On any given day, there’s a decent chance you’ll hear something about Israel in the mainstream media. It’s a hotbed of conflict and religious extremism. No matter how you look at it, Israel is in a constant state of war. My co-worker, Steve Balestrieri, just published an article about Israel possibly “removing” a Syrian General. Stories like this are sprouting all the time.
Several years ago, I and a handful of Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCCs) had the opportunity to go to Israel to spend time with the maritime special operations community of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), the Shayetet 13. The purpose of the trip was to learn from one another by discussing tactics, operational standards, and training regimens. International relationships are important; we were to represent the Naval Special Warfare community in a dignified manner, effectively maintaining a professional relationship with the IDF Shayetet 13 community. On the first day, we kicked it off with a circuit workout, followed by a friendly soft-sand jog, and finished off with swimming sprints in the bay — and let me tell you, it paid to be a winner.
The day to day life of a special operator in the United States compared to an operator in Israel is starkly different. For us, there’s a hard line between being at home and conducting training versus being on a combat deployment. In Israel, that line seemed to be heavily blurred. One day, operators may be training and the next day, they’re going down the road or out to sea to conduct a real-world, high-risk operation. That type of lifestyle seemed exhilarating and extremely stressful all at the same time.
While I was there, we stayed in Tel Aviv, an energetic coastal city. In my opinion, we were completely safe there. We went out on runs, worked out on the beach, and spent some time being tourists at the local restaurants and bars. The wild part was knowing that not far away was a combat zone and places filled with people that wanted to destroy Israel. While spending time on an Israeli military installation, it was very obvious that they were just as busy training as they were actively defending their nation and waging a coordinated war effort against the country’s enemies — and as we know, Israel has its fair share of enemies.
A joint U.S. Naval Special Warfare-Shayetet 13 exercise from a few years back.
Shayetet 13 operators toured us all around Israel and they were awesome tour guides, I would’ve given them five stars on a Yelp review. What I found interesting was that all of the Shayetet 13 guys, at all times, were carrying concealed pistols even when at their base — what a concept. At one point during our tour, they had made a wrong turn and apparently took us into a “bad neighborhood.” I realized this as they all started to get shifty and grabbed for their guns as if they were getting ready for us to get ambushed.
After spending some time with these operators, they began sharing some of their war stories with us. The amount of combat and danger they were constantly experiencing was eye-opening. They were literally fighting for their country on a daily basis; they had no other option.
I left Israel with a high level of respect for the Shayetet 13, their professionalism, and their tactical acumen.