One of the most secretive units in the whole of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Shayetet 13 is the naval component of Israel’s special operations forces. Like the U.S. Navy SEALs, Shayetet 13 (or S13 for short) specializes in counter-terrorism, sabotage, intelligence gathering, hostage rescue and boarding ships at sea.
Unlike other units in the IDF, whose mandatory service requirements are the same 36 months required of every Israeli citizen, S13 volunteers must give at least four and half years to the unit.
The unit is almost as old as the modern state of Israel itself. It was founded by naval forces from the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization under the British Mandate of Palestine, which would later become the modern day IDF.
Like the U.S. Navy SEALs, the elite S13 unit had a rough start, with a few failures early on. Once they got going, however, they became the fighting force they were always meant to be. In a joint operation with Sayeret Matkal (think IDF Delta Force), the Israelis took out an Egyptian early warning radar system on Green Island, a base at the mouth of the Suez Canal, just to remind the Egyptian military that no one was safe from Israel.
During the War of Attrition, a yearlong series of artillery shelling, commando raids, and aerial combat between Israel and Egypt, Syria, Jordan, the Soviet Union, and Cuba, Shayetet 13 operators raided ports and destroyed boats in Egypt, destroyed training bases and units in Lebanon, as well as bases in Syria.
During Operation Wrath of God, the Israeli retaliation against terrorists who killed Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, S13 raided the Lebanese capital of Beirut. Called Operation Spring of Youth, this raid is depicted in the 2005 film Munich.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, S13 conducted ambushes and guerrilla raids in Lebanon and sunk many Egyptian ships in port during raids there. During the 1982 Israel-Lebanon War, they created beachheads for Israeli armor, captured high-value targets, and decimated Hezbollah fighter units.
The unit isn’t without controversy. They are the unit who raided the Mavi Marmara relief flotilla bound for Gaza from Turkey. The commando claimed they came under attack from activists who were armed, but the activists maintain there were no arms on board. Nine of the Mavi Marmara’s people were killed in the incident.
The training for S13 is as grueling as any elite force’s training. 20 months long, the selection process is held only twice every year and starts with intense physical and psychological testing. A six-month basic training and advanced infantry training phase follows before three months of advanced infantry and weapons training, parachute training, maritime warfare, boat operations, forced marches, and demolitions. The next phase includes combat diving and operating in high-risk environments.
All this leads to a yearlong phase of complete immersive training and counter-terrorism. Trainees raid oil rigs, ships, and coastal structures. They are then divided into three specialized unites based on their interests and skills.
The Cold War prompted the space race, the nuclear arms race and other weapons races that yielded forward-thinking innovations like fixed-wing planes that can take off vertically—VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) — from any platform or surface.
The technology was already being tinkered with by the Germans before the Nazi collapse and further developed by other nations, including the Brits and the Soviets. The U.S. Navy saw its potential and became interested in high-performance fighter aircraft capable of taking off from small ships.
Lockheed and Convair were awarded contracts in May 1951 to develop VTOL fighters suitable for the military. But the project was canned in 1955 after it became clear that VTOL fighters were too slow and only the most experienced pilots could fly them. So much for the notion of having tactical aircraft on every ship.
The following is video footage of Convair’s XFY Pogo’s takeoff and landing test on May 18, 1955.
Forget what you read in the news, America is still the leader of freedom in the world. There’s no shortage of allies that have our back, either. Whether the President of the United States is Joe Biden, Donald Trump or Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, countries will still be lining up to be on the right side of history.
No matter what the obstacle or threat to freedom the world over, the United States can count on a slew of allies to have its back. They may not all be world or even regional powers, but they are there; ready and willing to do whatever it takes.
It’s a lot more helpful if they’re militarily capable, however, so when these five countries say they’re in, victory comes a lot smoother and faster.
1. The United Kingdom
The UK is America’s ride-or-die, and vice versa. There’s a reason we all call our alliance a “special relationship.” Some people will say the United Kingdom is a shadow of its former imperial glory, but those people are fools. If you mess with the queen’s possessions, she’s coming for you, whether you’re fighting in Europe, the Pacific, or – God help you – the Falkland Islands.
The UK was there for America in Afghanistan because they were obligated by article five of the NATO treaty. But you know they would have been there, treaty or no treaty. Even when the intelligence on Iraq was dubious at best, Britain didn’t even hesitate to smoke out Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces in Basra. The UK ensured the “Coalition of the Willing” sent a message to America’s enemies: all your base are belong to us.
France gets a lot of undeserved flak for losing World War II (at first). Anyone who goes toe-to-toe with the French these days is fighting an army trying to shake off the perception of being cheese eating surrender monkeys. God help anyone who gets on the wrong side of a Franco-American alliance, because this usually means an empire is about to fall.
There’s a reason France and the United States rarely join forces, because there’s no stopping the pain train the two can inflict on literally any country or alliance. Our two countries don’t often see eye-to-eye on many issues, so teaming up against a common foe is rare these days. When it does happen, however, an alliance between France and the United States means some serious threats to democracy are about to be put in their place.
India is constantly preparing to fight a war on two fronts, most likely between perennial arch-nemesis Pakistan and crouching tiger China. Although the United States maintains an uneasy alliance with Pakistan, the term “frenemies” is much more apt. If stuff hits the fan and the U.S. has to choose sides, the world’s largest democracy is going to be our ally.
And that just makes sense. India lives in a tough neighborhood but is ready to come out swinging, as they’ve shown time and again. In an all-out war with China, there will be no ally more crucial or more capable than that of India and its billion-plus people, massive submarine force, and mountaineering Gurkhas that are bound to show China what real pain feels like.
The United States has had its geopolitical differences with Israel – and who hasn’t? If we’re talking about living in a tough neighborhood, America’s Jewish best friend has had the hardest time living in one, historically. Israel is the U.S.’ foothold in the Middle East. Israelis can sleep comfortably at night knowing that if, somehow, the Israel Defense Forces gets overrun by all its Arab neighbors, there will be a fleet of United States Marines in Tel Aviv and Haifa in 24 hours.
The United States doesn’t often need the help of outside nations, but if it did, Israel would be the first in line to send troops, doctors, aircraft and whatever else was required for victory. This has nothing to do with America’s unending support for the Jewish state since it won independence in 1948, that’s just how the IDF rolls: no better friend, no worse enemy.
Although it may not seem like a close ally lately, buying Russian S-300 missile batteries and giving up on the NATO alliance’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Turkey has long been a friend to the United States and its interests in a complex area of the world. Ankara allows the U.S. to operate its most devastating air-to-ground support weapon from its shores: the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which helped topple ISIS in Syria.
Most importantly, Turkey is the crossroads of the global east to the global west. It bridges a number of worlds. It’s not only the strategic gateway from Europe to Asia. It’s also the key entry point from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, and its place in the world allows the U.S. to position key ships, aircraft, and nuclear weapons where they’re most needed.
As it turns out, kidnapping is big business. Between 2008 and 2015, terrorist groups have reportedly collected more than $125 million in ransom payments. But terrorists don’t just kidnap to make money, they can make way more selling oil — roughly $3 million per day.
This TestTube News video explains other reasons they abduct people and the pros and cons of negotiating with terrorists:
Cyberattacks are the best way for America’s enemies to mess around with the United States without triggering a full-scale war. Let’s be real, if China and Russia saw real-world retaliation for every time they messed with U.S. computer systems, we’d be in the middle of World War III right now.
But aside from stealing military technology, hacking the names and bank accounts of every federal employee, and mucking about in some utility companies, their cyber intrusions have been little more than a nuisance up to this point. That’s not how American cyberwarriors operate.
When the United States and Israel conduct a cyber attack, there’s a good reason for it and the target is clear. Stuxnet, a malicious virus designed to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment program, was the sniper rifle of the U.S. cyber weapons arsenal.
First uncovered in 2010, the Stuxnet worm was introduced onto the computer systems of the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. The program was specifically engineered to be on that particular server, one that had to be running Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition software, that had to be using Siemens technology (specifically, Siemens 7), and had control over a programmable logic controller (PLC), controlling an electric motor. If all of these conditions didn’t exist, the program would eventually delete itself.
PLCs are a critical component of almost all major manufacturing facilities and automated machines, managing everything from traffic lights to pipe valves. There was only one place in the world where those conditions existed: the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran. Those motors were controlling the centrifuges that were enriching uranium for Iran’s nuclear program.
What this means is that whoever created the Stuxnet worm had an insider in the Natanz nuclear facility, one who knew the exact conditions malicious code would have to attack, as well as how best to permanently damage the facility’s operations, or at least set it back a little bit.
Moreover, since the computer systems at Natanz weren’t connected to the internet, the inside man would also have to be able to introduce the worm to the Natanz controlling systems. According to the Times of Israel, this was done by the CIA and Mossad, who set up a fake front company with the sole purpose of getting Dutch intelligence agents posing as technicians into the facility.
Once introduced, the worm lay dormant. Once awakened, it looks for the conditions that would begin its destructive sequence. At Natanz, it found those conditions and began to force the centrifuges to spin too fast for too long, damaging the mechanical equipment. Meanwhile data collection and reporting software tells monitoring engineers that all systems are operating normally.
At Natanz, Stuxnet damaged 1,000 of the estimated 5,000 gas centrifuges before Iran realized something was amiss. They would reportedly execute a number of personnel at the facility, although it’s not known if intelligence assets were killed in the fallout. The day the Iranian government revealed what happened there, two Iranian nuclear scientists were killed by car bombs, further complicating the program’s restart.
No intelligence agency has ever taken credit for the Natanz Stuxnet attacks, but evidence is clear that it was a highly-engineered bug, designed for a limited mission with a small target. But like most clandestine operations, there was unexpected blowback.
The Stuxnet virus escaped from the computers at Natanz and has since spread to other systems across the world, including European manufacturers and a Russian nuclear power plant – and possibly more. Stuxnet is difficult to find and is self-replicating, so computer systems infected by the worm may not realize it until it’s too late.
And it’s not the heat, boredom, mortars, IEDs, lack of running water or anything else associated with roughing it that they miss — they can do that on a camping trip. In this clip, war correspondent Sebastian Junger nails the reason why.
Ever since Eugene Ely became the first person to take off from — and land on — a ship in 1911, naval aviation has forged a unique identity within the American military. They fly, but they’re not the Air Force. They’re sailors, but only some of them never drive ships.
With a record of accomplishment in peace and war, they have a few things to brag about. Some of them might even surprise you.
1. The U.S. Navy is the second largest air force in the world.
Judged on number of airplanes, the U.S. Navy is the second-largest air force, not just in the United States, but in the entire world. It has over 3,700 aircraft — far fewer than the U.S. Air Force’s 5,500 but more than the Russian Air Force’s 3,000 planes. That is, at least until Vladimir Putin buys more.
2. They were the first Americans in WWI.
The first American military force to arrive in Europe after the United States entered World War I was the 1st Naval Air Unit, commanded by Lt. Kenneth Whiting (Naval Aviator #16, who had been trained by Orville Wright… yes, that Orville Wright).
3. They completed the first crossing of the Atlantic by air.
Naval aviators must have decided riding colliers across the ocean wasn’t such a good deal because not long after the war, they started figuring out a better way to make the crossing. In May 1919, the Navy’s flying boat NC-4 made the transatlantic flight. Departing from Long Island with an unscheduled stop in Massachusetts, Lt. Cmdr. Albert C. Read and his crew routed via Halifax and the Azores before arriving in Lisbon eight days later.
It was the only plane out of three that started the journey to make it, the other two made forced landings along the way. Commander Read would later call it, “a continuous run of unadulterated luck.”
4. U.S. Presidents are naval aviation alumni.
Naval Aviation came of age in World War II, when — thanks, in part, to the Imperial Japanese Navy — the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the Navy’s most important capital ship. Future-President Gerald Ford served with ship’s company on USS Monterey, a light carrier, while George H. W. Bush flew missions from the decks of USS San Jacinto.
When Bush earned his Wings of Gold, he was the youngest pilot in the Navy. He was shot down in September 1944 and rescued by a submarine. His son would later become the first American president to make an arrested landing, flying in an S-3B Viking and trapping aboard USS Abraham Lincoln.
5. Naval Aviation in the Space Program.
The Navy has been well represented in space, too. Four of the Mercury Seven — America’s first astronauts — wore Wings of Gold. Alan Shepard, who flew F4U Corsairs before becoming a test pilot, was the first American in space. John Glenn, a Marine pilot (hey, they wear the same wings) who flew in WWII and Korea, was the first American to orbit the earth. He’d later be the oldest person — and, so far, only sitting senator — to fly in space.
And how about Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon? You guessed it — he flew in the Navy, too, taking the F9F-2 Panther to war in Korea. Jim Lovell, who commanded the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, flew Banshees and Demons before graduating first in his class at test pilot school. Eugene Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17, was the last man to walk on the moon; he bagged over 5,000 hours and 200 traps flying the FJ-4 Fury and A-4 Skyhawk.
And when NASA was ready to take their new hotness — the Space Shuttle — out of the atmosphere, who did they trust? Two Naval Aviators. John Young and Robert Crippen both flew from carriers before becoming test pilots.
If you find yourself near the gulf coast of Florida, you can visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation to learn more. Its director, Captain (retired) Sterling Gillam, and historian, Hill Goodspeed, graciously offered their time and expertise in helping with this article.
The so-called Islamic State has people exposing its daily atrocities from the inside.
While the band of terrorists of The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attempt to masquerade as a legitimate government in their de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, a brave group of activists living inside the city have been documenting life under the brutal regime.
[The group] follows developments in ISIS very closely and appear to be well-sourced inside the city of Raqqa, which is the so-called Islamic State’s capital. The group reported on a failed Jordanian attempt to rescue Muadh al Kasasbeh, a downed pilot from the Jordan Air Force, and his subsequent execution, burned alive, weeks before the hideous video of his murder was made public by ISIS.
Now, in an exclusive video interview from The Wall Street Journal, one of the activists has given his first in-person interview.
“Young guys they just think about going to the bars, meeting girls, and having girlfriends,” the activist says in the video. “But I think about how I will expose ISIS. How I will make the world notice my city.”
Violent jihadism as a governing ideology has been a significant feature of the global scene for nearly two decades.
There are certainly differences between say, the nature Al Shabaab’s control over Somalia in the early 2010s, the Taliban state’s governance of Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, and ISIS’s “caliphate” in the present day.
But militant groups spurred by a combination of religious radicalism, violent disenchantment with the existing state system, revisionist philosophies of Islamic history, and a rejection of secularism and Enlightenment value systems have morphed into territorial political units with alarming frequency in recent years.
One such instance was in Mali in early 2012, when jihadists piggybacked on a long-simmering Tuareg autonomy movement — itself empowered by the collapse of Mali’s government in the wake of a shocking military coup — in order to take control of several population centers in Mali’s desert north. Among them was Timbuktu, a legendary center of trade and Islamic scholarship.
The jihadist occupation of Timbuktu was brutal but thankfully brief: In early 2013, a French-led coalition liberated the city after 10 months of militant control. Now, the rule of Al Qaeda-allied militants over the city is the topic of what might be the important movie of the past year.
The hypnotic and visually overwhelming “Timbuktu,” the work of Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako and an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, is an intimate and terrifying inquiry into one of the defining authoritarian ideologies of the 21st century, as told from the perspective of the people who are actually suffering under its yoke. (The film is currently playing in New York and LA and will open in various other US cities in February and March.)
US movie audiences have usually met jihadists through the lenses of American sniper rifles, or lying prone in front of CIA interrogators. “Timbuktu” is hardly the only movie that’s portrayed them as political and social actors. “Osama,” a multi-national production about a girl living in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that won the 2004 Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film, and Iranian director Moshen Makhmalbaf’s highly regarded “Kandahar,” about a Afghan woman who sneaks into Taliban Afghanistan to try to stop her sister from committing suicide, succeed in giving viewers a first-hand look at the societies that jihadists create and the horrors this visits upon the people trapped in them.
In the wake of ISIS’s takeover of a Belgium-sized slice of the Middle East, “Timbuktu” has more immediate resonance than either of those films. The movie opens with a pickup truck of fighters flying a black flag nearly identical to ISIS’s. As the opening credits roll, the fighters eviscerate a row of traditional figurines in a hail of machine-gun fire.
But the firmest sign that jihadist rule is something external, alien, and deeply unwanted comes in the next scene, when gun-toting fighters enter a mud-brick mosque without taking their shoes off. They tell the imam that they have come to wage jihad. The imam replies that in Timbuktu, people wage jihad (which has the double meaning of spiritual reflection and self-purification, in addition to earthly holy war) with their minds and not with guns.
The next hour and a half is a grisly survey of what happened when this 1400-year-old precedent was inverted.
The jihadists ban music — one of the most celebrated aspects of Malian culture — and then whip violators in public. They ban soccer, and then break up a group of children miming a game in silent protest. The jihadists speak a smattering of local languages and broken Arabic; their leader bans smoking only to sneak cigarettes under the cover of the town’s surrounding sand dunes.
In one of the more illustrative scenes, a female fish seller is told by one jihadist that women can no longer appear in public without wearing gloves. She explains to him that she can’t work unless she’s barehanded and then dares the fighter to cut her hands off on the spot.
In “Timbuktu,” the jihadists are power-tripping, thuggish and hypocritical. They are in the city to create a totally new kind of society and revel in their own insensitivity to local concerns.
But crucially they are not entirely outsiders, and some of the film’s most affecting scenes involve a Tuareg who joins with the jihadists occupying the town, a reminder that there are local dynamics at play. Just as importantly, the film hints at the context of state collapse and social chaos that allowed the jihadists to take over in the first place.
The movie’s primary narrative follows a Tuareg herder who accidentally kills a fisherman from a different ethnic group during an argument over his cows’ access to drinking water along a disputed riverbank. The film’s central conflict encapsulates the unresolved questions of ethnicity and resources that kept northern Mali in a state of crisis that the jihadists later exploited.
The herder’s treatment at the hands of Timbuktu’s new overlords depicts the imposition of an an outside ideology. But the killing is itself is a pointed example of how social turmoil can feed into a violent, totalitarian mania seemingly without warning. It harkens back to ISIS’s swift takeover of Iraq this past summer, a national-level instance of the dynamics that “Timbuktu” manages to boil down to an intimate, dramatic scale.
“Timbuktu” has a happy ending. Even if it isn’t part of the movie, the city was eventually liberated from jihadist control. The film depicts a now-extinct regime.
But the nightmare of “Timbuktu” is far from over. The liberation of the areas that ISIS rules will come at some indeterminate future date, and parts of Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are still under the control of extremists whose ideologies are not categorically different from what appears in the film.
“Timbuktu” is maybe the best cinematic depiction ever made of what millions of people around the world are suffering through.
Situated between Area 51 and the Nevada Test and Training Range is a place called “Coyote Summit” which offers a perfect spot for watching air traffic coming out of Nellis Air Force Base.
Photographer Eric Bowen went to the spot in August for Red Flag, the Air Force-sponsored exercise which simulates an air war between aggressors and aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marines, Air National Guard, and Royal Air Force units.
A typical RED FLAG exercise involves a variety of attack, fighter and bomber aircraft (F-15E, F-16, F/A-18, A-10, B-1, B-2, etc.), reconnaissance aircraft (Predator, Global Hawk, RC-135, U-2), electronic warfare aircraft (EC-130s, EA-6Bs and F-16CJs), air superiority aircraft (F-22, F-15C, etc), airlift support (C-130, C-17), search and rescue aircraft (HH-60, HC-130, CH-47), aerial refueling aircraft (KC-130, KC-135, KC-10, etc), Command and Control aircraft (E-3, E-8C, E-2C, etc) as well as ground based Command and Control, Space, and Cyber Forces.
Bowen spent a few nights at the Summit filming at night, and produced this awesome video. Watch: