Richard Melson

December 2005

Aman & Israel Units and Squads

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Aman (IDF)

Aman is the Hebrew abbreviation for the Israel Defence Forces' (IDF)

Directorate of Military Intelligence, Israel's central, overarching military inteligence.

Aman was created in 1950, when the 'Intelligence Department' was spun off from the IDF's General Staff (then, Agam).

Aman is an independent service, on a par with the Infantry Corps, Navy Corps, and the Air Force Corps, with a staff of 7,000 personnel (estimate as of 1996).

It is currently headed by Major General Aharon Zeevi-Farkash.

New head of Aman announced

On 10 June 2005, the IDF's chief, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, in a move viewed as surprising, announced that Major General Aharon Zeevi-Farkash will be replaced by Major General Amos Yidlin.

Yidlin, currently the IDF's military attaché in Washington, was a combat pilot, former head of the Air Intelligence Squadron, and Halutz's deputy.

The new appointment has already met the approval of Israel's Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, and will take effect in the next several few months.

Yidlin, recently nominated to replace Zeevi-Farkash

1948-1949 — Isser Be'eri

1949-1950 — Colonel Chaim Herzog

1950-1955 — Colonel Binyamin Gibli

1955-1959 — Major General Yehoshafat Harkabi

1959-1962 — Major General Chaim Herzog

1962-1963 — Major General Meir Amit

1964-1972 — Major General Aharon Yariv

1972-1974 — Major General Eli Zeira

1974-1978 — Major General Shlomo Gazit

1979-1983 — Major General Yehoshua Saguy

1983-1985 — Major General Ehud Barak

1986-1991 — Major General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak

1991-1995 — Major General Uri Saguy

1995-1998 — Major General Moshe Ya'alon

1998-2002 — Major General Amos Malka

2002-2005 — Major General Aharon Zeevi-Farkash (outgoing)

2005-Present – Major General Amos Yidlin (recent nomination)

Sayeret Matkal-

General Staff Reconnaissance unit) is the elite special forces unit of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

It was established in 1957 as Unit 269 by veterans of the Paratroopers Brigade, Unit 101 and the IDF's Intelligence Branch (Aman).

Its main roles are counter terror, deep reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. The unit is modelled on the British SAS, and organizationally reports to Aman. Its IDF nickname is simply "The Unit". The unit's motto is "Who Dares Wins" (same as the SAS motto).

The unit is best known for Operation Thunderbolt, more commonly but mistakenly known as Operation Entebbe, in which it rescued more than 100 Air France airline passengers hijacked to Uganda by PLO terrorists, losing the unit commander (Yonathan Netanyahu) to enemy gunfire.

The unit was kept top-secret during its initial years. Fighters and commanders were selectively hand-picked, based on personal acquaintances and family members of existing members (two of Netanyahu's brothers also served in the unit, for example).

Since the 1980s, while still secretive, the unit opened to voluntary recruits. Twice a year it holds a notoriously gruelling selection camp (Gibush) for potential recruits lasting several sleepless days. The recruits are constantly monitored by doctors and psychologists. Those who make it through the end with passing evaluation marks are admitted.

During the 1990s, this selection camp practice was picked up by other IDF special forces (Sayeret). Lately, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz plans to unify all these camps to prevent recruit burn-outs and medical injury by over-enthusiastic youths.

Once admitted to the unit, recruits train for 18 months, with heavy emphasis on small arms, martial arts, orienteering, camouflage, reconnaissance and other skills important for survival behind enemy lines. Although Sayeret Matkal has its own insignia, Sayeret Matkal is the only unit in the IDF whose soldiers are not allowed to wear it in public due to its classified nature.

Notable (former) Sayeret Matkal figures

Despite being a top-secret and relatively small army unit, former Sayeret Matkal veterans have a disproportionate influence on the army and public service. This may partly be due to the fact that rigorous screening and training (second only to that of the Israeli Air Force pilot academy) ensures that only the most capable and motivated Israeli youths are accepted by the unit as fighters.

Known operations

Note: Until recently the Israeli army had an official policy of denying existence of this unit. Operations were generally attributed to "elite paratroopers". Sayeret Matkal operations are still kept secret to this day. However, due to the unit's successes in daring operations, it soon became a very publicly-known secret in Israeli society.


(Hebrew pl. sayarot) means "reconnaissance unit" in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Such units are usually a company or a battalion in strength.

Sayeret units in the IDF

Combat brigades in the IDF usually have a company with improved weaponry, also known as plugat siyur (Hebrew pl. plugot siyur, abbr: palsar ), that is used to reinforce the brigade's regular forces.

Other sayarot are larger units, operating under corps and commands. Although the plugot siyur 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 the 7th Armoured Brigade have plugot siyur.

Each of the four Infantry Brigades (Golani, Givati, Nahal and Paratroopers) has its own Special Forces reconnaissance battalion (Yehidat Siyur, abbr: Yahsar). This battalion is made up of three specialized company-size units: Demolitions (Plugat Heil Handasa, abbr: Palhan), Recon (Palsar, mentioned above) and Anti-Tank (Plugat Neged Tankim, abbr: Palnat). While in the past there were differences between the three units, the IDF is now consolidating the three specialized units into one larger battalion-size unit with many different capabilities. This is part of the Yatah Project or, as it is called in English, the Low-Intensity Combat Unit project. This project aims at changing the Reconnaissance battalions into specialized urban counter terror units, that are specifically trained and equipt to operate in current combat situations.

In addition to the brigade sayeret units, IDF combat divisions have their own battalion-size recon units (Gdud Siyur, abbr: Gadsar).

There are also 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 and Shayetet 13.

List of known sayeret units

Other sayarot that became public over the years:

Shayetet 13:

Shayetet 13  is the Israeli naval commando elite special forces unit.

The S-13 (shorthand for "Shayetet 13") is considered one of the top-three Special Forces 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 Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

The S-13 symbol is a sword with in a shield with bat wings ([1]).

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.


The S-13 is based upon the Naval Brigade of the Jewish pre-military Haganah. Only in the 1970's it was professionalized as a naval SF unit and elite CT force. During the following decades the S-13 based its reputation as the second best elite SF in the IDF.

The S-13 took part in Operation Spring of Youth of 1973 in which Israeli special forces raided Beirut secretly overnight and killed some of the members of Black September, which had carried out the Munich Massacre of Israeli athletes in the Munich 1972 Summer Olympics.

Beside its great successes, the S-13 has also known great tragedies.

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 elite SF unit in the Israeli Defence Force and has a strong positive reputation with the Israeli public.


The training course of S-13 lasts one year and eight months (a total of 20 months). During training, the trainees acquire many skills, such as: sniping, navigation, unarmed combat, diving, sailing, parachuting, helicopter gliding and more.

List of famous S-13 operations

Current Status

During the al-Aqsa Intifada, 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.


Sayeret Yahalom:

The Sayeret Yahalom (formerly Sayeret Yael) is a special elite combat engineering unit of the Israeli Engineering Corps of the Israel Defense Forces.

The name "Yahalom" (Diamond in Hebrew) is an abbreviation of "Special Operations Engineering Unit".

It has high reputation as one of the more capable elite unit of the IDF Special Forces.

Sayeret Yahalom specializes in special engineering mission which include:

Organization and Activities

General Activities

Sayeret Yahalom (SY) is one of the most classified units in the IDF and almost none of its special activities are exposed to the public. Usually, when its activities are published, they are just credited to a "combat engineering force" (a term which used interchangeably for regular Engineering sappers, IDF Caterpillar D9 operators and infantry engineering companies).

Foreign sources (such as Janes Defence Weekly) claim that Sayeret Yahalom are working closely with Sayeret Matkal and Shayetet-13, by providing them demolitions, explosive and sabotage skills.

Sub Units

Weapons and means

The exact weapons of the unit aren't detailed but it was recently report they acquired new means to handle smuggling tunnels, such as remote-controlled robot which can scan tunnels, preventing the need for human operator to enter the tunnel and risk its life.

EOD robots for handling IEDs, bombs and explosive charges and advance EOD car are standard equipment for all engineering units handling explosives and also used by Magav sappers.

Other means of Sayeret Yahalom include the up-armored IDF Caterpillar D9 bulldozer (which was found extremely useful for special operation and CT duties), an armored Excavator with drills and IDF Puma CEV.

Activities during the Al-Aqsa Intifada

Recently, Sayeret Yahalom was enlarged when the Southern Command Gazan tunnel experts team was merged with the unit, in a platoon called SAMOOR.

The "YACHSAP" team (the equivalent of EOD) is constantly defusing large IEDs set by Hizbullah in the Israeli-Lebanese border and bombs planted by Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They are often assisted by armored bulldozers for that mission.

The YAEL team provided accurate demolition skills to destroy Palestinian terror facilities such as bomb-labs and terrorists' house. They also reportedly blew up buildings in the Mukataa and bridges near Beit Hanoun (in order to prevent transportation of Qassam rockets via trucks and vans).

Joining the unit and Trainings

In order to be accepted into the unit one must enlist to the Israeli Engineering Corps and go through basic training ("Tironut"), in which the best trainees are tracked by the commanders and sent to "Gibush" (a 5-days test of physical and mental condition in intensive field trials) from whom the very best are selected to join the unit and received advance training. The extra training takes another year (which bring to a total of 1.5 years of training) and therefore joiners must commit themselves for two more years of service (in addition to the mandatory 3 years service in the IDF).

The long and intense training period include both Engineering and EOD training and both advance combat training and full Counter-terror training.


The YAMAM, is the acronym for Special Police Unit  in Hebrew, Israel's elite civilian counter-terrorism unit.

The YAMAM has a world-wide reputation as a professional and successful counter terrorism unit and it is capable of both hostage-rescue operations and offensive take-over raids (for use against terrorists).

Besides counter-terrorism duties, it also performs SWAT duties and undercover police work.

Name and organization

YAMAM stands for Special Police Unit.

In Israel it is also called "The Unit for Counter-Terror."

The YAMAM answers to the MAGAV central command and belongs to the civilian Israeli police forces rather than the military.

Its operators and officers are professional policemen on payroll, usually with combat experience from their military service within the IDF.

The YAMAM is self-dependent, training its own operators in all fields, such as sniping, recon, dog operating, bomb disposal, etc.

As a result, the YAMAM has a very rapid deployment time and high coordination between various squads (sniping squad, entry team, engagement force, etc.).

The YAMAM's primary duties are:

  1. Hostage rescue (terrorist events).

  2. Hostage rescue (criminal events).

  3. Counter terrorism (preventative operations).

  4. SWAT duties - handling dangerous criminals.

  5. Undercover police operations.

  6. VIP security.

Most of the YAMAM's activity is classified, and published YAMAM operations are often credited to other units. Nevertheless, the YAMAM enjoys a high reputation among SF professionals and the Israeli public.


The YAMAM was established after the Maalot massacre, where a failed operation by military special forces units ended with 21 children murdered before the terrorists were killed. Since hostage rescue in friendly territory is different from counter-terrorism in hostile areas, it was decided to establish an elite civilian force, which develops and practices a special CQB (Close Quarters Battles) doctrine for counter-terrorism operations in friendly territory and hostage rescue. In the late 1974 the YAMAM was established as and falls under the direct jurisidiction of a special forces counter-terrorism unit of the MAGAV — the combat arm of the police.

Operational record 1974 - September 2000

The YAMAM has carried out many counter-terror operations. Some of the missions known to the public prior to the al-Aqsa Intifada are listed below:

Operational record during the al-Aqsa Intifada (since October 2000)

The YAMAM has carried out many counter-terror operations during the Al-Aqsa Intifada within the last few years. The vast majority of them are classified. Some of the most notable are listed below:

YAMAM Directors

Israel Border Police:

Mission of the Border Police

The Border Police is the operational and professional arm of the Police in matters of internal security and combating terrorism, securing the seam region, dealing with public disturbances and dispersing demonstrations, hostile terrorist actions and preventing crimes in the agricultural sector.

In addition, the Border Police serves as a multi-purpose force for security and policing and as a focused and mobile immediate-intervention unit that can provide assistance and backup to police and IDF units.

The Border Police is set up according to a system known in police forces around the world as a "gendarmerie: the border policemen are given the authority of a policeman, but putting the force into action is carried out in a way similar to army procedure.


The Israel Border Police (Hebrew: Mishmar HaGvul) is the combat branch of the Israeli Police.

It is also commonly known by its Hebrew abbreviation Magav, meaning: border guard.


The Border Police was founded as the Frontier Corps, a gendarmerie under the IDF in 1949 with the task of providing security in rural areas and along the borders. In the course of the following years, it was gradually transferred to the command of the Police and became the Border Police. During these years, it secured new settlements and countered infiltration of Palestinians, especially from Egypt and Jordan.

During the 1956 Suez War, the Border Police was involved in the Kafr Qasim massacre. On the second day of the war, a curfew was imposed on the Israeli Arab village. Villagers who had worked in the village fields and had not been informed about the curfew were shot as they returned to the village, resulting in 49 dead. The massacre raised a strong protest in the Israeli public and resulted in a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the obligation of soldiers to disobey manifestly illegal orders.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, the Border Police took part in the fighting alongside the IDF. Following the war, it was deployed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and charged with maintaining law and order as part of the military administration. Since then, a significant portion of the Border Police's activity has been in these territories, especially during the years of the Intifada.

In 1974, the counter-terror unit YAMAM is established.

In October Riots the Border Police used as the main branch of the treatment in the events. During al-Aqsa Intifada the Border Police took a large part in the security activity.

In 2005 the Border Police participated in the implementation of the disengagement plan.


The Border Police is composed of professional officers on payroll and field policemen redirected from the IDF (men at the age of 18 can choose to serve in the Border Police instead of the IDF, serving 3 years as a border policeman is equal to 3 years as an IDF soldier). All border policemen receive combat training and in addition are also trained for CT (counter-terrorism), riot control and policework. Excellent policemen can specialize in some profession and receive special training to become snipers, buggie-drivers, dog operators, bomb squad etc.

Because of their combat training, border policemen are employed in unquiet areas, where there are greater risks for riots, violence and even terror. They serve mainly at the countryside, at Arab villages and towns (along with the regular police), near the borders and at the West Bank.

The Border Police is also responsible for security of rural settlements inside Israel with its Rural Police (Hebrew: shitur kafri) units and community security coordinators (Hebrew:  rabash). Rural policemen are full time professional officers and security coordinators are a mixture of full time and volunteer officers.

The Border Police has four SF units:

YAMAM (Counter-Terror and Hostage Rescue unit), YAMAS (Counter-Terror Undercover Unit), YAMAG (Tactical Counter-Crime and Counter-Terror Rapid Deployment Unit) and MATILAN (Intelligence Gathering and Infiltrations Interception Unit).

The Border Police has an excellent record of thwarting terrorist attacks. One of the most famous incidents is the capture of a car bomb, containing more than 500 kg of explosives, near Wadi Arra.

The YAMAM record includes the capture of a terrorist group hidden in the Arab town of Taibe, the rescue of Eliyaho Goral, the killing of Hamas head in Hebron, Abbedullah Qawasameh and the foiling of an massacre attempt in Yokne'am school by Palestinian terrorists.

Border Police's undercover units have been repeatedly accused by both Israeli, Palestinian and international human right groups of extra-judicial killing of Palestinians which Israel considers "wanted"; there is convincing evindence that such persons are often summarilly executed by Israeli undercover squads without any attempt to capture and trial them.

Recently, undercover units have also been used as agents provocateurs, embedded in peaceful demonstrations against Israel's illegal Separation Wall built in the occupied West Bank and throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in order to justify violence against the demonstrators; so far, official Israel admits the presence of undercover agents among demonstrators and even the fact that they participate in stone throwing, but claims this follows rather than precedes stone throwing by the demonstrators themselves.

Israel Special & Security Forces

December 10, 2005