Shayetet 13, also known as S-13 or “the people of silence,” is an Israeli marine commando unit of the Israel Navy operating in the sea, on land, and in the air.

The unit is one of the most secretive in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Its members and the details of many of its operations remain a secret. Their mission set is similar to the U.S.’s Navy SEALs’ and the U.K.’s Special Boat Service’s (SBS)

Shayetet 13 is considered one of the best trained Special Operations units in the world. It was formed in 1949 and has steadily grown in size and evolved over the years. 

Service in the unit combines long and comprehensive infantry training with specialization in maritime warfare, diving, and the operation of special vessels. While conscription service in Israeli Special Forces units requires a 36-month term of service, Shayetet 13 members require an additional 18 months. 

Shayetet 13 insignia. The “batwings” are earned at the completion of training.

The unit’s motto, “As the bat emerges from the darkness, As the blade cuts through with silence, as the grenade smashes in rage.” 

The unit has won the Israeli Chief of Staff’s award several times for its contribution to fighting terrorism, developing innovative operational capabilities, instilling high norms of behavior of excellence, and striving for victory.

Shayetet 13 combat teams are required to acquire a variety of skills to carry out their missions. Among other things, the fighters specialize in infantry fighting, counter-terrorism, guerrilla warfare, operational parachuting, and naval assault methods.

Selection, Assessment, Training

Initial training of Shayetet 13 candidates lasts 20 months and is considered one of the toughest courses in the IDF. The unit conducts a summer course for teenagers who are about to enter the IDF and consider joining the unit. It gives them a small taste of the training in diving, raids, navigation, operation of small vessels, and more.

Those who enlist in Shayetet 13 are put through an intensive, and grueling five-stage training process.

C-130 conducts airdrop with Shayetet fast boats on the water. (IDF photo)

Selection and Assessment

A selection course for candidates is held twice a year. All recruits must pass an intensive medical evaluation to be even allowed to attempt the course. 

All candidates must be male, though women are allowed in combat support roles. Candidates are put through a smoker of physically and mentally grueling exercises for four days. Doctors and psychologists are at hand to prevent burnout and physical injury. This phase stresses psychological toughness, and tests recruits in their ability to take and operate under stress, conquer exhaustion, hunger, and their own fears. This initial phase results in a huge amount of attrition in the class.

Preparation Phase

After undergoing a six-month basic and advanced training with the Nahal Brigade, consisting of hand-to-hand combat, (Krav Maga), physical conditioning, long-distance road marches in the desert, marksmanship, etc., the candidates move on to the next phase of training. This next phase consists of parachute training, basic elements of maritime warfare, operation of small vessels, long swims, extended forced marches, and demolitions training.

Combat Diving  

This phase consists of four weeks of advanced training in combat diving. During this phase, candidates learn the basics of combat diving, how to operate and trust in their equipment and training in cold, dark, or clouded water, and how to survive high-risk underwater situations.

Dedicated Phase

This is the most rigorous phase of training and in which the majority of the attrition occurs. It lasts 12 months and includes training in advanced diving techniques with close-circuit systems, underwater demolition, sea-to-land incursions via diving, ships, submarines, and parachuting into the sea. 

Shayetet 13 sniper during a training exercise

The candidates that are assigned as the unit’s snipers also undergo six weeks of sniper training divided into three weeks of long-range sniper training at the IDF Sniper School and three weeks of short-range sniper training for hostage situations at the IDF Counter-terror School. Candidates then train in maritime counter-terrorism operations, such as the boarding of vessels, oil rigs, and near-coast buildings. During this phase, candidates are divided between Shayetet’s three specialized units, based on their capabilities and personal interests, and train on their future specialty.

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Near the end of their training, Shayetet 13 candidates go through the Israeli equivalent of SERE, a course in enduring enemy captivity. Recruits from other special forces units and pilot cadets must also pass it. 

Following a surprise mock kidnapping, they are held in prison-like conditions, what the U.S. calls “the resistance training laboratory” for two weeks. During this period they subjected to threats, interrogation, and physical violence, and are forced to perform humiliating activities.

After their graduation into the unit, Shayetet 13 commandos earn their coveted “batwings.” They continue their training at an even higher level while conducting live covert and clandestine operations. Shayetet 13 participates in cross-training with foreign special forces units such as the Navy SEALs. SOFREP’s Jonathan Weiss was on a Navy SEAL team that conducted joint training with Shayetet 13 commandos in the Tel Aviv area. His report can be accessed here.

Shayetet 13 Weapons and Equipment

The weapons and equipment of Shayetet 13, like those of most Special Operations Forces, are varied and often tailored to the individual mission profiles. Shayetet operators use a variety of weapons including: 

  • Glock pistols, 
  • M4 carbines, 
  • CTAR-21, an Israeli bullpup assault weapon
  • M203 grenade launchers, 
  • M24, and SR-25 sniper rifles, 
  • Negev machine guns
  • Limpet mines
  • Zodiac RHIB boats
  • Morena RHIB boats a rigid inflatable boat
  • Snunit fast attack craft a U.S.-made fast attack boat

Organization and Deployment

The Shayetet 13 is comprised of and organized around three specialized units.

Raids (Haposhtim)

This group is responsible for special reconnaissance and direct action on land, counter-terrorism missions, and hostage rescues.

Underwater

The offensive divers unit. The Underwater unit conducts underwater attacks and sabotage, hydrographic reconnaissance, beachhead reconnaissance and security.

Above Water

The Above Water group in the Shayetet 13 is responsible for surface attacks and the sea transportation of units both to and from a target area. This unit is similar to the U.K.’s Special Boat Service (SBS).

Shayetet 13 commandos emerge from the surf during a training exercise.

Operations

As the Jewish Virtual Library writes,

“Shayetet 13 has operated during all of Israel’s wars, tasked with advanced reconnaissance, infiltration, and sabotage. During the Lebanon War in the early 1980s, the unit demonstrated an excellent track record with dozens of successful operations that inflicted heavy losses upon Hezbollah, both in terms of manpower and equipment destroyed.

During the Palestinian War, from 2000 to 2005, Shayetet soldiers took part in various ground operations against the terrorist infrastructure of the Palestinians both in Gaza and the West Bank. Members of the unit were also used in the infamous Battle for Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.

Since 2000, the unit has earned wide acclaim for its successful capture of vessels attempting to smuggle arms to Palestinian terrorists. These ships, the Karine A, Santorini, Abu-Yusuf, Francop, Victoria, and KlosC, were all heavily laden with many tons of advanced weaponry and missiles that would have been used to attack Israel.

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Shayetet was involved in one of the IDF’s more daring missions of the war, when commandos flew hundreds of miles behind enemy lines, raided the Hezbollah stronghold city of Tyre, and killed nearly 30 Hezbollah commanders including some who were in charge of the organizations’ rocket launching network.”

Although the unit’s missions are veiled in secrecy some missions have been made known.

Shayetet took part in the assassination of Syrian General Muhammad Suleiman in Syria in 2018.

During Operation Cast Lead, Shayetet 13 commandos landed on the Gaza Strip coastline and struck Hamas targets on land. And during Operation Protective Edge, Shayetet 13 carried out numerous raids against enemy rocket-launching positions. The unit’s commandos have also attacked Iranian cargo ships, which were smuggling arms and weapons to Syria, with Limpet mines.

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