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April 25, 2014
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Current Concerns  >  2012  >  No 9, 1 March 2012  >  Israel’s new command for ventures to the depths of space [printversion]

Israel’s new command for ventures to the depths of space

by Dr Peter Forster

As the Israeli General Staff announced on 15 December 2011, General Benny Gantz, Chief of General Staff, established a new command for operations in the depths of space. In Israel the new command is called the “Iran-command”. General Gantz personally wanted the new command. What he ordered on the 15th December, amounts to a soft revolution the 64 year history of the Israeli army.

Three elite units

For the first time the Chief of General Staff united the three legendary special units of the armed forces, acting under his leadership. They are:

•    Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance), the reconnaissance and combat troops of the Military Intelligence directorate Aman, which is also used by other agencies such as the Mossad. “The Unit” as they say in Israel, operates from a secret base in the coastal plain.

•    Yehidat Shaldag (Kingfisher Unit), an elite unit of the Air Force, specially trained in reconnaissance, hostage rescue and the war on terror. The unit is stationed at the military airfield Palmachim south of Tel Aviv.

•    Shayetet 13 (Fleet 13), the special unit of the Navy, specializing in sea-to-land incursions, to sabotage, hostage rescue, maritime reconnaissance, and boardings. Fleet 13 performs its covert actions from a base between Hadera and Haifa on the Mediterranean coast. The combatants of the Navy’s elite unit recall with pride the fact, that Fleet 13 is the oldest of the Israeli special forces – already established in 1948.

Entebbe in 1976

The elite units are all pulling on the same end of the rope. Unforgettable is the smooth interaction of the Uganda-operation, “Jonathan” on 3/4 July 1976, when the Israeli army liberated 103 hostages in the 4000 km distant Entebbe 103.
But, on the other hand, each of the special forces always has led a life of its own. In the selection of the soldiers and in the rigorous training there is even some competition: Each of the elite troops wants to be the best. For a long time the General Staff has been considering to unite the elite forces under one command. But now General Gantz resolved to make this “revolutionary” move.

Iran, Syria, Lebanon

With a keen sense of the danger Gantz took advantage of the serious tensions with Iran to force the haughty elite soldiers under his command.

In fact, the danger of an Israeli-Iranian war demands the combination of all of the special forces by the General Staff. The new command is explicitly focused on operations in depth – and that could mean: the Persian Gulf, or perhaps on heavily defended Iranian territory.

Moreover Gantz thinks about operations in the depth of the Lebanese and Syrian territory:

•    Should it ever come to a war with Syria again, the General Staff does no longer preclude actions in the heart of the hostile neighbor – north of Damascus, coming from the Mediterranean, with daring airborne assaults and covert actions.

•    Always to fear is a new war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah has built up a fearsome missile arsenal - weapons which range to Tel Aviv and further. Only actions in Lebanon will eliminate the missile sites.

Sinai and Suez Canal

The Israeli General Staff sharply observed the trials and tribulations in Egypt. In the worst case the Muslim Brotherhood will take over the power – in alliance with the extreme Salafists.

What that would mean for the peace of Camp David is obvious: if in Cairo the helm of fanatical Islam would take over, Egypt would withdraw from cold peace of 1978/79.

Since 1982, with the withdrawal from the Negev, Israel could focus its forces on Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan and the Lebanese border.

If Egypt would break the peace, there would be a dramatic race to the Sinai and the two banks of the Suez Canal. In this situation the unified command led by the special forces would be useful for General Gantz.

Commander of the “Iran-command” is Major General Shai Avital, a former head of Sayeret Matkal. Avital is directly subordinated to the Chief of Staff and is in command of the Special Forces.

Ministers and generals

The new command is compared to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which operates out of Fort Bragg, under Admiral William McRaven. On 1/2 April 2011 SOCOM led the strike against bin Laden.

From the Israeli special forces emerge generals and senior politicians. Benjamin Gantz commanded the Shaldag, and the Sayeret squad list reads like a directory of ministers, intelligence chiefs and general staff.

Member of Sayeret squad were Dado Elazar (Chief of Staff, 1973), Ehud Barak (Defense Minister), Benjamin Netanyahu and his brother Jonathan, fallen in Entebbe, Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Ya’alon (both Chiefs of Staff and Minister), Dani Yatom (Mossad) and Avi Dichter (Shin Bet).

So, it is not surprising that in Israel the enhancement of elite troops is largely supported.     •

Source: Dr Peter Forster, The Swiss soldier, 2/2012
(Translation Current Concerns)

Prospects of war with Iran clouded

The escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf and attendant positioning of military assets in the region gives the impression that war is all but inevitable. Machinery is in gear and turning faster and faster by the day, as it was in the lead-up to the Gulf wars of 1991 and 2003.

The decision to go to war, though ultimately resting with President Barack Obama, is a complex and arcane process involving the US public, congress, the military, allied governments, and the president‘s advisers. Some of those groups are active participants, others virtually inert.

Combining the apparent positions of these various groups does not show a strong consensus either for going to war or remaining with sanctions. And so a war between the US and Iran is not the forgone conclusion it is often assumed to be.

Source: Asia Times, 17 February 2012 www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/NB17Ak01.html

Furthermore Israel has the following elite troops at its disposal

Duvdevan: an elite special forces unit special of the Paratroopers Brigade, used mainly in the occupied West Bank.

Egoz: the reconnaissance and anti-guerrilla forces of the Golani Brigade, with rich experience in southern Lebanon.

Alpinistim: Special Force for the mountain warfare, especially on Mount Hermon (2814 feet above sea level), protects electronic listening posts on Mount Hermon and Har Avital.

Sayeret Rimon: Reconnaissance of the Southern Command.
The list is not exhaustive. One of the most famous special forces, the unit 101 of Ariel Sharon, was dissolved.