Shayetet 13: Inside the IDF’s most secretive special unit

The upheavals in the Middle East of recent years have created multiple challenges for the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) and had a direct impact on ongoing operational activities – especially in special units such as Shayetet 13.

The secretive unit, whose name translates as Flotilla 13, was formed in 1949, shortly after the creation of the State of Israel. Their operators are often described as silent soldiers. Specialists in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue, its operators have played a major role in all of Israel’s subsequent conflicts, growing more skilled with time, as well as taking part in humanitarian campaigns, such as the airlift of Jews from Ethiopia. It is widely regarded as one of the world’s best elite special units.

Shayetet 13: Inside the IDF's most secretive special unit 1
Shayetet 13 training includes conducting special ops with other IDF elite units (Photo: Gadi Kabalo)

The unit is one of the most secretive in the world and Israeli military. The details of many missions and identities of active operatives are kept highly classified. The Shayetet 13 is compared to the US Navy SEALs and Britain’s Special Boat Service. Unlike many other Israeli Special Forces Units which take men only for their 36-month mandatory service, volunteers for Shayetet 13 must agree to service at least four and a half years (18 months over and above the normal commitment).

Unit’s Motto: “As the bat emerges from the darkness, As the blade cuts through with silence, As the grenade smashs in rage.” In addition the unit also referred to as “people of Silence”.


In the absence of an official conflict, IDF activity is based on what is referred to as “war between wars,” and the naval commando unit is undoubtedly one of the most influential factors in this arena. In the last year alone, Shayetet 13 has conducted numerous complex operations behind enemy lines, hidden from the eyes of the public.

One tangible example of such missions came in 2014 when Shayetet 13 operators made headlines in Israel and all over the world following the capture of the Iranian weapons ship KLOS-C in international waters. All of the 10 operators we met took part in the operation, dubbed Full Disclosure. Impressive as it was, it was hardly the zenith in the careers of these veteran operators, who have taken part in operations the vast majority of us will probably never hear about.

Selection and Training

Shayetet 13: Inside the IDF's most secretive special unit 2
Specialized weaponry and uniforms (Photo: Gadi Kabalo)

Naval commando operators endure one of the toughest training courses in the Israeli Defence Forces in their bid to win their coveted unit batwings insignia. The 20 months of training includes basic training with the Nahal brigade, further basic training at the unit’s central base in Atlit, which schools the troops in maritime warfare, and advanced training in combat diving, navigation and Shayetet’s unique watercraft.

During their training, cadets train extensively in Krav Maga, a hand-to-hand combat system which is Israel’s national martial art.

At the end of the course, operators are assigned “professions”, and each team specializes in one of three commando roles: diving, raids or above water.

Even after their induction into active service, Shayetet 13 commandos continue to take part in training exercises and participate in cross-training with foreign special forces units such as the US Navy SEALs.

Weaponry and Equipment

The weaponry and equipment of the Shayetet 13 are not limited to the certain types and origins of weapons. Their operators are able to use a variety of weapons including Glock pistols, M4 Carbines, CTAR-21, M203 Grenade Launchers, M24 and SR-25 sniper rifles, Negev machine guns and all other modern weapons and equipment used by Western units of similar type.