The IDF has significantly increased the number of overseas covert operations it has conducted over the past year, an indication of the growing threats Israel faces in the region, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Most of the details about the 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 one confirmed covert operation in the past year was in March 2011, when commandos from the navy’s elite Flotilla 13 – or Shayetet 13 – boarded the Victoria cargo ship sailing in the Mediterranean from Turkey en route to Egypt.

The ship was carrying 50 tons of weaponry, including a number of advanced radar-guided anti-ship missiles destined for Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In December, foreign reports claimed the Israel Air Force bombed two arms convoys on their way to the Gaza Strip in Sudan. One of the reports claimed an Israeli helicopter was spotted over an island near Sudan and that a submarine was also detected in the area.

Last April a car was bombed near Port Sudan. Arab media reports accused Israel of the strike against the car whose occupants were reportedly Islamist terrorists involved in arms-smuggling to Hamas.

The IDF has a number of units that specialize in covert operations – the Air Force is in command of Shaldag, Military Intelligence in command of the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) and the navy in command of Shayetet 13.

While the number of operations conducted by Israel’s special forces has increased over the past year, there has been a feeling within the General Staff since the Second Lebanon War that the units could do more if they worked closer together and if there was better coordination between their respective branches.

In an effort to improve their capabilities, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz decided in December to establish the “Depth Corps” – a new unit that will oversee operations deep in enemy territory.

The corps will be headed by Maj.-Gen. Shai Avital, a former commander of the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, who has been out of the IDF for over a decade. Gantz selected Avital due to his expertise in deep-covert operations.

The purpose of the corps will be to enable each unit – Sayeret Matkal, Shaldag and Shayetet – to retain their unique capabilities and at the same time create better coordination between themselves.

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