Shayetet 13: The IDF’s most secretive unit

Shayetet 13 is the elite unit of Israel’s Navy, and they are equivalent to the U.S. Navy SEALs, except almost everything about them is classified.

In recent years, the upheavals in the Middle East have created multiple challenges for the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) and directly impacted ongoing operational activities – especially in special units such as Shayetet 13. Shayetet 13 does missions requiring sea-to-land incursions and is the specialist unit in gathering information from maritime (via water). They do sabotage, hostage rescue and unfriendly boarding, and some counter-terrorism.


The secretive unit, whose name translates as Flotilla 13, was formed in 1949, shortly after creating 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 and 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.

IDF Shayetet 13 training
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 in the Israeli military itself. 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 that 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 the “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. They often operate alongside Sayeret Matkal, another secretive IDF unit.

Both Shayetet 13 and Sayeret Matkal joined Operation Bulmus 6, Operation Spring of Youth, and the assassination of Abu Jihad. Unlike other special forces, they always cooperate for one purpose rather than compete with each other. The joint operations by two elite units must be more than the three missions we know.

The assassination of Abu Jihad
The assassination of Abu Jihad (Photo: XY)

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 ten 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. They have taken part in operations the vast majority of us will probably never hear about.

Selection and Training

You must be very capable physically and mentally and have strong determination. Even if you do have all the above, it is still a very low chance because the IDF doesn’t let you choose your role in most cases; they put you in positions that they need you most.

To become a member of Shayetet 13, you need to have this:

  1. Decent physical shape.
  2. Great mental strength.
  3. Enormous determination.
Shayetet 13 - elite Israel Navy SOF
Shayetet 13 operator brandishing its specialized weaponry and gear (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 of Israel’s national martial art. At the end of the course, operators are assigned “professions.” 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 participate in training exercises and cross-training with foreign special forces units such as the US Navy SEALs. The whole process of selection and training lasts for 20 months.

Weaponry and Equipment

The weaponry and equipment of the Shayetet 13 are not limited to the certain types and origins of weapons. Their operators can use a variety of firearms, 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.

Shayetet 13 operator brandishing his sniper rifle while disguised in combat gear
Shayetet 13 operator brandishing his sniper rifle while disguised in combat gear (Photo: IDF)
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