Shaldag

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Overview


Formed in 1976, Shaldag ("Kingfisher" in Hebrew) is an elite IDF SF airborne unit. Shaldag first became public in the mid 1990's, when its name and general description began appearing in informative brochures sent to potential SF recruits, making it one of last IDF SF units to become publicly known. The unit celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016.

Hidden away from the media frenzy surrounding most IDF SF units, Shaldag managed to carve itself a reputation as an IDF Tier 1 unit, on par with Sayeret MATKAL and Shayetet 13. With Sayeret MATKAL primary focus on intelligence gathering, Shaldag is considered by many as the IDF prominent airborne commando force.

 

History


Shaldag was created as an operational lesson from the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In that war Sayeret MATKAL found itself essentially unemployed due to lack of dedicated wartime missions. As Sayeret MATKAL receives its orders directly from the IDF High Command, once that command engaged in the daily management of the war, the unit found itself chasing missions independently. With most of these missions being last minute assignments, they failed to leverage the Sayeret MATKAL full and considerable potential, with the unit instead deployed as a highly capable infantry unit.

After the war, Muki Betser, Sayeret MATKAL XO and a well known SF officer, led a massive reorganization in the unit. The main goal was to provide Sayeret MATKAL with specific wartime missions and the related capabilities so it can more effectively contribute to a future Israeli war effort.

One of the gaps identified was ground-to-air cooperation. Unlike the 1967 Six Day War, when the IAF was able to quickly gain and maintain air superiority, in the Yom Kippur War the IAF suffered severe loses in airplanes and crews due to SAM. Many of these casualties could have been avoided with an efficient air-to-ground cooperation, taking out SAM sites prior to the air strikes. Accordingly, one of outcomes from Sayeret MATKAL reorganization, was the formation of a small reserve SF outfit, which specialized in air-to-ground cooperation and later on laser designation. This new outfit was initially located within Sayeret MATKAL base, and draw personnel and equipment from Sayeret MATKAL.

In 1976, with the IAF procuring large amount of laser guided munitions and the growing Israeli involvement in South Lebanon, air assaults become a regular occurrence and Shaldag was formally established as regular unit, with Muki Betser, its founder, as its first CO. At the time the unit was commonly known as the Air Ground Designating Team ("T'zevet Simun Karka Avir - TSKA" in Hebrew).

In 1981, with a large-scale invasion to Lebanon a near certain future, the unit was detached from Sayeret MATKAL, assigned under the IAF, expanded and relocated to its own base. The unit was also appointed a new commander - Giora Inbar, formerly of PALSAR Golani.

Today, while Shaldag is no longer a reserve outfit within Sayeret MATKAL, the two units are still relatively connected. They share a similar selection pipeline and officers from the two units occasionally rotate between them.

 

Transformation


In the mid 1990's Shaldag transformed from a primarily laser designating unit into an all purpose airborne commando outfit. As part of this transformation, the unit also acquired CT and hostage rescue capabilities.

Some of Shaldag unique capabilities can be attributed to its generous budget. While most IDF SF units struggle to fund new equipment in an ever-shrinking defense budget, Shaldag benefits from a large budget allowing it to buy state of art hardware and then modify it to its needs. This budget is a side effect of unit's IAF affiliation as the operating costs of an SF unit pale in comparison to those of an aircraft squadron.

 

Training


As with Sayeret MATKAL from which it was originally formed, Shaldag look after the UK SAS as a role model. Upon graduation of their training phase, Shaldag operators receive David Sterling's book 'The Phantom Major' on the SAS campaign against the Germans in the Middle East during World War Two.

Shaldag training regime is 20 months long, among the longest in the IDF. The unit's operator training regime largely resembles that of Sayeret MATKAL and comprised of "phases", in which navigation exercises are followed by other type of training, followed again by navigation exercises. This method is designed to provide the soldiers with extensive navigation experience while elevating some of the physical stress from long forced marches with heavy weights.

The unit's training regime is comprised of the following:

  • Six months of basic and advanced infantry training

  • Parachuting course in the IDF Parachuting School

  • Counter Terror course in the IDF Counter Terror School

  • Months of all weather all terrain navigation exercises

  • Air to ground cooperation and airborne operations

  • Intelligence gathering and reconnaissance training

  • Specialized courses such as snipers and medics

 

Operations


Peace Of the Galilee

In June 1982, after severe attacks on civilian targets in northern Israel, the IDF invaded to Lebanon to wipe out terrorist headquarters. The IAF was send in first to destroy the SAM and gain air superiority. Unlike the Yom Kippur War in 1973, this time the IAF was ready. With Shaldag support the IAF was able to destroy most SAM sites in Lebanon in just few hours, and subsequently shot down over 80 Syrian planes in dogfights without a single Israeli aircraft lost.

During the war, Shaldag was also involved in the notorious fight that took place in June 10, 1982, in which General Yakutiel Adam was killed in action. General Adam and his assistant joined a Shaldag team in a reconnaissance mission. The team entered into a ambush and General Adam and his assistant were killed. Most of the Shaldag team members were badly injured and were assisted by PALSAR Golani team.

General Adam is the highest ranking officer killed in action from 1982 to date. He was due to be appointed as the new head of Mossad just few weeks after his premature death. In 1985, when the IDF founded its special training facility, it was named after him - "Mitkan Adam".

Undercover Missions

In 1986-1987, during the first years of the Palestinian uprising, Shaldag was among the first units to conduct undercover missions wearing plain cloths. These missions took place prior to the formation and deployment of Shimshon and Duvdevan in 1987.

Operation Moses and Operation Solomon

Operation Moses in 1984 and in Operation Solomon in 1991 were IDF-Mossad joint operations to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel. During the operations, Shaldag teams arrived with the IAF C130 airplanes to Ethiopia and secured both the Mossad agents and the landing zones .

Shaldag Guide