The Elite And The Best: Israeli Special Forces Units

Israel has been in intense combat since the day of its foundation. The need to survive, outrun and outgun their enemies has created some of the most elite and well-respected units in the world.

Israel pits the best of its best against each other and only the strongest survive the gruelling 2+ years of hell on earth to become an operator in one of the top IDF Special Forces Units. Each special forces unit had a unique function, area of expertise and operation.

History of IDF Special Forces

During the days of the British Mandate, the governing British administration found itself understaffed. The need for manpower became desperate during the Arab uprising of 1936 when both Jewish and British civilians found themselves under threat from bands of guerrillas operating from Arab towns and villages.

IDF Special Forces Operating in a hostile environment. (Source IDF)

An eccentric British captain named Orde Wingate thought he had the answer and received permission to train a group of Jews in small unit tactics.

Joint operation by IDF Special Operatives and U.S. Navy Seal (Source IDF)

The unit he trained was called the Special Night Squads. In his training, Wingate emphasized aggression and speed. Soldiers serving in the Special Night Squads included former Chief of Staff of the IDF and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Though Wingate was quickly transferred out of Palestine, the lessons he taught Dayan were maintained and used to great effect by the fledgeling IDF in the years to come.

IDF Special Forces (Source IDF)

Here are the top 8 IDF Special Forces Units:

8. Egoz

Sayeret Egoz soldier
(Photo Credit: Benny Levin)

Sayeret Egoz Specializes in guerilla warfare, counter-guerilla warfare, reconnaissance and direct action. 

Egoz operators are trained to carry out operations in and around Israel’s multiple environments, including Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, in addition to longer-range operations behind enemy lines in Lebanon and Syria.

In training, the operators learn how to become one with their surroundings and are almost undetectable in the field. They are known to set up deadly ambushes and neutralize the enemy before even being seen or heard.

7. Duvdevan

(Photo Credit: IDF Spokesman)
Photo credits IDF.

Duvdevan is the IDF’s elite undercover counter-terrorism unit. It carries out undercover operations in urban areas, during which they are often disguised in Arab civilian clothes in order to infiltrate terror cells and prevent terror activities.

The unit performs many high-risk and complicated operations, including targeted killings, kidnappings, and a range of other undercover, classified missions.  Duvdevan is regarded as one of the most successful counter-terror units in the world. The unit has carried some of the IDF’s highest profile arrests and terrorist assassinations in the past 20 years. In 2017 alone they conducted over 300 successful missions.

6. Maglan

Israel Special Forces Unit
(Photo Credit: IDF Spokesman)

Maglan is an elite IDF commando unit whose primary mission is to eliminate high-value targets deep behind enemy lines.

The unit is known for finding creative and innovative ways to accomplish its missions. Maglan specializes in reconnaissance, anti-tank warfare, advanced technologies and other classified weaponry.

The IDF keeps Maglan’s missions a secret and reveals very little information about the operations in which it participates. Maglan is one of the IDF’s most elite units, tasked with some of the most difficult, high-risk and dangerous missions.

5. 669 Unit

Israel Special Forces Unit
(Photo Credit: Celia Garion)

Unit 669 is the Israeli Air Force’s elite Combat, search and rescue unit. Tasked with extraction, recovery and medical treatment of injured soldiers, combat pilots and civilians. Their specialities include helicopter extraction and infiltration, rappelling, fast roping, scuba diving and counter-terrorism.

During peacetime, the unit helps rescue civilians injured during various catastrophic incidents, and it serves as a civilian medevac for lost, stuck or injured hikers who need extraction from Israel’s deserts or canyons. Unit 669 has participated in almost all of Israel’s wars and confrontations since 1974. They have been credited with hundreds of rescues and have saved countless lives.

4. Shaldag

Israel Special Forces Unit
(Photo Credit: IDF Spokesman)

Shaldag’s mission is to deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to conduct special reconnaissance, establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control and commando actions. In 2007 Shaldag was reportedly involved in Operation Orchard, the destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor.

(Photo Credit: Gadi Kabalo)

The unit is reported to have infiltrated an underground depot near the Syrian site suspected of being a nuclear reactor, in order to designate the target for the incoming Israeli fighters that destroyed it.

3. Yamam

(Photo Credit: Israel Border Police Spokesman)

Yamam is the Israel police’s elite counter-terror and hostage rescue unit. They are considered to be one of the best counter-terror units in the world. The Yamam unit was established in late 1974 after the Ma’alot massacre, where a failed rescue operation by Israel’s prestigious Sayeret Matkal unit, resulted in the murder of 21 schoolchildren before the hostage takers were killed.

(Photo Credit: IDF Spokesman)

Since hostage rescue tactics in friendly territory differ from those used in hostile areas, it was decided to establish an elite civilian force which develops and practices a special CQB doctrine for counter-terrorism operations in friendly territory and hostage rescue. Applicants for Yamam must have completed their three-year infantry service in the IDF with a level 8 of IDF training or higher. 

2. Shayetet 13

(Photo Credit: Gadi Kabalo)

Shayetet 13 is respected as among the best of the world’s special forces,and is compared to the US Navy SEALs and Britain’s Special Boat Service. The details of many missions and identities of active operatives are kept highly classified.

(Photo Credit: Gadi Kabalo)

The unit specializes in sea-to-land incursions, counter-terrorism, sabotage, maritime intelligence gathering, maritime hostage rescue, and boarding.

1. Sayeret Matkal

Israel’s Sayeret Matkal is another of the world’s most elite units. Its primary purpose is intelligence gathering, and it often operates deep behind enemy lines. During the selection camp (Gibbush), would-be recruits endure hardcore training exercises while being constantly monitored by doctors and psychologists. Only the strongest get in.

In 2003, Israeli taxi driver Eliyahu Gurel was kidnapped after transporting four Palestinians to Jerusalem in his cab. But the Sayeret Matkal unit located and rescued him from a 10-meter pit in an abandoned factory in a suburb of Ramallah.

(Photo Credit: Benny Levin)

Sayeret Matkal is one of Israel’s most secretive special forces units. It is a field intelligence-gathering unit, conducting deep reconnaissance behind enemy lines to obtain strategic intelligence. The unitl is also tasked with counter-terrorism and hostage rescue beyond Israel’s borders.

(Photo Credit: Benny Levin)

Sayeret Matkal is the Israeli equivalent of 1st SFOD-D (Delta Force) of the United States and it is also compared to the British Special Air Service (SAS). The most famous mission of the unit, is when it spearheaded Operation Entebbe to rescue 248 hostages held in Uganda by 8 terrorists. They were able to infiltrate undetected kill all the terrorist and only lose 3 of the hostages and 1 operator. 

(Photo Credit: Benny Levin)

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