IDF special forces troops in training exercise 311 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters Photographer / Reuters)
The lesson that can be learned from the IDF’s announcement on Thursday night
that it is establishing a strategic corps for operations deep in enemy territory
is an indication of the type of war Israel expects it will face – one that is
long and difficult and which cannot be won by simply fighting along the
The “Depth Corps” as it is called in Hebrew, will oversee
operations by special forces in an effort to enable each unit – Sayeret Matkal,
Shaldag and Flotilla 13 – to retain their unique capabilities, but at the same
time operate in better coordination and with less competition.
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the corps will be Maj.-Gen. (res.) Shai Avital, a former commander of Sayeret
Matkal, who has been out of the IDF for over a decade. His expertise in deep
covert operations as well as his friendship with Defense Minister Ehud Barak
helped him land the post.
The establishment of the new corps has been
under consideration for the past decade in the IDF but was repeatedly pushed off
due to more pressing issues.
What has changed is the nature of the threat
that Israel faces, which requires elite units to operate far from Israel and
deep within enemy territory.
With a possible confrontation looming on the
horizon with Iran, some in the IDF are already calling Avital the commander of
the “Iran Command,” or at least something along the lines of the the US
military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) which is led by Adm. William
McRaven, the officer who oversaw the operation that led to the death of Osama
bin Laden earlier this year.
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The corps’ job will be split into two
categories. It will firstly work with special forces and at times oversee their
covert operations which could be against arms smuggling to Hezbollah and Hamas,
or directly against Iran and its nuclear facilities.
special forces have had some spectacular successes in recent years – most of
which cannot be publicized – there has been a feeling within the General Staff
already 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
The current situation, under which the air force is in command
of Shaldag, Military Intelligence in command of Sayeret Matkal and the navy in
command of Flotilla 13 (also known as the Shayetet), will remain, but some of
the operations will now be directed by Avital, who will be subordinate to
The corps’ second role will be overseeing larger-scale military
operations deep in enemy territory, whether in places like Lebanon and
While each of these fronts has a regional command responsible for
it, the Northern Command is set up to operate until a certain line in Lebanon
and Syria, and not farther. The same is the case with the Southern Command in
The problem is that in a future war, the presence of Hezbollah’s
new long-range missiles inside Lebanon could require the IDF to operate deeper
inside the country, and not just in the south like it did in the summer of
If, for example, war breaks out with Syria and the IDF wants to
launch a joint air force-infantry-naval operation north of Damascus, Avital and
his new corps will play a key role in directing those forces.
concern within the IDF about the possible regional changes that could evolve out
of Syria, Egypt and even Iraq contributed to the decision to establish Avital’s
new corps. As one senior officer explained: “We build capabilities to provide
solutions in uncertain situations.”
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