Israel is known for its advanced security apparatus. Israel’s years of fighting terrorism have created well organized and effective tools to combat terrorism. Many can point at famous Israeli successful counter terrorism missions, but for the non-Israeli reader there is more of the unknown than of the known. The reason is not secrecy, for Israel boasts a well-functioning and active media to discuss Israeli military units and actions. But since most media coverage is done in Hebrew it is not accessible for most of the non-Israeli audience. Let’s take a closer look at how Israel is fighting terrorism. At the same time we should keep in mind that counter terrorism strategies are constantly evolving as Israel is trying to stay dynamic and ahead of the game. Generally all of the Israeli military and police at one point or another will be on ‘counter terrorism’ missions, I will focus on the special units in Israel. the Israeli elite fighting units are formed under three different organizations: within either the military, the police or civilian units.
The military units are part of the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) and consist of conscripted soldiers. In the military Israel have the four distinct main special units; Sayeret Matkal (Sayeret meaning Recon unit, Matkal meaning Chief Command ), Shayetet 13 (Israeli navy seals) , Shaldag (Air Force unit) which is less known outside Israel. Shaldag work mainly deep behind enemy lines in cooperation with the Air Force. And the forth unit is Unit 669 which is a combat rescue unit, 669 is consisting of a combat and a non-combat section. These units are Israel’s best units with a very high investment into the units, the fighters in these units must pass the most severe selection process and receive the hardest and most advanced training. All soldiers of these units undergo counter terror training, but only ‘Matkal’ and ‘Shayetet 13’ are certified as ‘takeover unit’ (hostages rescue)- a Hebrew term which means a unit certified to initiate action in order to release hostages. In total there are five ‘takeover units’ in Israel. The remaining three being ‘Eilat counter terror unit’ – a military reserve unit made up of residents of Eilat – Israel’s southernmost city. This Eilat unit was created for a timely response to hostage events in the far south. Two other hostage rescue units can be found within the police force called police ‘Yamam’ unit and within the prison authorities called ‘Mesada’ respectively. Considering hostage rescue, the mission of these units is clear, gain entry into a hostage situation and save the hostages unharmed. However some counter terrorism operations do not involve hostages, on these situations other units can deploy, on some occasions even the infantry brigades. The next line of special units inside the military are units such as Maglan and the infantry battalions recon units, called ‘Sayeret’ in Hebrew. The Sayeret units now are called Recon regiments, consisting of Sayeret, anti-tank Organ and a demolition company. They are present within the Paratroopers, Golani brigades etc. Others are Dovdevan and Egoz. These units also undergo a harsh selection process and meticulous training emphasizing on commando training and counter-terrorism training. But these units will not be ‘take over units’, instead they are called ‘intervention units’ meaning they will only intervene in a hostage situation if there is ongoing killing of hostages. These units and the other military units are very active in the West Bank, performing arrests of known wanted terrorists. The West Bank is a complex terrain and most of the arrests are done in densely populated areas. For this reason, in order to minimize and avoid civilian casualties the military will mainly use units with counter-terrorism abilities. It is worth noting that further special units in the Israeli army exist, but for a general overview the main ones mentioned above are the most relevant. It is also worth noting that the specialty of counter terrorism skills are aggressiveness both in shooting and physically (in handling all who is present in the scene- and the reason for that is to save lives!), there is a strong emphasis on selective shooting, friend or foe. On the other hand infantry style of CQB will be in a way more aggressive, the use of missiles before entry, the use of grenades and non-selective shooting are far more damage creating.
Police counter-terrorism units
The Israeli police units are headed by the ‘Yamam’, probably Israel’s leading unit for hostage rescue. We can also name the prison authorities unit ‘Mesada’ together with the police unit. Both units recruit their members after their military service, under severe recruitment requirements and with a very long training to follow it. Later on, past graduation, these units spend two weeks of each month in intensive training while the other two weeks they are on duty. Like the military the police also have additional units with counter-terrorism training, e.g. the ‘Yamas’ (Undercover action Unit) units, which are undercover units who operate inside the Palestinian Territories. These units are made up mainly of conscripts after military service, but also of some active soldiers. A second unit is the ‘Yasam’ (Special patrol unit) unit, which is the muscle unit of the Israeli police, they perform in demonstration and where the use of force might be necessary, they are intended to be a quick reaction unit in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem especially. This unit recruits with lower standards then other units. In a militarized society like Israel it is common to find the fittest people in the elite units, and Israel is picky on who is allowed to join them. As a result we can see that the quality of these recruits also shows after their military service in their civilian, economic and academic life.
Civilian counter terrorism units.
In a way, the highlight of Israel counter-terrorism ability lies with the civilian sector. The civilian sector is instructed by two bodies, the police protection department and the secret service protection department (shabak in Hebrew, which means the ‘general secret service’). The responsibility is divided between them so that the secret service is in charge of whatever is sensitive and important at the state level and the police will receive the rest of the responsibilities. The secret service represents the main knowledge instrument for all civilian security and acts as the highest authority for security guidelines, in terms of training and procedures. The secret service fighting school holds the highest skills for pistol and assault rifle fighting to the extent that even the military send some of their units to train with them (like the leading sayeret matkal). All the security unit members are recruited after a successful military service and undergo 8-9 weeks of nonstop training. How tough is it? During the first week you train a lot with the pistol, but you will not fire even one bullet. At the end of the training you will shoot more than 10,000 bullets, not including what you will shoot with an assault rifle. Krav Maga? You can call it that, however Krav Maga is for self-defense, and what you learn here is offense and not self-defense, Combat fighting without weapon is more likely to be the name. All government vip agents pass this training, also embassy security, airport security, Israeli airlines Air Marshals etc. after this basic training there will be an additional training for their perspective unit. It is also interesting to know that the number of military units which actually have a lot of Krav Maga training is very limited. Most elite units will have one lesson per week (during counter-terrorism school they will have daily lessons) and that is considered frequent. It is all a matter of priorities, Krav Maga receives lower priority than rifle or pistol training, less then navigation etc. The main emphasis in Krav Maga is to develop aggressiveness and less on technique. During the secret service’s 8-9 weeks training there is more time for Krav Maga and the school instructors are considered to be among the best practitioners in Israel. The military also has its counter-terrorism school, which meets the highest standards; however it is very ‘militarized.’ It has two aims, first to bring the individual to a very high proficiency in use of weaponry, and secondly to train soldiers to form an effective fighting team. In contrast to that, the training within the secret service is focusing on the individual, it’s the agent against the terrorists, ‘train Hard cause you are alone’ that is the motto. As an agent you are a ‘die hard’, you are John MacLaine and you don’t wait for help. It’s you or them, a situation which fits more to civilian circumstances. In many positions after a year or two of service, it is permitted to the security agents to reduce their work to half time and pursue academic education, however, the physical requirements and monthly trainings remain unchanged.
Israeli instructors have a lot to teach in security trainings, but there is a major issue over here, and it is clearly apparent not only with Israeli instructors. Are former military personal actually the right people to teach security? Remember that the military is supposed to attack and not to protect and as we point towards special units we see that this rule is intensified according to these units’ purpose. Special units are made for raids, for pure attack situations and that’s what they train for. They don’t practice concealed carry; they walk with their weapons ready to shoot. They don’t learn suspicious signs, the attack circle etc. They are very good with their weapons, they are high quality people and have a very tough mental strength but they have not practiced security. A vivid example came from France, where after the recent terrorist attacks paratroopers had been deployed to protect sensitive institutions all over the country. Two of the paratroopers were stabbed by an attacker while on watch. How come? They were not trained for protection missions. So what do you want to learn? Which direction should you take in any future training? That really depends on what goals you are pursuing. Do you want to elevate your pistol and rifle skills? Israeli instructors will be very good at that and you will be exposed to a system we use successfully over the years and it is also much different than other systems you may have seen. Are you interested in a position in a high risk environment? Than many former military instructors can give you the tools for that. Are you interested in urban security training? Than the military is not your direction. Are you an enthusiastic about guns? Train with those who offer you a safe training, and affordable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxqfZoLc1Pg
Written By: Adi Talmor
Adi Talmor was a member of IDF paratrooper recon battalion. Later, Adi joined the infamous Shabak ( Israel Security Agency ) as a Personal Scrutiny Detail Agent for 7 years. During his service with Shabak Adi has conduct numerous operations at El Al airline, Israeli Embassies and domestic operation within Israel. Adi currently opened his security consulting and training company for the civilian market in Europe and China. Adi is fluent in Chinese Mandarin and many other languages.