Special Operations: Israel Makes a SOCOM


April 16, 2007: Israel is establishing a SOCOM (Special Operations Command), to coordinate the many different commando units it has in its armed forces. They did this after observing the success of the United States with their SOCOM. A series of Department of Defense reforms in the late 1980s included the establishment of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). This was a major step up for the commandos. SOCOM was now a "major command," with a four star general in charge. The SOCOM commander had control over all commandos in the Department of Defense. This was a unique situation. Normally, troops from different services don't operate in the same major unit ("command") like this. But the commandos didn't mind. Some of the service chiefs did, as they saw their men as useful "assets" for their service. But there was another trend in the 1980s Department of Defense; "Thinking Purple." This meant all the services cooperating more closely and thinking about each others capabilities and problems. Combining all the colors of each services uniforms and you get purple, and everyone in the Department of Defense was encouraged to get with this program. Not everyone did, but the commandos were enthusiastic about the proposition. They had long noted that commandos had more in common with other commandos (from different services, or even different nations), than with other people in their own service.

About two thirds of SOCOMs troops came from the army, which had their Special Forces, Rangers, Delta Force, psywar and civil affairs and special aviation units. The next largest contribution (about 20 percent) comes from the air force, who have several different types of air power related commandos and special aircraft units. The navy provided its SEALs and the special boat units needed to land them in hostile environments. The marine Force Recon LRRPs were the only commando units in Department of Defense that did not join SOCOM at the beginning. The marines finally signed on in 2005.

Israel has a large force of commando troops for a country its size. There are two small battalions of Arabic speaking troops used for undercover operations and raids into the Occupied (Palestinian) territories). Sayeret Shimshon (Unit 367) is assigned to the Gaza Strip, while Sayeret Duvdevan (Unit 217) takes care of the West Bank. There are four companies of Ranger type troops (Palsar) that normally each support one of the four elite infantry brigades of the army, and two more to support armored brigades. There are also three LRRP companies (Special Command Teams), with one assigned to each of the army's corps headquarters. Lotar Eilat and Unit Yamam are two hostage rescue units (each under 100 troops.) These units are also used as commandos (as when there is a lot of violence with the Palestinians.) There are also several hundred highly trained LRRP troops assigned directly to intelligence units. The navy has a SEAL unit (Shayetet 13) of about 400 men. This unit is more selective than the other commando units, with about 80 percent of it's candidates failing the training course, compared to about 50 percent with other commando units. The navy also has a company size unit of divers (similar to U.S. UDT). The police force also has over a thousand specially trained men who are a cut above your usual SWAT teams.

Israeli SOCOM will operate in a similar fashion to the U.S. SOCOM. Many Israeli military commanders have, over the last decade, urged the formation of a SOCOM. But the services could never agree on the details. It was the war with Hizbollah last Summer that put Israeli SOCOM over the top. Among the many problems Israeli troops had last Summer, included some coordination hassles with special operations units. These are the kinds of problems that SOCOM deal with, head on.


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