Israel Air Force Launches Special Ops Wing to Improve Prowess ‘Deep Inside Enemy Territory’

The IAF is putting its commando forces under one umbrella, but critics wish the units involved were cooperating with counterparts across the wider military

Yaniv Kubovich
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Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz flanking air force chief Amikam Norkin at the graduation ceremony of a pilots' course, June 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz flanking air force chief Amikam Norkin at the graduation ceremony of a pilots' course, June 2020.Credit: Haim Horenstein
Yaniv Kubovich

The air force on Sunday inaugurated its new Wing 7 special forces outfit that the military says will improve Israel’s “special operations deep inside enemy territory in wartime, and in the campaign between the wars.”

The new Israel Air Force wing puts all the IAF special forces under one umbrella, including the 669 rescue and evacuation unit and the Shaldag commando unit.

“We learned from the U.S. Army Special Forces about combining the special forces with the air force,” said the head of Wing 7, a colonel whose name has not been released because of the nature of the new configuration.

The Israel Defense Forces’ strategic decision is a deeper connection with the air force. We identified an opportunity – amid a desire to increase the capabilities of the IAF special forces,” he said at the ceremony, which took place at the Palmahim air base south of Tel Aviv.

The opening of the new wing is part of IDF chief Aviv Kochavi’s plan for the wider military between 2020 and 2024. When Kochavi took over as chief of staff in January 2019, he said he sought a military that is “deadly, efficient and modern.”

On Sunday, the Wing 7 chief said that due to the economic crisis in Israel and worldwide, the military had used its own budget to set up the new unit. He mentioned an “improving of our intelligence capabilities and new operational capabilities that will support that.”

Kochavi is implementing his multiyear program even though it has not been approved by the cabinet and has not been presented in full to the security cabinet or the Finance Ministry, which has not reached agreements with the IDF.

The military’s biggest project in recent years has been to improve its digital communications so that “everyone will be able to speak to everyone” – for example, a battalion commander with a pilot, or a tank with a drone.

Critics say Wing 7 is an attempt by the air force to continue to separate itself from the ground forces and preserve the prestige of the air force’s special forces, for which there is great demand among recruits.

Some officers in the wider military believe that the air force units involved could have been joined with similar units across the IDF, but the air force preferred to keep its special forces units in-house.

“At the end of the process we have an improved capability that will make our special forces more effective in battle, with more influence on air superiority,” air force chief Amikam Norkin said at the ceremony.