families in spite of the commission findings.

S-13 is considered one of the best units in the Israeli Defence Force and has a strong positive reputation with the Israeli public.


Training

S-13 training regime lasts a total of 20 months and is considered by many to be the most grueling training regime in the IDF, primarily due to the maritime aspect of training. The unit also conducts extensive cross training with other foreign naval commando units, primarily the U.S. Navy SEALs.

The unit’s training phase consists of:

  • Six months basic and advanced infantry training with one of the IDF infantry brigades.
  • Three weeks parachuting course at the IDF Parachuting School.
  • Preparing Phase – lasts three months and consists of advanced infantry and weapons training, basic elements of maritime warfare, operation of small ships, long swims, forced marches and land demolition.
  • Combat diving course – lasts four weeks during which the soldiers learn the basic elements of combat diving such as how to cope with cold, diving in dark and clouded water and how to survive high risk underwater situations (e.g. pressure, depth).
  • Dedicated Phase – lasts almost a year during which the soldiers learn advance diving techniques with closed circuit diving systems, underwater demolitions and weapons and sea-to-land incursions (via diving, ships, submarines and parachuting into sea). Also included in this phase is a three weeks course in IDF Counter Terror Warfare School. The soldiers then learned how to perform maritime CT operations on ships, oil platforms and near coast buildings. During this phase the soldiers are also divided between the unit’s three specialized companies based on their capabilities and personal interest, and train on their future specialty.


Organization

S’13 is divided into three specialized companies:

  • Raids – handles sea-to-land incursions, assassinations, maritime hostage rescue and CT.
  • Underwater – handles all underwater missions such as hydrographic reconnaissance (underwater survey of possible landing locations), securing beaches prior to landing, underwater demolition against enemy ships and harbors and maritime intelligence gathering.
  • Above Water – specializes in the operation of S’13 fast attack boats and in cooperation with the Israeli Navy ships and submarines. The Above Water company primary mission is to bring the other two companies safely and accurately to their targets.

All three companies work closely with each other in joint missions and support each other operations.

List of S-13 operations

  • June 1967: 7 Israeli frogmen in Alexandria harbor sank an Egyptian minesweeper and were captured.
  • Between the 1967 and 1973 wars, Squadron 13 performed about 80 missions.
  • 21 July 1969, Operation Bulmus 6: Ze’ev Almog with 20 frogmen attacked Green Island at the south end of the Suez Canal, where Egypt had garrisoned artillery. All artillery was destroyed. Many surviving Egyptian garrison men were killed by their own side’s shore artillery which fired too late. Info also from.
  • 1973: Operation Spring of Youth “Aviv Neurim“.
  • 1973: (Yom Kippur War): Finding and destroying several Egyptian torpedo boats with limpet mines, clearing the way for an Israeli armored force landing in Egypt the next day. Squadron 13 used see sleds and spent nearly 20 hours in the water.
  • 2002: Capturing the Santorini arms smuggling ship.
  • 2002: Capturing the Karin A arms smuggling ship.
  • 2002: Capturing the Abu-Yusuf arms smuggling ship.
  • 2006: A nighttime raid on Tyre targeting the Hezbollah cell responsible for a rocket attack on Hadera earlier that day.

Current Status

During the al-Aqsa Intifada that lasted from 2000 until 2005, the S-13 soldiers decided not to limit themselves to naval operations and took part in ground counter terror operations deep within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The S-13 has performed hundreds of operations, including the arrest and/or killing of many militants of the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, considered worldwide as terrorists due to their involvement in suicide bombings.

S-13 still performs naval operations. It earned high acclaim due to the capture of three Palestinian ships which smuggled illegal weapons: Karin A, Santorini and Abu-Yusuf. The takeover of Karin A in particular was considered a highly difficult operation and it was conducted flawlessly.

In 2002 and in 2003, the S-13 won the Chief-of-Staff award for successful counter terror operations.

Following the death of S-13’s Captain Moran Vardi on July 6, 2004, the IDF issued the following statement:

The Shayetet (13) is an elite infantry recon unit (Sayeret), the only one to operate on land, sea, and air. The Shayetet fighters conduct widespread extensive activities on land, by sea, and from the air, which include intelligence gathering, pinpoint targeting of terrorists and terrorist infrastructure, thwarting terrorist attacks and neutralizing serious risks to Israel’s security.
In the last years, since the beginning of the intifada, the Shayetet is taking a central place in IDF activities in the Palestinian Territories. The activity of capturing wanted terrorists specially designed for the Shayetet requires special abilities. The Shayetet operations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have had a heavy price: in the current conflict the Shayetet lost five of its fighters.

Tyre Raid

During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, Shayetet 13 participated in the August 4 2006 attack on Tyre, Lebanon, killing multiple Hizbullah personal on the second floor of a residential building. Flotilla 13 suffered ten wounded during the operation and helicopter extraction, and the operation was considered a success. The same city block was revisited two days later for a mop-up operation.

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