Sayeret Matkal: Wikis


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Sayeret Matkal
Active 1957-Present
Branch Israeli Army
Type Special Forces
Role Reconnaissance, Direct Action, Raids, Hostage rescue, Counter-Terrorism
Size Classified
Garrison/HQ Sirkin Camp
Nickname The Unit
Motto Who Dares Wins
Engagements Six Day War, War of Attrition, 1973 Israeli raid on Lebanon, Yom Kippur War, Operation Entebbe, 1982 Lebanon War, First Intifada, Persian Gulf War, Second Intifada, 2006 Lebanon War, Operation Orchard
Yonatan Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Moshe Yaalon, Danny Yatom

Sayeret Matkal (Hebrew: סיירת מטכ"ל‎, translation: General Staff Reconnaissance Unit) is an elite special forces unit of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Its main roles are counter-terrorism, deep reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, but the unit is first and foremost a field intelligence-gathering unit, used to obtain strategic intelligence behind enemy lines. Sayeret Matkal is also in charge of hostage rescue missions outside Israeli borders. The unit is modeled on the British SAS,[1] and organizationally reports to the Directorate of Military Intelligence. Its IDF nickname is simply "The Unit". Borrowed from the SAS, the unit's motto is "Who Dares Wins."

The unit is best known for Operation Thunderbolt, commonly known as Operation Entebbe, in which it rescued more than 100 Air France airline passengers hijacked and flown to Uganda by PLO militants,[2] and killed 52 enemy combatants while losing only the assault element commander, Yonatan Netanyahu, and three hostages.[3]



Sayeret Matkal was founded in 1957 by Avraham Arnan (né Herling), a former yeshiva student and Palmach fighter, who served as its first commander. Originally it was part of the Aman Unit 157, but began to operate independently a year later as the General Staff's elite special operations force,[4] modeled after the British Special Air Service. Members of the unit were trained by Bedouin trackers on the finer points of looking and thinking like an Arab.[5] Sayeret Matkal was also formed one year after the IDF's first helicopter squadron became operational and close co-operation between the two allowed Sayeret Matkal to deploy for longer and deeper inside Arab territory than any unit before.

In 1959, a draftee named Ehud Barak was accepted into Sayeret Matkal. He later succeeded the Unit 101 commando Lt. Meir Har-Zion in becoming Israel's most decorated soldier. Whilst with Sayeret Matkal, Ehud Barak participated in many operations, including leading the Operation Isotope (airplane hostage rescue) in 1972 and leading the 1973 Israeli raid on Lebanon. He later progressed in his military career to become the IDF Chief of Staff in 1991 and retired after the end of his tenure in 1995. In 1999 Ehud Barak became the 10th Prime Minister of Israel.

Although a top-secret unit, Sayeret Matkal had a tremendous influence on the IDF. They were the original developers of helicopter infiltration techniques in Israel. In addition, their heavy use of the Uzi led them to convince Israel Military Industries to produce an Uzi with a folding stock for increased accuracy while maintaining its small frame.

Sayeret Matkal has participated in many anti- and counter-terrorist operations, including the storming of a Boeing 707 held by Black September freedom fighters in 1972 (Operation Isotope), and the killing of a force of bus hijackers in the Gaza Strip. They are probably best known for their actions in the 1976 rescue of 106 passengers at Entebbe Airport in Uganda (Operation Thunderbolt). There have been rumors linking them with several recent operations (see Operation Orchard) but these have never been confirmed by the IDF.

Recruitment and training

The unit was kept top-secret during its initial years. Fighters and commanders were selectively hand-picked, based on personal acquaintances.

Since the 1970s, while still secretive, the unit opened to voluntary recruits. Twice a year it holds a notoriously grueling selection camp (Gibbush) for potential recruits lasting several sleepless days. The recruits are constantly monitored by doctors and psychologists. Those who make it through the end with passing evaluation marks are admitted.

During the 1990s, this selection camp practice was picked up by other IDF special forces (Sayeret). Former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz planned to unify all these camps to prevent recruit burn-outs and medical injury by over-enthusiastic youths.

Once admitted to the unit, recruits train for 20 months with heavy emphasis on small arms, martial arts, navigation, camouflage, reconnaissance and other skills important for survival behind enemy lines. They must also complete the 120-kilometer Beret March to receive their red beret. The training regime consists of the following:

  • Four months of basic infantry training, held in the Paratroopers basic training base; it is part of the regular Paratroopers basic training routine.
  • Two months advanced infantry training, within the unit.
  • Three weeks parachuting course in the IDF Parachuting School.
  • Five weeks counter-terror (CT) course in the IDF Counter-Terror Warfare School, followed by more inner-unit CT training.
  • The rest of the training is dedicated to long-range reconnaissance patrol training, and especially to navigation/orienteering, which is of vast importance in the unit. While most of the orienteering training is done in pairs for safety reasons, as in every other unit in the IDF, Sayeret Matkal is one of the handful of IDF elite units which conducts long-range solo navigation exercises.

Although Sayeret Matkal has its own insignia, it is also one of the few units in the IDF whose soldiers are not allowed to wear it in public due to its classified nature.

Notable (former) Sayeret Matkal figures

Despite being a top-secret and relatively small army unit, former Sayeret Matkal veterans have a disproportionate influence on the army and public service. This may partly be due to the fact that rigorous screening and training ensures that only the most capable and motivated Israeli youths are accepted by the unit as fighters.

  • Several other unit veterans who later became army generals and Knesset members

There is a widely held misconception that former Israeli Major General and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also served in Sayeret Matkal. He did (while a Major) found and command the IDF's first special-forces unit (Unit 101) in 1953, which many people feel was the organizational parent of Sayeret Matkal. However, when Unit 101 was merged into the Paratroopers Brigade in 1954, Sharon became brigade commander, and never served in Sayeret Matkal.

Known operations

Note: Until recently the Israeli army had an official policy of denying existence of this unit. Operations were generally attributed to "elite paratroopers". Sayeret Matkal operations are still kept secret to this day. However, due to the unit's successes in daring operations, it soon became a very publicly-known secret in Israeli society.

The 2003 dissidents

On December 21, 2003 thirteen Sayeret Matkal reservists—the most senior being an officer at the rank of Rav Seren (Major)—presented to the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem a letter declaring their refusal to perform military service in the Occupied Territories:[7]

"We have come to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that we will no longer be accomplices to the reign of oppression in the Territories and the denial of the most elementary human rights of millions of Palestinians, nor shall we be the shield of settlements erected on confiscated land".

The letter aroused a strong controversy, due to Sayeret Matkal having a high prestige in the Israeli society. It was especially strongly denounced by mainstream political figures who had their origin in the ranks of the unit, such as former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu.

In the event, none of the signatories was tried, but they were all expelled from the ranks of Sayeret Matkal. In what was described as "an effort to stem the tide", the unit's commander circulated among his soldiers and officers a letter condemning the refusers for having "abused their membership in Sayeret Matkal for political aims".

See also

Israeli Special Forces:

Israeli security forces:

Similar foreign special forces units:


IDF Official Site



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