Israeli Special Forces Overview

The IDF and its SF are very different in many ways from their western counterparts. Due to the severity of the Israeli security situation over the years, all men and woman over 18 years old are obligated to serve a mandatory service in one of the Israeli security organizations. Man serve three years, while woman serve 18-21 months, although the woman mandatory service is much more loosely enforced. Naturally, most of the draftees serve in the IDF, while the rest serve in the Israeli Police, the Israeli Border Guard, and some even in clerical positions in the SHABACH and Mossad.

Selection for the IDF SF units is done at a very early stage. In most units it takes place prior to the to enlistment, when the future soldiers are still teenagers in high school. In other units it is done during the basic infantry training stage.

Accordingly, unlike most SF units worldwide, there is no need to a have prior military service with a conventional military unit in order to apply and get selected into an IDF SF unit. Moreover, if one does not succeed in enrolling to one of the SF units prior to IDF enlistment or during his first months of IDF service, he will probably never do. Therefore, a soldier can be an operator in a SF unit from his day one in the IDF and throughout his three mandatory years service.

Moreover, while in most armies one can move up the units, hence start his service in a regular unit or in a lower tier SF unit, and then move up to a more elite unit, in the IDF it is typically the other way around. Soldiers are assigned to the most elite unit they qualified for, and if they fail selection or drop out of training they will get reassigned to a lower tier SF unit or to a infantry unit. There are few rare cases in which reassignment happens the way around, mainly involving outstanding officers that had moved up from infantry units to a commanding positions within SF units.

In order to be accepted into most IDF SF units, one must first pass a selection phase, known as "Gibush". The Gibush lasts up to a week and focuses on physical stamina and performance under sleep depravation, fatigue, intense mental and physical stress. There are also written exams and an interview with a psychologist, which usually take place at the end of the Gibush. Few hundreds man try out for each unit during its Gibush. Out of which only 50-100 will see the Gibush through and the best few dozens will be selected for the unit. In due time the selected personnel will enlist the IDF together and form a single integral team. After enlistment, the soldiers began a training regime (known as "Maslul"), which in most IDF SF units lasts up to 22 months. Only on the conclusion of the entire Maslul are the soldiers qualified as operational warriors, receive their unit's insignia and may engage in combat.

Unlike most foreign SF units, after the end of the Maslul the soldiers are not reassigned to existing operational teams, but would rather typically remain at the same integral team from their recruitment date to the end of their service. Since all soldiers in the team join the IDF at the same time, the IDF SF teams have a unique naming system, in which each team usually is referred to by the team's enlistment month and year. For example, "PALSAR Golani August 07 team", refers to a PALSAR Golani team, which enlisted in August 2007 and will finish its IDF service in August 2010, three years later. For a shorter call sign, most teams are simply known by their current team leader first name, e.g. "Adam's Team". All personnel in the team have a homogenous military background. They are all in about the same age (18-21) and have the exact same military background, with the exception of dropouts from more elite SF units who might have joined the team.

Since the IDF service is mandatory, during the first three years all soldiers including officers receive a symbolic monthly salary of few hundreds dollars. Once the mandatory service ends if a soldier continue to serve, he will receive a regular market salary. Due to IDF financial constraints, even most SF operators rarely serve more then the IDF three years mandatory service. As most IDF SF soldiers receive up to 22 months training they end up with just a little over a year to serve as operational soldiers. To address this issue, some of the IDF more elite units, such as Sayeret MATKAL, Shayetet 13, Shaldag and 669, require the volunteers to sign an additional 1-2 years of non-mandatory service. However, in most units this additional service period is loosely enforced and the only ones that truly serve for a long durations are officers.

In the Israeli Law Enforcement SF units recruitment model is different than in the IDF and more resembles that of foreign SF units. In order to be accepted into most Law Enforcement SF units, one must first complete his three years mandatory IDF service in a combat position, typically infantry or SF unit, and then pass a selection phase. On the conclusion of training the new operators are assigned to existing operational teams according to need, and can stay in combat status until the age of 40, pending successfully passing of the physical and tactical periodical qualification tests.

Introduction Guide