JERUSALEM — Israel is combining the capabilities of several elite units under one roof as part of its multiyear plan to prepare the military for future warfare.
Israel announced the creation of the 7th Wing under the Israeli Air Force earlier this month. The move is part of a larger reorganization effort, known as Momentum, for the Israel Defense Forces. The effort foresees more combinations of units, pushing intelligence and digitization to front-line forces and using fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets, future combat vehicles and air defense capabilities.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said Israel is facing an era of regional change amid the coronavirus pandemic, what Israel calls “third circle” threats from Iran, and continued operations to prevent Iranian arms trafficking to Hezbollah.
In recent years, Israel has been concentrating many of its efforts against threats from the north, including Hezbollah and Iranian entrenchment in Syria during the course of the Syrian civil war. Israel fought three conflicts in Gaza with Hamas between 2009 and 2014, but relations are less tense.
This is a “battlefield that is becoming more complex every day. This change has been understood by the commanders. This is the change that requires us to adapt ourselves and to prepare better for the future challenges,” Norkin said.
The Air Force commander said at a July 12 ceremony that the 7th Wing will have an enhanced capability that will make special forces more effective during combat, more influential in terms of air superiority, and part of any process or scenario that takes place under the purview of the Air Force.
The 7th Wing will include Air Force special ground units; the commando Shaldag unit; Unit 669, which performs search and rescue operations with helicopters; the Forward Landing Unit; and a dedicated intelligence unit.
The Forward Landing Unit is responsible for building ad hoc runways. This gives the new wing a variety of capabilities to operate in hostile territory with a plethora of assets including helicopters, vehicles, and Hercules C-130HI and Super Hercules C-130s aircraft, which can land at the ad hoc bases from their home at the Nevatim Air Force base. Unit 669 uses Black Hawk and Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters.
A colonel will command the 7th Wing, but the IDF did not release the officer’s name due to security reasons, calling him only “Col. O.”
Israel also plans to establish a new school for these elite combat troops.
The concept, according to the IDF, is to streamline and organize these disparate units whose only commonalty is their unique differences within the larger Air Force. Most of them perform duties that are corollaries to the Air Force’s main role, using small vehicles, building landing strips, or performing raids and rescues. The IDF says this new wing will perform its operations during routine and emergency scenarios.
It is one of several new concepts in the IDF that foresee concentrating capabilities into new command structures. For instance, Momentum also created a headquarters dedicated to the Iranian threat. As part of Momentum, a tank battalion and a squadron of F-16 jets will be disestablished. Also under the reorganization, a new squadron of F-35s came online in January.
Seth J. Frantzman is the Israel correspondent for Defense News. He has covered conflict in the Mideast since 2010 for different publications. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.