The war between wars.” This is the term that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz uses to describe the covert operations that the military’s special forces carry out during times of apparent quiet.
This war is fought by anonymous commandos whose missions mostly remain unknown to the public, as well as by large parts of the Israeli defense establishment. Once in a while, Israelis get a taste of what this so-called war entails.
Such was the case in April when operatives from the navy’s Flotilla 13 – better known as the Shayetet – boarded the Liberian-flagged HS Beethoven cargo ship as it was sailing almost 300 kilometers from Israel’s coast. The ship had set sail from Lebanon and was on its way to Egypt. The commandos searched the ship for weapons for nearly 12 hours without success.
Last March, a similar operation succeeded. Commandos from the Shayetet, intercepted a cargo ship called Victoria that was carrying some 50 tons of weaponry – including radar-guided anti-ship missiles – and was on its way to Egypt. The arms were believed to be intended for terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.
But these are just two examples. A few months ago, The Jerusalem Post revealed that overseas covert operations conducted by the IDF have doubled over the past year, an indication of the growing threats Israel faces in the region.
Most of the details about these operations are classified, including the exact number, but according to foreign reports, the IDF has operated in places such as Sudan, Lebanon and Iran.
The increase in operations is not without purpose and, according to senior officers intimately familiar with the activity, the man responsible for the increase is Gantz, who believes that the IDF cannot sit idly by as its enemies – particularly Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad – build up militarily.
“He puts a major emphasis on this so-called war between wars,” a senior member of the IDF General Staff explained recently. “Not only do these operations provide tangible results but they also send a message to our adversaries and boost deterrence.”
Currently, the IDF has three main units that make up its elite commando force – the navy’s Shayetet, the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit – better known as Sayeret Matkal – and the Israel Air Force’s Shaldag Unit, which reportedly conducts target designation for IAF fighter jets behind enemy lines.
After almost a decade of consideration, Gantz finally decided in December to consolidate the elite units under a new formation called the Depth Corps. To lead the corps, Gantz brought out of retirement Maj.-Gen. Shai Avital, a former commander of Sayeret Matkal, who also happens to be a close friend of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Read More: Jerusalem Post