The IDF Paratroopers have earned a hard-won reputation for strict discipline, courage, initiative, dedication to duty and the highest standards of performance. They have consistently been at the forefront of the IDF and have set behavioral and operational norms for others to emulate.
Infantry, and Paratroopers in particular, provide flexibility and maneuverability to the modern battlefield. They are capable of operating under any field and weather conditions, day or night, combining rapid movement and firepower.
IDF Paratroopers are trained to overcome obstacles and minefields, to fight alone, or jointly with other forces and services in integrated combat. They can be transported by helicopter or dropped behind enemy lines, or be landed from amphibious landing craft. They can fight mounted on jeeps, or on APC’s and can operate against armor, attack helicopters and infantry. IDF Paratroopers are a major component in maintaining Israel’s security, and have played important roles in special and regular operations in Israel’s war against terrorism.
The Paratroop Brigade (commanded by a colonel) is one of the four regular brigades of the Infantry and Paratroop Corps (which is headed by a brigadier general). The Brigade is composed of infantry battalions, as well as reconnaissance, engineering, signals and anti-tank companies. The Infantry and Paratroop Corps is responsible for training and coordinating infantry operations with other forces. The corps is overseen by the Ground Corps Command which is responsible for unifying and streamlining infantry, armor, artillery and engineering forces, training doctrine matters, planning and R&D.
The history of this elite unit is replete with operations which have made front-page headlines over the world. The daring reprisal raids of the 50’s, the Mitla Pass jump and battles of the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the Conquest of Rafah and the historic unification of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, the airlifting of a Soviet radar station out of Egypt in 1969, the 1972 rescue, the 1973 commando raid against terrorist headquarters in the heart of Beirut, the bridgehead over the Suez and the bloody battle of the Chinese Farm during the Yom Kippur War, the unprecedented rescue of the passengers and crew of the hijacked Air France Airbus in “Operation Jonathan” at Entebbe… These are just a few of the operations which have made this unit legendary.
Paratroop officers and enlisted men have indeed become legends in their time. Many have acceded to the highest-level military positions and have gone on to make distinguished contributions to Israeli political life.
Training and Spirit
Every year, this all-volunteer unit receives as many as five times as many applicants as it can accept. Most candidates are screened out by rigorous acceptance criteria and the arduous training regimen that follows. Paratroop training, which is tough and unrelenting, reflects the versatile role which this force will have to play on present and future battlefields. This includes massive doses of physical fitness, topography, mastery of a wide array of weapons as well as training in mobile, airborne, heliborne and amphibious operations, as well as integrated operations with armor and artillery, day and night assaults against different types of objectives, and the famous IDF Jump School. All paratroopers go through NCO school before being trained in a military specialty. Those destined to become platoon leaders are sent to Officers’ School. Personal qualities required of an IDF Paratrooper are courage, professional knowledge, ability to decide, capacity to improvise solutions when faced with difficult or unexpected situations, and leadership ability. Officers must serve as personal examples to their men. Ties between officers and enlisted men are direct and long-lasting, with no artificial barrier separating them.
Women serve in the Infantry and Paratroop Corps as instructors (in such fields as marksmanship, anti-tank missiles, etc.), educators, administrative and technical personnel. At the Paratrooper Training Base, women likewise serve as parachute riggers and inspectors. They undergo a jump course to increase their identification with the paratroopers whose lives are literally in their hands.
IDF Paratroopers are a family, whose members (both living and deceased) are bound together by a bond of shared experiences and blood shed in battle. A union cemented by camaraderie, which transcends and blurs formal distinctions: an aristocracy of individual merit. Paratroopers continue to serve in their units after their discharge from compulsory service, either in the career army or the reserves (retaining their red berets). They remain part of the Paratrooper family, even after they pass beyond the stringently observed cut-off age for reserve duty, and are transferred to other units.
A Brief History
The antecedent of the Paratroopers group was a group of Palestinian Jewish volunteers who parachuted into Nazi-Europe in 1943 – 5 years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. These boys and girls, who fought in the ranks of the British army, helped organize Jewish resistance in Europe. Of the initial 32, 12 were captured and did not return. The most celebrated of this group were the poet Hannah Senesh, who was captured and executed in Nazi-occupied Hungary, and Yoel Palgi, who escaped from Nazi captivity and returned to lead resistance in Budapest.
Five years later, in the midst of Israel’s War of Independence, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion summoned Palgi to form the first Paratroop unit. At his disposal were an unsuitable commando aircraft and 4,000 second-hand chutes purchased as scrap material for the production of silk shirts. Palgi’s unit consisted of a heterogeneous assortment of native Israeli veterans of the British army and Palmach (shock troops), graduates of the jump group in Czechoslovakia, resistance veterans, ghetto survivors and a number of adventurers. The unit improvised equipment. Training was inadequate. Jumps were made without reserve chutes and often ended in tragedy. Though a number of operational plans called for paratroop drops, the war ended without the unit seeing action. In the summer of 1949, Yehuda Harari took command of the Paratroop Unit. He set to work reorganizing it and infusing new blood. He weeded out the unfit, moved the paratroopers to a more suitable base, acquired proper equipment, and organized the first jumpmasters course.
The 50’s were marked by infaltration of Arab terrorists across Israel’s borders. The infiltrators would carry out acts of murder, pillage, and sabotage. In the year 1952 alone there were 3,000 infiltrations. In order to curb these attacks it was decided to form a small unit of superlative fighting men who would carry out reprisal operations. This unit called itself the “101st”.
The 101st took on many difficult assignments behind enemy lines. The 101st gained quick recognition for being able to accomplish the “impossible”, for dedication to the mission, and for exemplary courage and daring. Among the outstanding members of the unit were the legendary Meir Har-Zion, known for his initiative, knowledge of the countryside and courage, and Ariel “Arik” Sharon.
Merger with the Paratroopers
Moshe Dayan, Chief of Operations and later Chief of Staff, envisaged the need for a large-scale Paratroop force. The merger of the 101st with the paratroopers became inevitable. The 101st breathed new life into the Paratroopers. Performance standards rose.
In the mean time, Fedayoun (Arab terror units) were established as adjuncts to the Egyptian army in April 1955, and soon similar units were organized in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Reprisal operations took the form of actions against regular enemy forces. In one such assault against a 200-man Egyptian brigade headquarters and security complex in Khan-Yunis, Mordechai “Motta” Gur was badly wounded. In operation Kinneret, (11 December 1955), undertaken after continued Syrian shelling of Israeli fishing vessels, a brigade-strength force of Paratroopers augmented by other elements, crossed the Sea of Galilee and destroyed Syrian positions. Casualties in the operation included Rafael Eitan (wounded in his stomach) and Yitzhak Ben Menachem (surnamed “Gulliver” because of his height), an Independence War hero who had replaced Motta Gur as Company Commander.
The Paratroopers were expanded to brigade strength and placed under the command of “Arik” Sharon. “Raful” Eitan commanded a veteran battalion. Retaliation operations against enemy fortifications succeeded one another: Rahwa, Jarandal, Husan, Kalkilya. During 1955-56 there were 10 major reprisal operations which brought temporary remissions in terrorist activity and gave valuable combat experience to the young brigade. Lessons drawn from each operation were promptly incorporated into the unit’s doctrine.
The Paratroopers Brigade in the Present
Today, the Paratroopers Brigade is involved in regular security activity at the border lines, and is subordinate to the Central Command.