The Yom Kippur War, which began forty-three years ago on October 6, 1973, taught Israel many lessons. One of the lessons learned was the need for better special operations preparation. The result of this, writes The Jerusalem Post's Yaakov Lappin, is the elite Shaldag (Hebrew for "kingfisher") commando unit:
Built to gather intelligence and attack enemy targets in a stealthy and surprising manner, the unit's achievements are numerous, dramatic, and hidden behind a tight veil of official secrecy. A senior military source familiar with the unit said last week that its area of coverage began where Israel's borders ended, and continued onwards, far beyond.
The unit is active during routine times such as these, carrying out covert, highly sensitive special operations, and plays key roles during conflicts as well.
Founded forty years ago in 1976, Shaldag was created as a result of lessons learned during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in the wake of a conclusion by the defense establishment, according to which, the IDF was poorly prepared for special operations. The IAF wanted its own ground unit, to be able to hunt down and destroy enemy surface-to-air missile batteries, and set up Shaldag.
Throughout the years, the unit underwent several stages of evolution, falling under the IAF's direct command in 1986, and becoming a core part of the IAF's special airborne forces headquarters in 1992.
A year earlier, in 1991, when Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles began raining down on Israel, the unit's members were on board helicopters heading east to Iraq, when they were recalled by the government.
Their mission to destroy mobile Iraqi missile launchers had been aborted. Most missions since then have gone ahead. "This is a special force built by the standards of the air force," the senior source said. Flexibility, readiness, and total availability for missions are core features.
Sometimes, the unit operates alone, conducting missions that will never come to light. On other occasions, they join other IDF combined armed operations. All members sign up to one year of additional service, and carry out combat reserve duties in the unit until they turn 34.