The Israeli Air Force opened a new unit on Sunday aimed at bringing all of its special forces units under one roof.
The new 7th Aerial Special Forces Wing will contain the air force’s elite search-and-rescue Unit 669; the Shaldag commando unit; the Frontal Landing Unit, which builds ad hoc landing strips behind enemy lines; a dedicated intelligence unit for the wing; and a special forces school.
By bringing all of these freestanding units into one wing — a nearly two-year process — the air force hopes to streamline their operations and make them more effective. Until now, these units have all operated independently within the air force, lacking the staff and management that come with being a larger wing. The unit will be under the command of an officer who can only be identified by his rank and first Hebrew initial of his name, Col. “Ayin.”
“The wing was formed as part of an overall process of strengthening as well as streamlining and improving operational effectiveness of the units,” the military said in a statement.
The unit was meant to be opened with a large public ceremony at its new home in the Palmahim Air Base in central Israel, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event was dramatically reduced in size.
During the small ceremony, IAF chief Amikam Norkin said the formation of the new wing “will make our special forces more effective in battle, more influential in our aerial superiority and more a part of all the processes and scenarios taking place in the air force.
“We are moving now to the new era in the history of the Aerial Special Forces Wing — we are standing on the shoulders of our predecessors, who were courageous and took action — and now we are leading the way,” he said.
Though not directly a part of it, the decision to open the new wing came as the Israel Defense Forces goes through a reorganization under the multi-year Momentum Plan, which is meant to make the military more effective and lethal.
“The timing of the opening of the wing, during the new multi-year plan, represents an opportunity to make deep changes and to deal with new challenges in a changing reality,” the IDF said.
The heliborne Unit 699 is Israel’s premier search-and-rescue outfit, working not only within the military but also in civilian cases where people or vehicles go missing.
The unit, which flies Black Hawk helicopters, larger Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion heavy transport helicopters and other aircraft, was based out of the Tel Nof Air Base in central Israel, but has since moved to Palmahim with the rest of the 7th Wing.
Unit 669 has been involved in countless search-and-rescue operations, evacuating injured soldiers out of war zones under heavy fire, rescuing sailors stranded at sea, and locating lost hikers.
It was formed, along with the Shaldag unit, in 1974 as a result of lessons learned from the previous year’s Yom Kippur War.
Shaldag, from the Hebrew for the kingfisher bird, is a commando unit that can operate far behind enemy lines, performing reconnaissance operations and other missions related to the air force’s activities.
This includes traveling to sites that the air force hopes to strike in advance in order to designate them as targets using lasers and other advanced technology, such as in 2007 ahead of the IDF’s mission to bomb Syria’s nascent nuclear reactor, according to the British Sunday Times. The unit was also reportedly involved in a number of assassinations of Palestinian terrorist leaders.
In addition, in the 1980s, the Shaldag unit — also known as Unit 5701 — was part of the effort to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel in what is known as Operation Moses.
Though less well-known than the other special forces units making up the 7th Squadron, the Frontal Landing Unit has its own impressive history of achievements — almost none of which are known to the public.
The unit is tasked with sending specialists deep behind enemy lines to convert desert and dirt into working airfields, which transport planes of all sizes can then use to bring in fighters and equipment, and then remove all traces of evidence before leaving the area.
The Frontal Landing Unit had operated out of the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel, but it too will move to Palmahim, the military said.