It appears that the best of the IDF's fighters are undergoing rigorous training programs for positions in elite commando units, enabling the IDF to operate deep in enemy territory without leaving traces. This activity takes place around the clock, even on days when the IDF makes headlines with internal disputes between generals and the political echelon, as has been the case in recent weeks.
Upon becoming chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot acted to strengthen the type of force which he has been advocating for many years, the essence of which is to use force only when all alternatives have been exhausted. Only then does Eisenkot favor the deployment of considerable power in the least expected places and crippling the enemy’s motivation and abilities to retaliate.
Eisenkot made history when he merged four elite units—Maglan, Duvdevan, Egoz and Rimon—into one brigade in an effort to increase the effectiveness of these units.
As Israel just celebrated its 68th Independence Day, Ynet presents a special photographic exhibition of these four elite units in action. The pictures, taken by photographer Gadi Kabalo, illustrate the operational workings of the units, as well as those which constitute the vanguard of the IDF.
The successes of the IDF's elite units are attained by the soldiers’ professional capabilities, but no less so by virtue of a combination of intelligence obtained from new sources which have emerged over of the past decade and cyber and satellite technology. Even without divulging the specifics of the units’ operations, it is clear that recent intelligence gathering has catered for the infiltration into terrorist organizations and for the gathering of information in a way that was once known only in spy movies.
The IDF, at each recruitment cycle, selects the best and puts some of them in the elite units. Some go to the most advanced technological units in the world. The army thus creates a combat team out of thin air which begins by collecting high quality intelligence information, continues with the building up of an operational framework, and ends with the best commandos in the world operating in secrecy and determination who surprise our enemies in places and at times unimaginable to them.
The IDF of Israel's 68th Independence Day is a sophisticated army with special forces units and an intelligence service that is the envy of the best armies in the world, which allow for quiet to exist even when we are surrounded by storms.
We are privileged to get a rare glimpse of some of these units through the the images that appear herein, photos which enable us to get a slight understanding of the secret world that is in operation throughout the year and will be once again next year.
The real thing
Most of the people in these photographs—those playing backgammon, drinking coffee or buying goods in the market—are actually soldiers or military officers, fighters in the elite special forces Duvdevan unit. You may know them by the name "mista'aravim" (Israeli soldiers disguised as Arabs).
Duvdevan is the real thing. These fighters pay attention to the smallest details, know how to blend in, and appear as if they completely belong in a given environment, until the moment they are needed to carry out their mission.
"For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war" is the eternal motto of the unit. Unlike many other special forces units, their fighters don't only operate just under darkness and gloom, but also use deception while in the heart of a population, in the midst of events—it's there that they have to prove how quick and precise one can operate.
The Duvdevan unit was established in 1986 with the understanding that there was a need for a precise and intelligent fighting method to carry out arrests in densely populated areas. The unit's fighters have been meeting this need for almost 30 years, and is a significant component of the fight against the current wave of terrorism.
Disrupting the silence
Atlit fortress has known generations of fighters. For centuries it kept the secrets of many warriors, various armies, distant epochs and mysterious operations. Today, its remains constitute the main training zone for Shayetet 13, Israeli Naval commandos. Atlit base is Shayetet 13's fighters' home throughout their service. It is there where they are confirmed as fighters, where they train, whence they go on their secret missions, and whither they return after days of action.
We accompanied the fighters as they trained for their main tactical mission: raiding. They emerge silently from the water, equipped with advanced weapons and raid the fort, which resembles an enemy structure.
Navy commando fighters are a rare breed: talented elite fighters trained for any scenario. Service in the unit integrates long infantry training and includes specialization in sea warfare, diving, and the operation of special types of seacraft. The fighters undergo an exhausting period of training which includes counterterrorism operations, guerrilla warfare, a skydiving course, methods of attacking and raiding from the sea and from the air, operation of seacraft, the use of advanced and varied lethal munitions, and combat fitness training. Their extensive knowledge and, of course, their secret operations will always remain the province of "the men of silence," so called because of their activities under the depths and because of the silence that surrounds their operations.
Shayetet 13's bat wings pin comes alive within the walls of the fortress in the form of real bats whose flight and sounds accompany the fighters during their training. The bat emerges once again in the unit's slogan: "Like a bat emerging from darkness, a blade slashing in silence and a grenade exploding in thunder."
There is life underground
There is one place in the IDF that is both its beating heart and brain. The High Command Center at the Kirya base, nicknamed "the Pit." It is an underground war room in the heart of Tel Aviv, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All operations, both overt and covert, which the IDF executes over land, sea and air, make their way to the Pit. The command center coordinates and synchronizes the information received and compiles situation reports for the senior command echelon, allowing optimal control of the forces.
Hezbollah up ahead
Silently moving, weapons drawn, the fighters of the special force Egoz unit advance in the field. They exploit the rocks and shrubs that characterize the north of the country to their advantage. The unit has developed special camouflage techniques which function in a complex environment characterized by dense rocks and many hiding places for the enemy to conceal themselves.
The unit was established in 1995 with the understanding that sweeping change was necessary in the IDF’s capabilities against Hezbollah. It was named after the historical Egoz unit, which had been previously disbanded on different occasions. With the establishment of the Commando Brigade, Egoz joined its ranks from Golani, with whom they still undergo basic training.
We met Shayetet 13’s fighters met at the Haifa naval base. They were carrying out final preparations for training at sea, simulating fighting off the coast of Lebanon and attacking Hezbollah targets on the beach.
Shayetet 13 was named more than once the most operational IDF unit, having the highest number of hours of operational activity, most of which may not be discussed. In recent years, the unit was given a new national mission: securing the offshore gas rigs. The water surface area they protect is twice the size of Israel.
Ropes and ladders
Princess Hotel is one of the symbols of Eilat. For many, it brings back memories of an unforgettable vacation. But not for fighters of Lotar Eilat, a unit for which any large building is an opportunity, and if it is abandoned, even better. And so, the period of renovation of the Princess Hotel became a training period for Lotar.
Few buildings in the southern city are not well known to its fighters. They get to know the buildings using ropes and by leaping to balconies and through windows, in darkness and secrecy.
This unit differs from all the others in this report in that it is entirely staffed by reservists. The fighters all share some traits: They all were in regular service and now live in Eilat; they all lead separate lives and careers in the city, but are always available and prepared for an order. They do not leave the city without first informing the commander, they answer any call for training, and are always ready to wear their uniforms. They know that if necessary, they will be the closest, and due to the geographical distance of Eilat from the rest of Israel, they have to be the first who will leap to defend their home.
33 female Palmach fighters were killed during the fighting leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel. These 33 brave women would certainly be happy to know that their memory is preserved in the IDF in a battalion numbered 33: the Caracal Battalion—the army’s first mixed-gender battalion.
The male and female soldiers of the battalion have been deployed in recent years to guard the Israeli-Egyptian border. Indeed, over the years the border with the Sinai has served as the crossover into Israel for thousands of refugees prompting the construction of an advanced fence to stem the heavy tide. Additionally, the area has proved to be a porous spot for drug smuggling and is prone to violent skirmishes. Importantly, it gained particular strategic importance after after the Sinai region swore allegiance to Islamic State.
In coping with all of these challenges, Caracal soldiers have proven their ability in the area time and again to deal with any threat, be it terrorist or criminal.
We met with soldiers of Caracal in Nitzana where, in 2014, one of the unit’s commanders, Cpt. Or Ben Yehuda and her signal operator were wounded when her platoon encountered Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists who were planning to carry out a drug-smuggling operation. A fire exchange ensued for 40 minutes during which Caracal personnel also came under anti-tank missiles fire. Ben Yehuda and her signal operator later received state commendations for their conduct. Today, a year and a half later, soldiers of the unit remain stationed on the border, alert and ready as ever, guarding us in the Egyptian region.
War in the middle of the street
At first glance, pictures of the Maglan—an elite offshoot of the Paratroopers' brigade—training facilities could be mistaken for areas outside of Israeli territory. This elite unit trains on grounds built to perfectly simulate urban Arab environments and specialize in operations deep inside enemy territory.
As indicated by the pictures, Maglan’s motto, "Silently and safely be valor," seems to describe perfectly its silent actions and its integration in the field. Moreover, the unit’s insignia, a rare bird, also describes its ability to adapt, to be seen, but also to camouflage itself according to the task at hand. The unit's combat uniform, which is shown here for the first time, is used by the fighters during clandestine missions.
Young commando fighters
Perhaps it is difficult to spot, but hidden within the pictures presented here are fighters from the newest commando unit known as Rimon, named after the disbanded unit that operated from the 70s to 2005. The unit, which operates in the desert environment and was created in August 2010, has already distinguished itself as a formidable force. Indeed, the commander of its southern command received a medal for his unit’s performance during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Its fighters operate both overtly and covertly on the southern border and cope in extremely hot weather conditions with impressive and exceptional navigational familiarity with the military field. The uniform worn by the Rimon soldiers, along with the weaponry and equipment with which they are equipped, are designed to blend in with the their sandy surroundings.
Notwithstanding its unique capabilities and expertise, Rimon soldiers wear different uniforms and are fitted accessories from their ankles to their heads that differ from all other military units. They share in common neither color, fabric nor shape. These accessories facilitate highly effective and almost absolute camouflage.
Rimon has a unique transportation unit with dessert vehicles called "Wildcats," which enables the unit to be fully mobile and to move around freely and independently in hostile terrain. Next time you take a trip to the mountains of Eilat, remember that Rimon soldiers may be sitting between the rocks. These are the soldiers who see all but are rarely seen.
Watching Assad’s Palace
It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If this is the case, what is equal to a unit that takes satellite and reconnaissance photos and accumulates other secret visuals before transforming it all into an intelligence picture of the enemy?
This is Unit 9900, a visual intelligence formation which specializes in gathering optical information from numerous sources and providing intelligence to the security forces. The unit is at the technological forefront and is responsible for many developments that aid in visual analysis and the implementation of the information in the field itself by the army. It supplies vital intelligence information to decision-makers in the field.
The soldiers of the Satellite Unit 9900 are located in the center of the country. However, a look inside the unit’s operation rooms reveals another world: Soldiers clad in coveralls monitor screens bearing images which take them to other extremely distant locations.
Everyone is assigned their own responsibility. One soldier is monitoring Assad’s palace, while others are monitoring the Syrian airport. Indeed, others are monitoring various places and states about which it is best to remain silent.
The soldiers undergo special intelligence training and learn how to use advanced and specialized techniques. They transform their plethora of information into a powerful tool which serves to mitigate the hostile nature of enemy territory as soldiers enter into battle. Armed with the unit’s knowledge, enemy threats are drastically reduced.
The crown jewelYahalom ("diamond," the engineering unit for special missions) can overcome any obstacle. This unit doesn’t wait to get to a bridge, but rather builds one itself. Its sub-unit, Samur ("weasel") is the IDF's underground commando unit. In other words, they're the IDF experts in all matters related to tunnels. Alongside other sub-units, they make up Yahalom, the engineering unit for special missions.
The units' fighters made headlines prior to Operation Protective Edge when they located and neutralized Hamas terror tunnels in the Gaza Strip. Henceforth, during the operation, they were the elite force in handling the Hamas tunnels. Since the operation, they continue to operate rigorously as the leading force within the IDF’s Combat Engineering Corps.
In addition to destroying Hamas tunnels, their responsibilities include the demolition of terrorists’ homes, the preparation of charges and bombs, the deactivation of explosives, the clearance of minefields and the location and destruction of weapons cache. They also conduct a number of other missions which fall exclusively within their realm of their expertise.