The Sayeret Matkal: Israel’s Lethal Warriors

This is the second post of this section and I’m so excited! First of all, I have never been in the military but I respect anyone who is active duty, reserve or separated military.  I have always been awed by regular military; you know those gun-hoe GI Joe types who rush into a room filled with hostiles and blow the ever living crap out of everything?  Movies like Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), Commando (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Navy SEALS (Charlie Sheen), Delta Force (Chuck Norris) and Heatbreak Ridge (Clint Eastwood) come to mind.

downloadIt was only during recent years that I have actually started reading books about Special Forces and have personally met members of some of America’s elite Special Forces units that I have gained an absolute amazing respect for these men.  I say “men” because, as of yet in America, women are not allowed to enter into a Special Forces unit.  See my post: “Women in the Military: Should GI Jane Become a Reality?” to get a better picture of what I mean.

In the ensuing posts, I will give a profile of Special Forces groups throughout the world, describe their history and list a bunch of mind-blowing stuff they’ve done.

If you don’t know yet, Special Forces and Special Operations Forces are military components who are specially trained, drilled and educated to carry out un-traditional operations.  Special Forces began in the early part of the 1900s, with a large expansion during WWII.  This was a time when “every major army involved in the fighting” fashioned elite units who were loyal to special operations behind enemy lines.

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Russian Spetsnaz

Varying by country, Special Forces may execute some of these wicked, bad-to-the-bone ops: airborne missions, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, foreign interior resistance, clandestine operations, targeted warfare, hostage recovery, high-value targets/man-hunting, surveillance/reconnaissance missions, mobility ops and un-traditional combat 17.

Be ready to be educated and blown away by what you’re about to read…

 

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Members of the Sayeret Matkal emerging from the waters during a training exercise

The Sayeret Matkal (Hebrew סַיֶּרֶת מַטְכַּ”ל pronounced SAY-eret met-KAL) is a Special Forces group within the Israel Defense Forces that lies directly under the Directorate of Military Intelligence.  It is interpreted into English as “General Staff Reconnaissance Unit” and better known as “The Unit”.  Normally a field intelligence-collecting team practiced in special recon behind enemy lines, Sayeret Matkal also handles counter-terrorism, hostage recovery and foreign undercover operations.  The Sayeret Matkal is very similar to the US Army’s Delta Force and the British SAS in their tactics, mission and techniques 1.

 

210f31a524f5d6b11165b416e441cc3eSayeret Matkal operators are some of the most battle tested fighters in the world.  They have been engaged in combat in nearly all primary counter-terrorism operations since it formed nearly seven decades ago 2.  Unlike most nations who are involved in military conflicts about once every decade, Israel is a nation hedged in by foes who proclaim their death and destruction.  They are always outnumbered and are under constant siege 13.

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Palestine – 1948: Less than 3 weeks before Israel’s independence, the flag of the future Jewish state is raised at morning parade at a training base of the fledgling  Israeli Defense Forces in what was still the British Mandate for Palestine (Photo by Zoltan Kluger/GPO via Getty Images)

“Israel was born in war and it is sustained by the threat of war.  Having forces that can attack behind enemy lines is vitally important.  Anyone who opposes Israel should be aware that these people will strike and it may come in the most unconventional way,” says Andy Robertshaw, Curator of the Royal Logistics Corps Museum 13.

Israel’s very survival and presence relies the superiority of its military.

Aron Heller from the Associated Press stated, “The Sayeret Matkal is nothing short of legendary or mythical.  It’s essentially the top unit in the army.  Their job is to go on special operations that are beyond the scope of your regular troops.” 13

The specialty of Sayeret Matkal is to penetrate enemy lines in covert intelligence gathering missions.

According to Don Mann, a former member of Navy SEAL team 6, “They’ve gone into Jordan, they’ve gone into Lebanon, they’ve done missions in and out of these countries undetected.” 13

History

The Palmach

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Palmach fighters in training

The founding of the Sayeret Matkal wouldn’t be possible without mentioning the Palmach.  The title is an acronym for Plugot Maḥatz (Hebrew: פלוגות מחץ) meaning “strike forces”.  They emerged in 1941 even before Israel became a country in 1948.  This elite fighting force of a Jewish para-military organization in the British Mandate of Palestine (modern-day Israel) was made up of over 2,000 men and women in three military units and supporting Air Force squadrons, naval and intelligence gathering agencies 15.

Andy Robertshaw commented, “The Palmach and Israeli history have an almost mythical quality.  They are seen as being a cradle in many ways of Jewish society.” 13

An unorthodox British Army officer named Orde Charles Wingate was behind the

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Wingate, one of the earliest creators of unconventional, surprise military tactics in the 20th century

Palmach’s techniques.  “Orde Wingate is a man with great unconventional military talent who was put at the disposal of the Jews when there was no state of Israel,” says Richard Holmes, a military historian 13.

Wingate’s concept was simple: attack.  He taught the unconventional art of commando warfare.  Sabotage and hit and run were his specialties 13.

Michael Cohen, a Palmach Veteran remembers, “The Palmach trained to attack even when you are defending.  They would try to fight back,” 13

The Palmach utilized any weapons they could acquire as arms poured in from war-torn Europe.  The Palmach helped win a Jewish homeland in 1948 and for the young state and it’s military elite, independence was paramount 13.

Unit 101

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Early fighters from Israel’s Unit 101

Unit 101, Israel’s pioneering Special Forces group, was inactivated in 1954.  This happened immediately after the uproar caused by the Qibya incident which happened during “Operation Shoshana”.  This was a joint night-time op including a paratroop company and Unit 101 (commanded by Ariel Sharon).  It resulted in the death of at least 69 Palestinians, the destruction of 45 houses, a school and a mosque 3.  It occurred in response to the Yehud Massacre when  Palestinian Fedayeen guerrillas murdered a mother and her two toddlers in their home 3, 4.  Many countries and even some Jewish communities throughout the world condemned Israel’s attack and on October of 1953, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 100 which expressed the “strongest possible censure (rebuke) of this action”.  Despite worldwide disapproval, these incidents resulted in the arrest of more than 1,000 Fedayeen terrorists by Jordanian authorities, who subsequently increased their own border security.  Israel then limited their operations on civilian targets and eventually dissolved Unit 101 all-together 5.

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Avraham Arnan, the father of the Sayeret Matkal

This created a critical gap in the IDF who was without a unique Special Forces team except for their Navy’s Special Operations group Shayetet 13, which functioned in maritime theaters and could not fully succeed Unit 101, a land-based Special Ops unit.  In 1957 Avraham Arnan, a yeshiva graduate and former Palmach fighter, solicited the IDF General Staff to form another Special Forces unit that could be sent behind enemy lines and execute clandestine recon operations.  Arnan’s concept (supported by David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin) was to form a team that would select only the elite and most intelligent of Israeli teens.  Potential recruits were to be singled out for their physical and mental abilities.

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The first Sayeret Matkal pin

Initially a segment of Aman’s Unit 157, Sayeret Matkal eventually separated and started functioning on it’s own in 1957 as the General Staff’s special operations force, constructed after the British Special Air Service 6.  Commandos were schooled by local Arab trackers so they could grasp a more improved perspective of their enemies  7.  The IDF’s first helicopter squadron was founded in 1958 and began working closely with Sayeret Matkal.  As a combined unit, the helicopters were able to provide the commandos with long-range operations inside enemy held territory than Unit 101 never would have thought possible.  Arnan, who was the first commander of Sayeret Matkal, had an objective for his newly formed ground based Special Forces team.  They would complete vital information extracting operations and other missions that were handed down only from the General Staff.  Sayeret Matkal would also assess prototype weapons and tactics that could impact the IDF as a whole 8.

Past Missions

Because of the lengthy and thorough training, sharpening and groundwork that had to be laid out during early operations, Sayeret Matkal did not take part in the Six-Day War from June 5-10, 1967 when Israel was attacked from all sides by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.  The five nations were also supported by eight additional countries and terrorist groups.  Despite the insurmountable odds stacked up against Israel, they struck first and came out as the victors.

The War of Attrition – 1967-1970

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Israeli troops at the Firdan Bridge by the Suez Canal in 1969

The War of Attrition took place from July 1967 – August 1970 when Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) confronted Israel again.  No serious diplomatic resolutions resulted from the Six-Day War.  Egypt began shelling Israeli military troops across the border from the Egyptian held Suez Canal into the Israeli held Sinai Peninsula.  The Sayeret Matkal took part in many operations behind Egyptian held lines.

Operation Isotope – 1972

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Sayeret Matkal commandos storm the hijacked plane

Soon afterwards, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip began executing terrorist attacks within Israel and groups such as the PLO gained a foothold in the area.  Sayeret Matkal started establishing techniques for the very first hostage-recovery and anti-terrorism methods in the world.  This started with Operation Isotope on May 8, 1972.  Sabena Flight 571 from Vienna, Austria to Tel-Aviv, Israel was hijacked by members of a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September.  The plane was forced to land at Lod Airport (later re-named Ben-Gurion International Airport) 9.  The terrorists then demanded the release of 315 convicted Palestinian prisoners who were being held by Israeli

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Lt. Netanyahu and President Zalman Shazar on November 1, 1972

authorities 10.  The following day, Israeli hostage negotiaters convinced the terrorist leader that the airplane needed to be repaired and sent 16 “technicians” in white coveralls.  These “technicians” were actually members of Israel’s very own Sayeret Matkal.  Among them was the leader Ehud Barak (a future Prime Minister) and team members Benjamin Netenyahu (another future PM) and Shimon Peres (Israel’s future President) 9.  After the commandos stormed the airplane with a very precisely timed multiple entrance attack, two of the male terrorists were dead and the female terrorists were taken prisoner.  Unfortunately, three passengers were wounded and one later died in the exchange of fire.  Netenyahu was also injured by a bullet wound in the bicep 11.

Operation Spring of Youth – 1973

The Unit executed various missions that gained international

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The 11 Israelis murdered in the 1972 Munich Olympic games

attention as an “elite paratroopers” unit.  Before this time, Sayeret Matkal was a top secret special ops team.  During the 1972 Munich Olympic games, eleven Israeli Olympic team members were taken hostage by terrorists from the PLO’s Black September group.  Israel proposed to deploy a Sayeret Matkal team to West Germany to aid German officials and, if required, personally carry out the hostage-recovery mission.  However, the proposal was turned down and as a result, the eleven Israeli Olympic team members along with one German police officer were murdered 11.

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Various operators who took park in the raid in Beirut

The next year, PLO terrorists believed to be responsible for planning the Munich Massacre were found hiding in Lebanon.  With Ehud Barak as the operations leader, Operation Spring of Youth was executed.  Sayeret Matkal was successful in completing multiple precisely timed assassinations in the heart of Beirut.  At the same time, Israeli Sayeret Tzanhanim paratroopers engaged a PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) target.  After a close-quarters battle with hundreds of terrorists, a charge was detonated that collapsed the building.  In the aftermath, two Israeli soldiers were killed and dozens of PFLP terrorists were dead.  A third group of Shayetet 13 naval commandos arrived in north Beirut and took out a small Fatah explosives cache, while an additional paratroop unit assaulted and demolished the PLO’s main garage 13.

Yom Kippur War – 1973

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Prime Minister Golda Meir and defense minister Moche Dayan meeting with IDF troops in the Golan Heights near Syria (Ron Frenkel/GPO)

The Yom Kippur War in 1973 created a deep change in the Sayeret Matkal.  Israel was engaged on two fronts with Egypt and Syria.  With the IDF commanders occupied in  directing the war, Sayeret Matkal lacked operations to complete.  Unit leaders were divided into two persuasions.  The first thought that the unit should be on reserve status and not deployed on operations where there was a potential for excessive fatalities.  The second camp desired to go into action immediately.  Despite if that involved operations with minimal preparation that were more related to a rapid deployment force instead of the Sayeret Matkal of the past that delicately planned missions.  The second school of thought succeeded and the Sayeret Matkal was assigned missions on both fronts.

Following the war, Sayeret Matkal started evolving strategies in advance.  In this way, during combat, they could be instantly deployed instead of being on standby for the General Staff’s authorization and operations.   In addition to this change, a reserve group of Sayeret Matkal was established directly in partnership with the Israeli Air Force, which was much needed during the war.  This would later develop into Shaldag Unit or Unit 5101 that is similar to the US Air Force Combat Controller Team 16.

The Ma’alot Massacre and the Yamam – 1974

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Victims in the Ma’alot Massacre

In May 1974 Israel experienced a fatal blow in the aftermath of the Ma’alot Massacre.  Palestinian terrorists from the DFLP overtook a school in the town Ma’alot in northern Israel 18.  They began with murdering two Israeli Arab women and wounding a third.  Then they entered an apartment and murdered a young couple and their five year old son 19.  They continued on to the Netiv Meir Elementary School where they took 115 people hostage (105 of them were children) and demanded the release of 23 Palestinian terrorists prisoners.

On day two of the siege, the Golani Brigade (a regular IDF infantry brigade) was dispatched to the area.  These soldiers, although experienced in regular warfare, had no training in hostage rescue, counter-terrorism or special tactics.  They soon raided the school.  In the aftermath, 25 hostages (22 of which were children) were dead and 68 more were wounded.  Three of the terrorists were killed and the rest were taken into custody.

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Yamam operators

This tragedy resulted in a vital need for a domestic counter-insurgency/hostage rescue team.  The Sayeret Matkal operated in foreign arenas and would be stretched thin if they were also tasked with handling domestic affairs.  Because hostage recovery techniques in domestic regions were very diverse from methods employed during war on foreign soil, the military high command was determined to organize a special civilian tactics team that could establish and utilize an elite CQB (Close Quarters Battle) concept similar to what the British SAS had developed.  This approach would be specific for anti-terrorism missions in domestic arenas and hostage recovery.  This eventually lead to the establishment of the Yamam (Hebrew: ימ”מ‎‎, an acronym for Special Police Unit – יחידה מרכזית מיוחדת, Yeḥida Merkazit Meyuḥedet).   The Yamam was one of four special units attached to the Israeli Border Police that handled homeland anti-terrorism/hostage-recovery ops and offensive assaults.  The Sayeret Matkal was exclusively tasked with foreign anti-terrorism/hostage-recovery.

The Entebbe Raid – 1976

Two years later, in 1976, the Sayeret Matkal would face its greatest test in Uganda with Operation Entebbe.  The Unit already had experience in hostage rescue during the Sabina Flight 571 raid four years before.  The success of the Entebbe raid set the example for all similar airline hijack rescue operations and was copied worldwide by many anti-terror special ops teams.  Richard Holmes, a military historian stated, “The Entebbe Raid is one of the great classic examples of success of special forces.”  13  

On June 27, 1976, Palestinian and German terrorists demanded the release of Palestinian

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The old terminal building at the Entebbe Airport

prisoners and hijacked Air France flight 139 from Tel-Aviv, Israel to Paris.  The terrorists changed the route and flew the plane to Entebbe, Uganda.  The hijackers let all the passengers free except for 104 Jewish hostages and the flight crew.  They exited the plane and relocated to an abandoned terminal building.  The situation was now an Israeli matter and a job for the Sayeret Matkal.  The Unit began forming a resolution as they were en route to central Africa.  Some of the released hostages stated that Ugandan leader Idi Amin was collaborating with the terrorists and a troop of his elite soldiers guarded the airport.  With this new information, Israel needed a large commando force that possessed the essential element of secrecy 13 .

Muki Betser was one of the Sayeret Matkal commandos on this mission, “The element of surprise is key to the success of the mission.  Because the terrorists could pull the trigger in a split second and start killing hostages.” 13 

Muki was placed in command of mission preparation and would spear-head the assault  teams.  By amazing chance, Muki had educated Uganda’s paratroopers some years before.  He employed his knowledge in Uganda to start an ingenious and audacious idea. All he required was a black Mercedes 13 .

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The Mercedes arrives

“I knew that the Mercedes was used by high-ranking officers, ministers and Idi Amin.” Betser recalled, “When a soldier sees the Mercedes, he salutes and lets the car go by.  That is why I suggested we take a Mercedes and that’s how we would keep the element of surprise.” 13 

The terrorists were unsuspecting of a sizable commando raid sent 2,500 miles away from Israel.  They thought they were safe in the old warehouse.  However, unbeknownst to them, the impossible was about to be made possible.  The first wave of Sayeret Matkal commandos flew into the Entebbe airport in a C-130 Hercules under the cover of complete darkness.  Muki and raid commander Yoni Netanyahu (Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother) then loaded up into the Mercedes and two Land Rovers with nine other operators 13 .

The team still had one mile to go until they reached the old terminal where the hostages were being held.  Everything was going according to plan until half-way there, the commandos were confronted by a Ugandan soldier.  Yoni Netanyahu didn’t wait to see if their facade had worked.  He took action, opening fire with his silenced pistol and the Ugandan guard fell dead.  The other commandos in the Land Rovers then opened fire with their un-silenced rifles 13 .

“At that moment, we lost the element of surprise.” Muki Betser stated, “We were forced to launch the attack before we had arrived at our planned positions.  We raced through the openings and within seconds we broke into the terminal.” 13 

Muki’s assault squads swiftly regained their drive, “That break-in became a full-scale

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An image from movie “Operation Thunderbolt” – 1977- about the Entebbe Raid

battle in a matter of seconds.  A second team eliminated terrorists in the rest of the quarters.” 13 

When the smoke settled, all the terrorists were taken out and a single hostage was shot.  However outside, disaster had hit.  Assault commander Yoni Netanyahu was mortally wounded from a direct hit with a bullet from the control tower 13 .

“I went outside and I saw that he was injured severely,” Betser remembers, “A bullet had penetrated here in the chest.  I called [a soldier] and told him to hit the tower with an RPG and machine guns.  They subdued the control tower.” 13 

Three more C-130s packed with Israeli troops arrived to defend the airport boundary and plan for departure.  Two additional hostages died during the getaway.  To prevent further pursuit, the Sayeret Matkal commandos destroyed 11 Ugandan fighter airplanes 13 .

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An Israeli C-130

Richard Holmes stated, “It was a remarkable feat which is still used as a classical example of what you can achieve when you have really well trained people with a robust plan who move fast and confuse the enemy.” 13 

The successful outcome of the mission was a chilling threat to any group in connection with terrorists who wished harm on Israel 13.

Andy Robertshaw, Curator of the Royal Logistics Corps Museum stated, “Before Entebbe, people knew about Special Forces in Israel, it was only a little sub-plot in the news. Suddenly everybody in the world knew about the capability of Israeli Special Forces.” 13 

The Mother’s Bus Attack and Operation Show of Force – 1988

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Yamam special police forces storm the bus near the Negev Nuclear Research Facility

On March 7, 1988, PLO terrorists boarded a bus full of workers for Israel’s Negev Nuclear Research Center.  After executing two of the workers, the Yamam arrived and stormed the bus, killing all 3 terrorists.  However, during the firefight, another hostage was killed.  In all, three young Israeli mothers who worked at the factory were murdered.  This incident has been known as the “Mother’s Bus Attack”.  Soon afterwards, Israel intelligence identified the terrorist behind the attack as Abu Jihad; a title that in Arabic meant “Father of the Struggle” or “Father of War” 20.

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Khalil Ibrahim al-Wazir

With the birth name of Khalil Ibrahim al-Wazir, Abu Jihad was in charge of the operations of el Fatah, a secular political organization associated with the PLO.  Under the command of Abu Jihad, el Fatah had undertaken dozens of terrorist operations inside Israel which had resulted in the murder of innocent people.  From Israel’s point of view, Jihad was their number one terrorist target 20.

A hunt for Jihad had been on-going for 20 years.  There were many attempts on his life, all of which failed.  The Mother’s Bus Attack was proof that Jihad was back at it again. However, he might have posed an even greater threat other than several terrorist attacks 20.

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Palestinian intifada

During the last half year, there had been an uprising in Palestinians within Israel known as “intifada”, an Arabic word that literally meant “tremor”, “shimmering” or “shuddering”. It was believed that Abu Jihad was behind it all.  With many small-scale terrorist attacks and Palestinians taking to the streets, throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, intifada was crippling Israel’s reputation across the globe.  They knew that Abu Jihad couldn’t get away with yet another attack against them 20.

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Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s minister of defense, was put in charge of finding a way of eliminating Abu Jihad.  His whole concept of peace was that Israel had to be strong and had to defend itself.  This included targeting terrorists who were responsible for murdering Israelis.  However, Abu Jihad was a long way from Israel.  Intelligence traced him to Tunisia, North Africa, the new headquarters for the PLO.  This was 1,500 miles from Israel.  Jihad lived in a beach-side villa in a prominent area of Tunis and felt very confident and safe being that far from Israel.  He didn’t suspect that Israel would make an attempt on his life so far from their homeland.  However, he was mistaken.  Jihad was already under surveillance by Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad.  They were very active in this area, surveilling many other PLO leaders 20.

Four days following the Mother’s Bus Attack, Rabin urged the Mossad to come up with a solution to take out Abu Jihad. At first, the Mossad was confident that they could carry out the operation themselves.  Their plan was to assassinate Jihad within 30 days.  Despite the practicality of their plans, Rabin rejected all of them.  He wanted proof of Jihad’s death  and the only way that could have been accomplished was to take him out at point blank range in his own house.  However, this would be extremely difficult due to the distance away to the target.  Rabin knew there was only one team who possessed skills that went beyond the abilities of the Mossad assassins: the Sayeret Matkal 20.

Ehud Barak was in charge of the Sayeret Matkal at the time and was tasked with planning the mission.  He had Mossad agents in Tunis increase their efforts in monitoring Jihad’s every movement.  Within a certain time, they had his entire house mapped out and knew every aspect of Jihad’s daily routine.  Back in Israel, Barak began planning for the mission to take Jihad out.  It was decided that Sayeret Matkal would assault Jihad’s villa under the cover of darkness using a small strike force of 10 operatives.  They carefully choreographed their operation by building a small-scale model of the villa.  Once an exact plan was made for the assault, a life-size layout was constructed.  The team then ran through their mission so many times, they could have probably done it blind-folded.  They trained for the exact steps they were going to take during the real mission.  However, they had to leave room for the unexpected.  Finally, they practiced the same assault in an actual house in Israel that was fashioned similar to Jihad’s villa in Tunis 20.

villaThe task to get the commandos to Tunis would involve many arms of the IDF and Mossad. The Israeli Navy would drop the commandos off near Tunis and the Israel Air Force was on standby in the event of an emergency evacuation.  The nearest beach where the commandos could enter the town was 2 1/2 miles from Jihad’s villa. Tunisia was more like a police state that was not friendly to democratic foreigners.  So the unit would have to get to the villa very quickly without drawing attention.  Mossad agents would cause a diversion far away on the other side of the city that would distract police forces away from their location.  This would give the Unit plenty of time for their operation.  The Mossad agents embedded in the city would then pick the commandos up using rented cars and drive them a few blocks from their target.  The commandos were disguised as men and women tourists from Lebanon so they wouldn’t draw any attention as they walked the few hundred yards to Jihad’s villa.  Nahum Lev, the deputy chief of the Sayaret Matkal was chosen as the mission’s leader.  From Nahum’s point of view, Jihad was already a dead man 20.

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Shayetet 13 delivering Sayeret Matkal commandos ashore

On the eve of the mission, a Boeing 747 took off from Tel-Aviv.  It had been converted to a control center with state of the art electronic equipment to observe the mission from the skies.  Ehud Barak  would be controlling the mission from inside this plane.  With the Mossad agents in place, waiting in their cars by the beach, the order was given for the Sayeret Matkal to begin their mission.  They were taken ashore by Shayetet 13, Israel’s equivalent to the Navy SEALs.  At zero dark thirty, the Sayeret Matkal commandos were met by the Mossad agents where they changed into their disguises.  As they waited for the thumbs up from Ehud Barak, they were alerted to a problem.  A phone call to Jihad was intercepted.  Apparently, a European intelligence agency had gotten wind that the Israelis were planning on taking out a high ranking PLO commander 20.

Mossad agents near Jihad’s villa couldn’t confirm if he was inside or not.  Barak went ahead and ordered the commandos to continue with their operation and drive to the villa.  One of the vehicles containing 8 commandos arrived at the front of Abu Jihad’s house.  However, Barak could not approve the start of the mission.  Communication between Sayeret Matkal operatives used code names and they spoke in English instead of Hebrew.  Imagine the adrenaline they felt as they just sat there, dressed in their disguises, just waiting for the go-ahead to take out a terrorist Israel had been waiting almost a quarter of a century to kill 20.

13.pngBarak could not go ahead with the mission unless he was 100% certain that Jihad was in his house.  However, he proved his quality as a former Sayeret Matkal warrior and revealed his back-up plan.  Using a specially altered telephone line, a call was placed to Jihad’s home making it look like it was coming from Italy.  The caller informed Jihad of an arrest of one of his relatives in Gaza.  Listening in on the call were three Arabic language experts who had been trained in recognizing voices.  There had to be a 100% confirmation from all three of the language experts that the voice on the other end of the line was Abu Jihad.  Once the identity was approved and confirmed, Barak was able to give the order to commence the operation 20.

Lev and another operator dressed like a woman, began walking through the busy streets of

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Lev and his partner ascending the stairs

Abu’s neighborhood.  They were to approach the villa and eliminate the guard in front of the house.  Once the guard was taken out, the others in the team jumped into action  and entered through the back door.  Lev and his partner concentrated on making their way to Jihad while the other team members took out additional threats throughout the house.  Once all other guards were eliminated, the entire team made their way to the second floor.  Lev’s team-mate identified Abu Jihad at the top of the stairs with a gun in his right hand and in that split second, he opened fire.  When the other team members heard the shots, they rushed to the scene and fired additional bullets into Jihad’s body.  A total of 70 bullets were shot off and Jihad’s right hand that held a gun was almost completely amputated.  Abu’s wife then suddenly appeared and screamed for them to stop, “Can’t you see that he’s already dead?” Even though each commando was alarmed by the sudden hysterical actions of Abu Jihad’s wife, she was unharmed.  Lev ordered the wife to face the wall as the team exited the house 20.

chinookWith the confirmation of Jihad’s death, the unit hurried in their cars back to the beach where Shayetet 13 took them back to the awaiting Navy ships.  The whole mission was a success in just minutes.  The following morning, the Tunisian police went to investigate the matter.  All they found were abandoned vehicles and footprints on the sand leading into the sea.  Operation Show of Force was a 100% success even though there were several unexpected curve balls.  Abu Jihad was eliminated and the hundreds of Israelis who were murdered by his planned missions were avenged.  Israel never truly admitted to killing Abu Jihad but they never denied it either 20.

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Ehud Barak

In the aftermath of the mission, it was discovered that Abu Jihad was never involved with the intifada at all.  He only boasted that he had planned it.  Palestinian violence against Israel only increased and the PLO only grew stronger.  Although the mission was a complete success, at the end of the day, it didn’t really make much of a difference in the big scheme of things.  However, they had taken out a terrorist who had the blood of many Israelis on his hands and the reputation and fear of the Sayeret Matkal only increased.  In 1999, Ehud Barak was elected as PM of Israel 20.

Operation Orchard – 2007

In collaboration with North Korea, Syria was developing a nuclear reactor.  In 2006,

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A picture of the nuclear facility taken from the laptop of a Syrian scientist

Mossad agents uncovered very specific information from a Syrian scientist in London.  The Israeli intelligence had no idea how advanced in development the nuclear facility was. They didn’t want to send in a fighter jet to blow it up if it was fully operational.  That would cause an environmental catastrophe.  So they decided to send someone in to have a look. PM Ehud Olmert only had one team in mind to send hundreds of miles behind enemy lines: the Sayeret Matkal 14.

It was August 2007.  What has never formally been acknowledged, the black ops commandos prepared for their top secret operation.  They would penetrate deep within Syrian borders to verify if Syria was developing nuclear weapons and how far along they were 14.

Dan Raviv, Author of “Spies Against Armageddon” stated, “The Israelis have been very secretive about how they got there but certainly they are very adaptive using low flying almost silent helicopters,” 14

MH-53s fly final combat missions
CH-53E helicopters at night

The Sayeret Matkal most likely boarded two Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallions and flew low level into Syria.  The commandos dismounted at a safe distance from the complex 14.

“The Israelis were able to get on the ground within a mile of this mystery building in northeastern Syria.” explained Dan Raviv 14.

As the operators deployed, they understood that despite everything, the Syrians could not know they were there.  If the helicopters left and the Syrians detected them, there would be absolutely no chance of being rescued 14.

Don Mann, former member of SEAL team 6 stated, “It was an extremely risky intel gathering mission.  If there’s a mistake made and they’re compromised, that could have been war” 14

The Sayeret Matkal commandos arrived just feet away of the supposed nuclear complex and began collecting intel 14.

“The unit did their intelligence gathering on the ground right at the site.  That was extremely dangerous,” stated Don Mann 14.

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Taking soil samples

Some of the commandos dressed up like Syrian soldiers and took pictures of the area while others gathered soil and water samples from around the complex.  This was a vital piece of the operation.  It was the only way that Israel could absolutely determine if the facility was functional.  Once the necessary information gathering was done, the operatives covered their footprints and made ready to leave.  However, they were almost discovered when a convoy of Syrian military trucks passed right by their position.  The commandos left the area at the last moment and avoided discovery 14.

After a successful operation, the operators arrived back in Israel with the soil and water samples.  The resulting tests revealed that the nuclear reactor was not fully operational. For that reason, the Israeli high military command decided that they would immediately react.  The nuclear facility could not remain and must be taken out.  They contemplated on sending the Sayeret Matkal back into Syria but there were problems with this tactic.  A small special ops team couldn’t bring enough fire-power and explosives with them.  The only option would be to send in the Israeli Air Force 14.

The 69 “Hammers” Squadron  was the best choice for this operation.  After selecting top-

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An F-16 from the 69 Hammers

notch pilots for the mission, they trained in F-15s and F-16s in the Negev Desert.  The call finally came to scramble the jets.  Even as they were taking off, the pilots were unaware if they were flying a live mission or just another training session.  They flew west over the Mediterranean Sea and when they were told to turn north towards Syria, they knew it was a real mission.  After evading Syria’s advanced, Russian made air defense systems, the pilots dropped their ordinance and radioed back to the IDF command with one word: Arizona. That meant that the target had been taken out and all pilots were safe 14.

Operation Orchard was a complete success.  It showed Israel’s defiance in the face of an impending Syrian nuclear program.  They reacted quickly and with the collaboration of the Mossad, the Sayeret Maktal and the Israeli Air Force, they took out a threat that jeopardized the entire country 14.

Sayeret Maktal Organization

9a1e4eb7d049f84b349fba789edcea07As with all international Special Forces units, the Sayeret Maktal is shrouded in secrecy.  However, a little is known about how they are organized.  All Israeli counter-terror (CT) teams are broken down into one of three categories: Takeover units, Engagement units or Assisting units.  The responsibility of the Sayeret Maktal lies under a takeover unit that operates outside Israel’s borders 22.

Takeover units are specially trained as experts in counter-terrorism.  They perform the majority of their drills in this area.  In many situations, takeover units are also the teams that  carry out the actual hostage recovery attempt.  Other Israeli Special Forces takeover teams are the Yamam (that operate inside Israel), the Shayetet 13 (maritime operations) and the LOTAR Eilat (white operates only in Eilat City).  In unique Areas of Operation (AO) like harbors, airports and borders, all four of these groups may have jurisdiction and discretion to operate depending on the authorization of the Ministry of Defense 22.

How Do I Join?

0The Sayeret Matkal was completely classified during the early years after it was founded and soldiers and commanders were carefully chosen depending on their close associates.  Beginning in the 1970s, while still secret in many ways, the Unit offered recruitment to volunteer candidates 21.  Training and selection for Israeli Special Forces teams entails  picking the country’s most elite potential fighters.  Candidates are selected from the whole resident population (all Israeli citizens must complete military service – the men do 3 years and the women do 1 1/2 years) 13.

Muki Betser, a former Sayeret Maktal commando, explains, “Although we are a small country, we have very talented people…  Special Forces pick the very best from that huge pool.” 13

13.pngTwo times a year the infamously difficult selection tryouts (known as Gibbush) for promising candidates lasts for several days without sleep.  The recruits are monitored by doctors and psychologists continually throughout the process.  Those who graduate with enough points are allowed to enter 21.

After this, the candidates must endure 18–19 months of grueling training, with serious attention on small weapons, krav maga martial arts, navigation, concealment, surveillance and other expertise necessary for survival in hostile territory.  The training system, includes the following:

  • Four months of basic infantry school.  This takes place in the Paratroopers Brigade basic training base and is included in regular Paratroopers basic training methods 21
  • Two months of higher level infantry school 21
  • Three week parachuting program with the IDF Parachuting School 21
  • Five week counter-terror (CT) program in the IDF Counter-Terror Warfare School.   This includes weapons training, basic and advanced close-quarters battle (CQB) instruction and advanced hostage recovery methods, along with simulated assaults on airplanes, buses and trains 22.  This is accompanied by further intra-unit anti-terrorism education 21
  • The remainder of the schooling focuses on long-range recon patrol instruction; specifically navigation/location, which takes priority in the Sayeret Matkal.  Usually this special education is done as a team of two for safety considerations.  However, the Sayeret Matkal is one of four special units that operates long range solitary recon missions.  Other similar units that do this are the Shaldag (Air Force combat controllers), Maglan (only recently revealed in 2006 – uses advanced electronics and weapons deep in enemy held territory) and the Egoz Recon Unit (anti-guerrilla warfare similar to the US Army Green Berets) 21

Interlaced during this specialized period are routine physical and mental workouts, target practice, education in weapons understanding and drills in navigation, krav maga, and commando techniques and abilities 21.

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Candidates on the Beret March

In the final month of Special Forces training, candidates must undertake drills in long-range navigation, in twos and independently.  During the last four days of the academy, candidates take part in the grueling “Beret March”.  This is a 120 kilometer (nearly 75 miles) hike in extremely rough wilderness 21.

“G”, an Israeli military corespondent, remembers, “Some of the people go to their limits and then they faint.  And others say, ‘This is a good day,’ We’re going to take him past his limits and see if he can do any more.” 13

“If you finish, you feel an immense satisfaction for many years to come,” explains Muki Betser, “Then if you have a mission for 40 kilometers, you think, ‘What’s 40K?  It’s nothing!’ I have done 120K!” 13

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Masada – In 73 AD, 960 Sicarii Jews held off Roman soldiers for 3 years until it was overrun

The Beret March ends in Masada, an ancient Israeli fortress atop a mesa.  Here, they are congratulated by veterans of the Unit and the IDF Chief of Staff and accept the very coveted red beret 21, 23.

Even though the Sayeret Matkal has its own company badge, members are not allowed to have it on their uniforms in public due to the confidential quality of the Unit.  However, because of this, they are usually picked out because they don’t wear company badges.  Ironically, this lack of insignia often leads to Sayeret Matkal operators being recognized as such, as the fact that Matkal troopers don’t wear insignia is well known 24.

Krav Maga

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Imi Lichtenfeld

Like many worldwide Special Forces teams, the Sayeret Maktal trains in martial arts.  However, they have their own special system of hand-to-hand combat that originates  back to 1948 when Israel was re-born.  Imi Lichtenfeld, a young Palmach fighter, refined his own efficient fighting technique he called Krav Maga.  It developed into the standard for all IDF martial arts training 13.

Eli Leffler, a former Israeli commando, describes, “Krav means ‘fight’ – Maga means ‘contact’.  It was created to describe all the hand to hand combat techniques for military use,” 13

Moni Aizik, a martial arts champion and a founder of a form of Krav Maga created especially for commandos, explains, “Lichtenfeld was a genius.  He came from Czecheslovakia to Israel.  He came from a background of wrestling and boxing.  He put it together to the best of his knowledge that became the traditional Krav Maga.” 13

“G”, a former Israeli commando, states, “Straight forward, no nonsense.  To do Kung-Fu, you need years and years of training to be efficient in it.  Krav Maga, you can be taught in a short period to defend yourself.” 13

One of the basic ideas of Krav Maga is to strike with maximum strength at the shortest distance possible.  It is one of the most unique martial arts in the world because it uses disarming techniques for guns, knives and other weapons.  It also allows for the soldier to utilize anything around them as a weapon – guns, knives, baseball bats or even chairs 13.

Moni explains, “The main idea is that you always assume that the other person is bigger 13and stronger than you.  Adrenalin is rushing, your legs are shaking and you have to work from that angle.  1973 after the Yom Kippur War I was in an elite commando unit and most of the members got killed.  I was chosen to continue the work of Krav Maga to elite units.” 13

The IDF needed an analysis of Krav Maga following the near failure of the Yom Kippur War. Moni’s past martial arts abilities and latest commando involvement made him the perfect man for the job.  He then requested help from the master of Krav Maga, Imi Lichtenfeld 13.

“We combined Krav Maga techniques with some other techniques that I knew because I came from a very rich background of ju-jitsu and judo,” remembered Moni, “I was a champion many times and I understood the bio-mechanics in the moves and I started to develop my own techniques.” 13

894690441193Moni went back to basic Krav Maga techniques and then built in his own special methods made especially for commandos.  Commando Krav Maga is the substance of Israeli Special Forces fighting standards – hit and hit hard.  Knock your enemy off balance and then create a distance away from them 13.

“Engage as fast as possible and disengage immediately.  If you stay there and try to punish the attacker, he can pull a knife or something.” Moni describes 13.

Moni continues to instruct elite IDF Special Forces in his unique version of Krav Maga.  Other variations of the special martial art are taught throughout the world.

Sayeret Maktal Heroes

Uzi Yairi – 1936-1975 – Savoy Hotel Attack

59193090100985183103noUzi Yairi a former commander of a Sayeret Matkal unit and was killed in action during an anti-terrorism mission to release hostages who were held captive by Palestinian terrorists at the Savoy Hotel in Tel-Aviv, Israel on March 4, 1975.

Uzi achieved the position of commander of a Sayeret Matkal brigade at age 31 and was a full colonel four years later; a very rare accomplishment.  He was a veteran of the Yom Kippur War where he was a brigade commander.  Soon thereafter he resigned from the IDF due to suffering from PTSD 25.

Yairi was on military leave when Palestinian terrorists raided the Tel-Aviv beaches in

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IDF troops outside the Savoy Hotel

inflatable rafts.  The terrorists silently stalked down Geula Street where they entered the Savoy Hotel and seized it.  Their demands were that they would kill hostages unless 20 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli jails.  When Yairi, then 39, heard of the hostage situation, he found a way to join in on the Sayeret Matkal assault the next morning.  In the aftermath, he was killed along with eight hostages and two fellow soldiers 25.

Arnon Nachmani, a 22 year old paratrooper who was a part of the back-up troops who supported the Sayeret Matkal raid, was one of the soldiers who carried Yairi’s body from the hotel.  He tried in vain to revive the commander and watched him die in his arms 25.

Now 57 years old, Nachmani visits Yairi’s grave every year in Tel-Aviv.  With remembrance in his heart of that day so long ago, he says, “You’ll probably laugh at me, but I like to come here and talk to him.  It’s quiet here and I can tell him about the things going on in my life.  I tell him that he’s missed here, and that there’s still no one like him in Israel to this day.” 25

In remembrance of Yairi, the Israeli settlement of Ro’i located in the West Bank was named after him 26.

Benjamin Netanyahu – 1949-present – War of Attrition, Many Special Ops Missions and The Yom Kippur War

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There’s so much awesomeness going on in this picture!

Born on October 1949 in Tel-Aviv to a Polish born father and an Israeli born mother, Benjamin Netanyahu is a modern day Israeli legend 27.  He spent his high school years near Philadelphia, PA where he acquired his Phili accent 28.  He then moved back to his homeland and joined the Israel Defense Forces shortly after the Six-Day-War in 1967.  Soon afterwards, he joined the elite Sayeret Matkal.  His most notable mission was during Operation Inferno where his unit assaulted Sabina Flight 571 that was hijacked by terrorists.  During the operation, he was injured from a bullet wound in the arm.  He also fought on the front lines during the War of Attrition, where he took part in many night-time ops far into Egyptian and Syrian held lines.  During the Yom Kippur War, his unit again was deployed deep into enemy held territory and took part in support operations  29.  Netanyahu was eventually discharged from the IDF with the rank of captain in 1972.

He returned to the United States and finished a bachelor’s degree in architecture in February 1975 and achieved an master’s degree from MIT in 1977.  He was simultaneously working towards a PhD in political science until his studies were put on hold with the death of his brother, Yonathan, during Operation Entebbe 30.

While attending MIT, Netanyahu completed a double-load, earning an MS (that usually takes four years) in almost half the time.  He even had to take a leave of absence to fight in the Yom Kippur War 30!

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Benjamin Netanyahu – 9th PM of Israel

Bibi, as he is often called by his admirers, entered politics in 1984 as Israel’s Ambassador to the UN.  He then became the leader of Israel’s Likud party and won the 1996 election as the youngest Prime Minister in Israel.  After he was defeated in 1999 by Ehud Barak, he became the Foreign Affairs Minister in 2002 and the Minister of Finance in 2003.  In 2009, Netanyahu won the PM election for the second time 31.  He is first Israeli born PM and the longest serving PM in Israel history, having won 4 terms 30.

Special Weapons

The Israel Defense Forces use some of the most advanced weapons in the world.  After their prototype phase, they usually enter the special forces before they are made available to the rest of the military.  Some of these weapons are then re-produced throughout the world and utilized in other international special forces and regular military units.

The Uziuzi_of_the_israeli_armed_forces

Designed by Major Uziel Gal (from which it gains its namesake) in the late 1940s, this gun is one of the most recognizable assault weapons in the firearms arsenal.  The IWI (formerly IMI) class of the Uzi 9mm SMG (sub-machine gun) has been used by more than 90 countries during the last 70 years.  Another notable fact is that the Uzi’s basic conception has survived since it was first released in 1954.  It is an open-bolt (ready-to-fire), blowback-operated (self-loading) SMG 32.

While remaining a prominent weapon in its family, it is distinct from other SMGs and has been preferred by Israeli Special Forces groups above all other SMGs.  Several variations of the original uzi have been designed 32.

The Bullpup

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The M-4 rifle with the mechanism in front of the trigger
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The Bullpup with a more compact setup

Normal rifles have the stock just behind the trigger and mechanisms but not this guy.  The Bullpup is a very unique firearm with the mechanism behind the trigger.  This arrangement allows a completely condensed weapon for any given barrel length.  This upholds the benefit of a longer barrel in muzzle velocity and target precision but increases mobility and lowers its weight.  Today, the bullpup is utilized by 18 international military units.

The CornerShotcorner4

CornerShot is a weapon appliance that was developed by Lt. Col. Amos Golan of the IDF in partnership with American investors 34.  It was devised in the early part of the 21st century for use by SWAT teams and Special Forces in hostile operations that are normally  terrorist and hostage rescue related.  Its function is identical to a periscope rifle.  It permits its operator to both see and attack an armed target, without exposing the operator to counterattack.  The user can view a screen that is connected to a video camera near the gun barrel.

The standard form is attached to a simi-automatic pistol mounted in the front part.  Variations of the CornerShot can also utilize a 40 mm grande launcher, an assault pistol with  5.56 mm ammo and a Panzerfaust anti-tank rocket  39.

Interesting Facts About Israel and the Sayeret Matkal

  • While en route to Sharm el-Sheikh (near where the Entebbe Raid took place), the ride in the C-130 was so rough that the Sayert Matkal commandos were constantly throwing up and the entire floor was covered in vomit.  One commando was so sickly when they arrived that he remained behind and was replaced by Amos Goren.  Yoni Netanyahu then had to quickly brief Amos of the assault plan by drawing the terminal on an air-sickness bag.  Yoni would late be killed during the raid.  This bag is now on display at the Rabin Center 35.
  • article-2322735-19b76efd000005dc-558_964x531
    IDF soldiers assaulting Egyptian lines

    On May 15, 1948, soon after declaring independence, five separate bordering Arab countries concurrently attacked Israel.  These included Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan (modern-day Jordan), Syria and Lebanon.  Saudi Arabia and Yemen also backed the war effort by supplying some of their own troops.  Intensely outgunned and outnumbered by their foes, the newly organized Israel Defense Forces were on the defensive.  Kibbutzim (Jews who had lived in Israel since the early 1900s) and recently arrived Jews from all over the world were ready to defend their homeland.  Their positions were overwhelmed by Jordanian and Egyptian forces.  The Arab approaches were gradually stopped and the IDF gained back the majority of the regions they lost and even acquired more land.  A cease-fire, organized by Count Folke Bernadotte, lasted from June 11 to July 9.  The outcome was in support of Israel who used the peace agreements to increase training and prepare for the next attack 36.

  • 0206abovebeyond01
    Milt Rubenfeld and the rest of the 101st Fighter Squadron

    Milton “Milt” Rubenfeld, a Jewish American born in 1919, flew for the British Royal Air Force with the 420 squadron before the US was involved in World War II 37, 38.  When the US entered the war, he signed back up with the US Army and flew for the Army Air Corps 37.  After Israel gained her independence in 1948, Rubenfeld, along with four other volunteer pilots, trained in Czechoslovakia on the Avia S-199 fighter airplane.  On May 20, 1948, these pilots reported back to Ekron Air Base (now Tel-Aviv Nof Airbase) in Israel.  These five pilots, along with four others, made up Israel’s first Air Force.  Later, they would be joined by many other pilots who supported Israeli ground troops to win in the Israel’s War for Independence 38.  Some of you may have never heard of Milt Rubenfeld.  However, I’m sure you all have heard of his son Paul Reubens who is better known as Pee-Wee Herman.

Very few people groups have been through the atrocities and horrors that the Jews have experienced throughout the millennia.  During the Holocaust in Germany and occupying countries, between six and eleven million Jews were murdered and nearly 50 million Jews were murdered under Stalin’s Soviet Union.  Despite the insurmountable odds stacked against them, the Jews still managed to create their own country where they originally inhabited almost 2000 years earlier.

The Israel Defense Forces are one of the most remarkably well-trained militaries in the world, having defended their homeland against multiple terrorists and invaders during the last 7 decades.  At the forefront of these Jewish warriors are the Special Forces of Israel.  Each carries its own responsibilities and duties but of them all, the Sayeret Matkal is still the oldest SF group that is still in operation.  They will continue to be the spearhead of truth to any who oppose them.  They are a testimony to a Jewish people that whoever desires freedom and are willing to fight for it with God on their side will survive one more day.

WORKS CITED

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  2. Cohen, Rich. “Stealth Warriors”. Vanity Fair. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  3. Ganin, Zvi (2005), An Uneasy Relationship: American Jewish Leadership And Israel, 1948-1957, Syracuse University Press, p. 191, ISBN 9780815630517
  4. Byman, Daniel (2011). A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israel Counterterrorism. Oxford University Press. p. 22. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
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  10. Klein, Aaron J. (2005). Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel’s Deadly Response. New York: Random House. ISBN 1-920769-80-3.
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  12. Juan Sanchez (7 August 2007). Terrorism & Its Effects.  Global Media. p. 144. ISBN 978-81-89940-93-5. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
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  37. “Milton Rubenfeld (obituary)” (PDF). American Veterans of Israel. Winter 2004. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  38. Nyveen, Lawrence. “Pilots and others of the 101st Squadron (Milton Rubenfeld)”. Retrieved August 1,2011.
  39. CornerShot.us – manufacturer’s Web site

 

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