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Shayetet 13

Shayetet 13  (Hebrew: שייטת 13‎, translation: flotilla 13) is the Israel Navy frogmen or seals unit, first officially formed in 1949. In official Israel Navy publications it is often called "the marine commando ("Komando Yahmi"). After Sayeret Matkal. it is probably the second most prestigious (among the publicly known commandos) of several elite IDF military units. These units also include the Sayeret Shaldag commandos, Paratroop commandos and the Golani commandos and Duvdevan. These units were formed for carrying out various intelligence gathering and covert operations tasks including rescue, reconnaissance, sabotage and assassination missions.

History of Shayetet 13

Shayetet 13 was founded in 1949 by members of Palmach "Palyam" units including a unit of divers and a unit that operated Italian self-destroying boats used for sabotage. These two units and other personnel with similar training had caused various "accidents" to happen to British Coast Guard ships engaged in intercepting illegal immigrants, and were likewise responsible for the sinking of the Lino in Bari, Italy on April 10, 1948. The Lino had been loaded with 10,000 Czech rifles and ammunition destined for Syria. Italian sabotage boats were used to sink the Egyptian Navy flagship Al Amir Farouq, on October 22, 1948. In 1949, Yochai Bin Nun, commander of sabotage boat unit and Yosef (Yossele) Dror, who was in charge of the divers, persuaded the Israeli Navy to set up a Naval covert operations unit, to be called Shayetet 13 - Flotilla 13. However Bin Nun and Dror did not last lost as commanding officers. They had instilled the informal Palmach spirit in their new unit. Shlomo Shamir, commander of the Navy, and Chief of Staff Yigal Yadin were believers in British discipline, and were trying to build a professional army. They could not the informal atmosphere of the pre-state days. Shayetet 13 was underutilized for many years. Though training was tough, the available equipment was poor. The diving suits were tricky, and the self-destructing boats and "pig" mini-submarines never functioned quite right. The self-destructing boats had a complex mechanism that was supposed to allow the pilot to set the boat on course, fuse the explosive and escape on a float. In the destruction of the El-Amir Farooq and an accompanying minesweeper, three such boats were used. In each case the escape mechanism malfunctioned, so that the unfortunate pilots found themselves physically attached to bombs, and extricated themselves from this unpleasant situation only with the utmost ingenuity and calm in the face of disaster.

In the Sinai Campaign, Shayetet 13 performed several failed reconnaissance missions before the campaign, participated in the campaign itself as regular regular soldiers, and almost carried off a plan to capture an Egyptian frigate. Like many other such plans, this one was called off because it was deemed too risky. Shayetet soldiers were deemed to be too precious to risk in combat for low priority, non-strategic targets, and most of the naval targets were not of sufficient importance.   

On July 9, 1958 Shayetet 13 operatives penetrated Beirut harbor in Operation Yovel. They were discovered however, and a gun battle and chase developed. However, the force was able to retreat without any losses of men or equipment 

Shayetet 13 was originally modeled on the light flotilla number 10 of the Italian Navy that had achieved some outstanding successes in sinking British shipping in World War II. It originally had Italian equipment and even an Italian instructor. But Israel's enemies were not naval powers like Britain, and most of the time there was little to do other than "routine" reconnaissance of enemy harbors. Many of these patrols of Lebanese and Syrian harbors were quite daring, such as the penetration of Beirut harbor on July 9, 1958. The relatively neglected Shayetet 13 got a boost when Yochai Bin Nun, who had returned to command it, became commander of the Israeli Navy in 1960.  

The existence of Shayetet 13 and its reconnaissance operations was top secret. The general staff and Navy brass were unwilling to allow the unit to have its own insignia, which would make its existence known. However, after Yochai Bin Nun assumed command of the navy, he allowed the unit to choose a symbol, and one of the fighters a graduate of the Bezalel art school, produced the bat wing symbol in 1960.

Shayetet 13 "Bat wings" insignia

In August of 1966, the Shayetet was given the mission of retrieving a Syrian MiG that had been shot down and had fallen into the Sea of Galilee. The Syrians however, opened fire near the end of the mission, and the salvage rope that was attached to the aircraft was dropped. The Syrians were later able to pick it up and drag their aircraft to safety.

In the 1960s, a separate unit, Unit 707, was formed from "dropouts from the tough Shayetet 13 course. Originally, they were to be an undersea diving and rescue service that provided support services for active combat units, and performed various civil missions such as underwater repairs in the cooling pool of the Nahal Soreq civilian research nuclear  reactor. However, over the years, Unit 707 proved itself every bit as useful in combat as Shayetet 13, and in 1974, the two were integrated under the command of Tzvi Givati ("Caruso"). 

During the Six day war, Shayetet 13 was given the task of neutralizing enemy fleets, since the Israel Navy did not have sufficient regular forces to do so. The idea was that use of commandos would allow a small number of quality troops to compensate for marked inferiority in ships and fire power. In the event, Shayetet 13 saw little action, but on the other hand, the enemy navies were relatively inactive as well. It infiltrated Port Said, but there were no ships there to be targeted. It infiltrated Alexandria harbor, but the six divers sent there were stranded and captured by the Egyptians. As a result of this infiltration, the Egyptians increased their port security. Other missions failed as well, including one in Syria that was not carried through by the commander.  

Immediately following the war, the Egyptians continued to use the Suez Canal, but fired on Israeli shipping that tried to use it. and Shayetet 13 was given various missions as part of two operations, Barak and Barzelit, both in July of 1967. In Operation Barzelit, as reprisal for Egyptian shelling, Shayetet 13 soldiers crossed the canal and blew up the Egyptian rail line in 2 places.  The Israeli Navy was give the task of flying the flag in the Canal and Shayetet 13 participated in this operation - Operation Barak. This was a high risk operation as it was done in daylight and it was clear the Egyptians would open fire from their positions. During the action Egyptians sank a "Bertram" type boat. In a separate incident on the same day the Egyptians captured two Israel Navy sailors who were not part of Shayetet 13. During the hostilities, an artillery duel developed. As a result of these incidents, an agreement was reached stopping all traffic on the canal. In the following period, the commando carried out various mining operations.

In Egyptian Captivity - The Israeli prisoners of war were initially beaten severely during interrogations and denied access to the Red Cross representatives, contrary to the Geneva conventions. Following the initial period however, they received much better treatment, beat the warders in a football game, were given a tour of Cairo, and eventually released in exchange for Egyptian prisoners, including the prisoners of the 1954 Lavon affair, who had been neglected in 1956 after the Sinai Campaign.  

During the war of attrition, Shayetet 13 performed several missions, as retaliation for Egyptian commando raids and artillery fire.

Adabieh Raid - (Bulmus 5) - On June 21-22, Shayetet 13 attacked the Egyptian base in Adabieh (Operation Bulmus 5) which included a radar station and other installations. The incursion took longer than planned Shaul Ziv, who was field commander, heard through the communication link Chief of Staff Bar Lev telling Rafael Eitan, who was in a boat off shore that if the action is not begun in 5 minutes, the raid should be called off. Ziv shut off his radio so as not to receive the retreat order. During the raid it turned out that the "radar" which was the main target of the operation was in fact only a light beacon. The operation resulted in 32 Egyptian fatalities and about 12 wounded, with two Shayetet 13 commandos slightly wounded. 

Green Island Raid (Bulmus-3) - On the night of July 19 1969 Shayetet 13 participated with Sayeret Matkal in the raid on Green Island, Operation "Bulmus-3." The island was fortified with several anti-aircraft guns and a radar station. The raid had been postponed in favor of the Adabieh raid. During planning phases it was decided that the raid would be carried out jointly by both units, as neither elite commando group had a large enough number of commandos to carry out the raid by itself.

During the raid it developed that the island was well garrisoned, and the invading force lost the element of surprise when one of the commandos opened fire early, thinking the force had been discovered.  The raid did not go smoothly. Three Shayetet commandos and three Sayeret Matkal commandos were killed and 11 were wounded, 10 of whom were Shayetet 13 commandos. About 80 Egyptians were estimated to be killed, almost the entire garrison.  The result of the raid was the destruction of the entire Egyptian facility at Green Island. Israeli casualties were three Sayeret Matkal and three Shayetet 13 commandos killed, and eleven wounded - about half the commando force. Egyptian casualties were 80 killed (almost the entire garrison) and an unknown number wounded. An unknown number of the Egyptian casualties were caused by friendly fire; the shelling of the island by their own artillery. The raid helped neutralize a key anti-aircraft installation and was exploited as preparation for the large Operation Boxer air raid that followed.

Shayetet 13 morale was very low following the Green Island raid, despite the great success of the operation, because they had lost nearly their entire fighting force. Ami Ayalon insisted that the operation was a milestone in demonstrating the effectiveness of Shayetet 13 in seaborne raids, though others claimed that the operation was unnecessary or could have been carried out better by the air force or other units. Several participants were decorated for bravery. The first among them was Ami Ayalon, who won the Medal of Valor, Israel's highest decoration.

Operation Escort - Shayetet 13 divers blew up two missile ships in Ras Sadat in the bay of Suez on the night of September 7, 1969, in order to prepare the way for operation Raviv. However, on the return journey, one of the skittish Italian mini-submarines ("pigs") used to transport the divers evident activated its self-destruct mechanism. three commandos were killed. The next day one of the missile boats went out on patrol and blew up and sank. As the second one was coming to its rescue, it too suffered an explosion and ran aground.

Operation Raviv - On the night of the 8th September, 1969, the IDF carried out operation Raviv along an 80 KM front. A number of Shayetet 13 and Unit 707 commandos participated as well. Six tanks and three APC'S, Russian equipment captured from the Egyptians,  were loaded on 3 landing craft. The landing began at 03:22 am on the 9th of September,  40 kilometers south of the city of Suez. The force turned south, attacking Egyptian guard points, radar stations, military vehicles and other military targets. In the operation a Soviet general was run over and killed while he was driving along the route the landing force was taking. The Egyptian governor of the Red Sea area was killed as well, along with 150 other Egyptians. 19 coast guard positions and two anti-aircraft and radar basis were destroyed.  The force operated in broad daylight until about 13:00, when the vehicles and soldiers were loaded on the landing craft. At 13:20 they force reported that it is returning. One Israeli pilot was missing in action and one other Israeli soldier was lightly wounded.  As a result of the raid, Egyptian president Nasser fired his Chief of Staff, Commander of the Navy, and Red Sea area commander. The Egyptian air force sent 60 planes to attack IDF fortifications in Sinai. 11 of them were shot down. The Egyptians pressed the Soviets for more serious military aid. 

Bardas 20 - This large raid took place on January 14 1971, to neutralize terrorist bases in Lebanon, where about two dozen terrorists were training as frogmen. A number of buildings were concentrated at a base about 12 KM south of Sidon, which also had the home of Abu Youssef, commander of the region. All the buildings were destroyed in the raid and a number of terrorists were wounded including Abu Youssef, In the course of the raid, the commandos discovered a house that had several women in it and decided not to blow it up for humanitarian reasons. This decision was controversial.

Bardas 54-55 - On February 19, 1973, a large raid on terrorist basis in Lebanon refugee camps - A combined raid with Unit 707 and the paratroopers commando (Sayeret Tzanchanim) was aimed at Naher el Bared and Al Bedaoui in northern Lebanon. About 40 terrorists were killed and 60 wounded. A Turkish commando trainer was taken hostage.

Aviv Neurim (Springtime of Youth) - This large raid led by Sayeret Matkal was undertaken April 9-10. Shayetet 13, Sayeret Matkal, Unit 707, and Sayeret Tzanchanim carried out the land raids. Sayeret Matkal and unit 7 had responsibility for a factory that manufactured mines (force Tzilla) north of Beirut and for a second such factory and the headquarters in command of terrorist activity in Gaza just south of Beirut. Shayetet 13 and Unit 707 also provided transport and landing support for the other parts of this large operation.

Yom Kippur War - During the Yom Kippur War, Shayetet 13 was able to demonstrate the value of naval commandos in wartime in a number of successful operations. Among others:

Operation Magbit 11 and Ardaka (Ghardaka) operations - Shayetet 13 infiltrated the port of Ardaka in the Gulf of Suez on the night of October 9-10 1973, sinking one Kumar class missile boat with underwater explosives attached to the hulls (type M-72 mines). This was the second of four attempts at infiltration. On the night of October 21-22, a fourth try, after another failed attempt another missile boat was heavily damaged using Lao rockets.

Operation Lady - On the night of October 16, 1973, Shayetet 13 infiltrated port Said with 2 "Hazir" (Hog) mini-submarines that carried frogmen and sank a torpedo boat, a coast guard craft, a  tank landing craft and a missile boat. However, two frogmen went missing in this operation.

During the period following the Yom Kippur War, Shayetet 13 was united with unit 707 and carried out various missions against terrorist organization boats and those who assisted them in Lebanon, with mediocre success. During this period there were several incidents of terror attacks and attempted attacks along Israel's coast, including the attack on the Savoy hotel. The possibility of Israeli-Egyptian peace increased the motivation for terror attacks, including the March 11, 1978 attack in which terrorists killed an amateur photographer and hijacked a bus. In retaliation, Israel launched operation Litani. Shayetet 13 carried out ambushes during the operation, killing the commander of the refusal front, Carlos Jihad in one of them. 

During the period of Ami Ayalon's command, from 1979 to 1981, the Shayetet carried out 22 successful raids on terrorist targets in Lebanon, resulting in a unit decoration. 

Operation Meta'h Gavoha (High voltage) - In April of 1980, not long after the terrorist attack on Misgav Am, intelligence data showed that a terrorist unit based just south of the mouth of the Zaharani river in Ras a- Shaq,  Lebanon, was preparing to carry out a kidnapping and "bargaining" raid on a community in northern Israel. On April 19, the commandos raided the base, killing about 15 terrorists including the commander of the would-be infiltration unit and two of its members, and destroying two structures. Several commando fighters were wounded. 

Shayetet 13 took part in evacuation of Ethiopian Jews by small craft from Sudan about 1981.

In February of 1981, Shayetet 13 frogmen sunk a terrorist craft that was anchored in Sidon in one of a series of "holy ghost" (Ruach Hakodesh) raids. At the end of March Shayetet 13 was sent to attack a glider landing field after a glider operated by terrorists had entered Israeli airspace and carried out an attack. The commandos mined the landing fields, destroyed several enemy vehicles, killed between 2 and 6 terrorists and injured several terrorists. In April, another holy ghost raid sank a shipload of weapons in Tyre harbor, and yet another was sunk about a month and a half later.

During the 1982 Lebanon War (Operation Peace of the Galilee) Shayetet 13 commandos participated in creating a beach head at the mouth of the Awali river that allowed landing of armor and infantry, performed by Shayetet 11, the landing boat flotilla.  The landings went on for several days. At the end of July, Shayetet 13 carried out three raids on Beirut in order to tighten the noose around PLO forces there.  Shayetet 13 carried out several other ambushes and raids during the war.

On June 27, 1984 the Israel Air Force and Shayetet 13 raided Jazirat a Nahal ("Rabbit Island") about 9 KM north of Tripoli which was a terrorist base. About 15 terrorists were evidently killed, though a number managed to escape.

Several recent additional major operations have been attributed to Shayetet 13, but are not not acknowledged by the Israel government. In February of 1988, as part of the First Intifada, Yasser Arafat had decided to send a boatload of Palestinian refugees to Israel, in imitation of the Exodus. The ship was purchased and its name was changed to "Al Awda," the return. It was anchored in Limassol Harbor in Cyprus. However, on Saturday, February 13, a mysterious explosion in an automobile in Limassol, killing three of the Fatah operatives who were involved in organizing the boat. On February 14, several loud explosions were heard in Limassol harbor. A large hole opened up in the hull of the Al Awda, and it listed and sank to the bottom. Israeli government representatives neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of Israeli involvement.

On April 16 1988, unnamed forces landed in Tunis and assassinated Abu Jihad in his private villa. Abu Jihad had been responsible for several terror operations including the hijacking of a busload of workers at the Nahal Soreq nuclear plant to Gaza, as well as the 1978 coastal road attack that killed 34 and wounded 80, the Nahariya attack that killed 4. He was also involved in the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.

Operation Ka'hol Ve'hum - On November 25, 1988 a lone terrorist in a propeller assisted glider landed in Kiriat Shmona, killed an IDF officer and attacked a Nachal base where he killed five soldiers and wounded 7 before being eliminated. It was decided to attack the base of Ahmad Jibreel, whose organization had sent the terrorist. A large raid that combined Golani, Shayetet 13 and other forces attacked the base, in the industrial area of the town of A-Naema, not far from Damur, about 20 KM south of Beirut. IDF estimated that about 20 terrorists were killed in the raid, but several commandos were killed and Jibreel was able to exhibit various captured equipment.    

The Shayetet Catastrophe - Ason Hashayetet (אסון השייטת) - On September 4-5, 1997, during operation Shirat Hatsaftsefah  near the Lebanese coastal village Antsaria, 11 operatives were killed when they fell into an ambush. Some died when the explosives they were carrying exploded. Four others were wounded. A rescue force of 12 fought gallantly to retrieve the wounded and bodies. During the rescue, Dr. Maher Dagash, a decorated medical officer who served with various commando units, was killed. Numerous investigations tried to clarify how the cover of the operation had been blown. One possibility was that they had stumbled upon an ambush accidently. In 2007 it was reported that an unencoded UAV transmission had been intercepted and gave away the operation. Monuments in honor of the fallen heroes were erected in Shavei Tziyon and Rishon Letzion.

During the Second Intifada Shayetet 13 distinguished itself in numerous operations against terrorists on land and sea. Shayetet 13 captured three boats bringing arms to the terrorist forces including Karine A, the Santorini and the Ibn Hassan. The unit was awarded the Order of Merit of the Chief of Staff for its part in the Intifada.

Operation Defensive Shield - Shayetet 13 and other commando units took part in the 2002 operation in the West Bank, against terrorist targets, following a month in which over 100 Israelis were killed in various terror and suicide attacks. They suffered losses, but killed tens of terrorists and captured hundreds.

In 2004, the operations of Shayetet 13 were temporarily suspended following a complaint from the Betselem group that they had shot an unarmed terrorist for no reason. The investigation found that that the commandos had good reason to assume the terrorist was concealing a grenade, but numerous other defects in their combat effectiveness were listed.

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Shayetet 13 took part in several operations in enemy territory including the raid in Tyre.

Commanders of Shayetet 13

Following is a partial list of commanders of Shayetet 13 and approximate times of service

Yochai Bin Nun - 1949 or 1950-1950 and 1957 - Bin Nun founded Shayetet 13 with Yossele Dror and became commander in chief of the Israel Navy in 1960. He was a member of the Pal-Yam and commander of the "Port Unit" (Yehidat Hanamal) whose missions included protection of refinery workers following the refinery riots in Haifa bay. During the Israel War of Independence Gershon Zack, head of the Israel Navy, encouraged him to set up a naval commando using the exploding boats that had been purchased from the Italians. He commanded the operation that sank the Egyptian flagship, Amir Al Farouq. After Shayetet Bin Nun was cashiered because the General Staff did not like the informal Palmach atmosphere of Shayetet 13. 

"Izzy" Rahav - 1950- October 1951 - Replaced Yochai Bin Nun. Rahav "disappeared." He had been sent to Egypt to help organize clandestine activities there, but returned in 1953. He was very critical of the amateur nature of the operation and the network set up in Egypt. All his fears proved well founded, as the network was caught in the infamous Lavon Affair.

Yaakov Etzion - 1951 - 1954

"Izzy" Rahav - 1954 -  September 1957

Yochai Bin Nun (Second term) September 1957- ??

"Beraleh"  - ???- 1965.

"Eskimo" - 1965 - 1966

"Beraleh" (Dov Shafir) February 1967 - May 1968

Zeev Almog - May 1968 - November 1971 - He commanded the operation on Green Island in 1969 and many others.  

Shaul Ziv -  October 1971 - March 1974 - Ziv was commander during the successful operations in the Yom Kippur war. However, he was frustrated in his desire to set up a large commando unit that would be independent of the Israel Navy and a direct branch of the IDF.

Tzvi Givati ("Caruso") - March 1974 - June 1976 (commander of unified Shayetet 13 and Unit 707) - Caruso agreed to serve only for two years and as long as Binny Telem was admiral of the Israel Navy. He had been away from the Shayetet for many years and felt estranged from them. He presided over the successful unification of Unit 707 with Shayetet 13.

Gadi Shefi - June 1976 - July 1978 - Shefi quarreled with Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan, after Eitan cancelled a part of Shayetet 13 participation in a large raid in Lebanon, and because of differences in opinion regarding training doctrine.

Hanina Amishav - August 1978 - January 1979. Amishav was relieved of his duties after a trainee was killed accidently during maneuvers on Tiran island. He was, essentially, a scapegoat "example" who was sacrificed in an attempt to control the high rate of accidental deaths during traning. Gadi Kroll took command temporarily for a brief period.

Ami Ayalon - January 1979 - July 1981 - Ayalon had previously participated in the raid on Green Island and been severely wounded. He was responsible for leading 22 missions into Lebanon in that period, resulting in a unit decoration (Order of Merit of the Chief of Staff) for Shayetet 13. Ayalon left the command in 1981 to study in the United States.  Ami Ayalon later was commander in chief of the Israel Navy and head of the  GSS (Shin Bet) from 1996 to 2000.

Uzi Livnat - July 1981- November 1983 - Under Livnat, the Shayetet continued to carry out similar raids in Lebanon until the Lebanon war. During this period, Shayetet 13 took part in evacuation of Ethiopian Jews by small craft from Sudan. Livnat commanded Shayetet 13 during the Lebanon war. He left the command to study in the United States for a year. 

Yedidiah (Didi) Yaari (AKA Didi Groll) - November 1983- November1986 - Yaari is the grandson of Mapam head Meir Yaari. He participated in the action on the "Island of Rabbits" and was lightly wounded.

Uri Teitz - November 4, 1986 - July 27, 1987 - Died by drowning during his daily run.

Yishayahu (Shaikeh) Brosh - August 1987 - 1990 (?) Brush replaced Teitz.

1990- 1993 Gal Ronen

Yoav Galant - 1993-1997 - Galant had served previously in Shayetet 13 and then went to the United States where he worked in the forests of Alaska. He was military liaison in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and in 2005 he was appointed head of the Southern Command.

Erez Tsuckerman (Zukerman) - 1999- 2001.

Ami Isseroff

May 25, 2009

Further Reading:

מיכאל (מייק) אלדר, שייטת 13 - סיפורו של הקומנדו הימי, הוצאת ספריית מעריב,1993


Synonyms and alternate spellings: 

Further Information:   


Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.


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