Sayeret Matkal: an Elite Israeli Special Operations Force

When thinking of a highly specialized counterterrorism force, you might think of the Green Berets or Delta Force. Read on to find out about the Sayeret Matkal, a highly trained, counterterrorism force that serves as a model for all others worldwide.

This counter-terrorism force is known for its quick, accurate, and effective methods, which have saved many hostages and deterred terrorists from carrying out attacks. The training these soldiers receive, not only create exceptional leaders within the force but ones that continue on to be leaders of their country.

When you read this article, you can learn:

  • * The Creation and Purpose of the Sayeret Matkal
  • * Training of the Recruits
  • * Missions of the Sayeret Matkal

The Creation and Purpose of the Sayeret Matkal

The Sayeret Matkal is an elite commando unit that is part of the Israeli Defence force. It was founded in 1957 by its first commander, Avraham Arnan. Originally, he conceived the group as an intelligence-gathering unit. Members were not recruited by were discovered when their skills were noticed during military service. The Sayeret Matkal also served as a training ground for Israel’s most powerful leaders such as Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as future generals and intelligence officers.

Modern terrorism began in the mid-1970s after the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Between 1967 and 1985 the Palestine Liberation Organization was involved in 30 hijackings and over 8,000 acts of terrorism. With this new terrorism, the Sayeret Matkal, also known as the Unit, expanded from just gathering intelligence to acting upon the information.

The Unit has evolved into intelligence gathering, reconnaissance operations, and hostage rescues. Most operations take place behind enemy lines.

The Unit’s purpose is to see the solution to a problem and more importantly, be the resistance to terrorism. This organization is similar to the Green Berets, the Delta Force, or the British SAS. The Unit operates in secrecy as they collect intelligence and then act on it. When they attack, they attack in small numbers and then disappear as quickly as they appeared. Their success is dependent on detailed planning and specialized highly developed skills.

The Sayeret Matkal has about 200 full-time commandos with hundreds of more in reserves. They are organized into divisions, which operate in groups of 15 or 20. The average time a member is on active duty is about 5 years, then they are moved into the reserves.

Before a mission, numerous strategies are presented, then a course of action is determined, and finally, permission is given by top leaders of the country to proceed.

Training of the Recruits

New recruits attend Gibbush, a training camp. During this camp, the new recruits are put through rigorous training while being monitored by doctors and psychologists.

Veteran Sayeret Matkal soldiers watch recruits for the qualities that are valued in this elite group as they run drills and exercises. After making it through the first week of drills, recruits are put through many more drills that include stretcher carries, running, sports, visual memory tests, and sleep deprivation. Veteran operatives continuously test the recruits’ tempers and stamina.

Out of scores of recruits, the trainees are reduced to only 12 or more who are sent to paratrooper training. Basic training is extended for 6 months more. Here, training includes weapons handling and more physical challenges.

Then recruits go on to a hidden training camp where they hone their skills with weapons, counter-terrorism, hand to hand combat.

The end of the training for the recruits is marked by a four-day trek through the desert to Masada, a historic location for Jews. Masada was the location where, 2,000 years ago, Zealots held out against the Roman legions who surrounded the fort. The current day recruits meet at this ancient fortress and the current leader of the Sayeret Matkal meets them. This leader pins on the Sayeret Matkal insignia signifying the end of two years of training and acceptance into the Sayeret Matkal.

Missions of the Sayeret Matkal

These specialized soldiers have carried out many important rescue missions. In 1972 the Sayeret Matkal was responsible for a mission to free hostages being held at the Tel Aviv Airport. In disguise as airport personnel, the Unit took control of the plane and freed the hostages.

In 1973 the Sayeret Matkal carried out a mission in Beirut, Lebanon. They began the mission by approaching Beirut by boat, dressed as tourists. They teamed up Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, who took Sayeret Matkal from the boat landing and drove them by car to the next location. Included in the group was Ehud Barak, the future prime minister of Israel. The target for the Unit was the home of the leaders of the Black September, an offshoot of the PLO. This group was responsible for the kidnapping of members of the Israeli Olympic team from the 1972 Games.

In 1974 was the year of a failed mission for the Sayeret Matkal. A school in Ma’alot in the north of Israel was taken over by a Marxist-Leninist organization. Both teachers and students were held hostage. As the Sayeret Matkal approached the school, the terrorists, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), shot the hostages.

In 1976 the Sayeret Matkal conducted the mission to rescue hostages from a plane that had been hijacked and flown 2,000 miles away to Uganda. In Uganda, the Palestinian terrorists separated Jewish passengers from the rest of the passengers. The Jewish were then taken to an old terminal building. Sayeret Matkal air-lifted in and conducted a surprise raid, saving all but three.


Sayeret Matkal is one of the most effective counterterrorism forces in the world. It serves as a model of precision and rapid resolution of terrorist situations. The rigorous and specialized training not only produces highly effective intelligence agents and soldiers but leaders that go on to lead the country as well. The Sayeret Matkal protects not only the country of Israel but each and every citizen.

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