Archive photo: IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson

Soldiers in the Navy’s Snapir course dive into the rubber boat training of their course, the unit steadily growing as it recruits both young men and young women

Date: 12/12/2010, 7:46 PM     Author: Ophir Haglili

As the commander of the Navy’s Snapir course raises his arms victoriously, two rubber boats emerge on both sides of the boat he sits in. With his being the head of the V-shaped formation, they speed forward in all their glory, deeper into the Pacific Ocean and away from the Haifa shore. Though only half an hour has passed since they left the Navy Training Base’s private beach, their uniforms are already drenched and a cold breeze blows against their faces. These are conditions soldiers must cope with in order to complete the course successfully in two months.

The Snapir Unit’s course (called an orientation) lasts between 16 to 18 weeks. Among the skills they must master, Snapir soldiers must become proficient in sailing a rubber boat. This week they train in small rubber boats, next week they will progress to larger ones and finally they’ll have to master the latter and diving simultaneously. “This is what makes the course so appealing,” said the orientation commander, Master Sergeant Dekel Swisa. “The fighter is trained in many fields including diving, thwarting terrorist activities and sailing rubber boats and the Tzraa [a type of small boat].”

The Snapir unit was founded in 1977 as “the port security unit”. In 2005, its initial purpose changed and it was renamed Snapir. “The unit’s initial purpose and its purpose today are very different,” explains Master Sergeant Swisa. “In the past, the unit was responsible for protecting Israeli ports. Today, the unit protects harbors above and below the water’s surface and also has the ability to react to attacks in the shore’s vicinity, to perform searches on ships approaching Israel’s shores and to do surveillance diving [diving around the hull of an approaching ship].”

Snapir Fighters, 40% Women

Snapir Units are composed of both men and women. “Approximately 40% of the unit is women,” said the unit commander, saying that in the latest recruitments there was a sharp increase in the number of women.

Because the Snapir unit, in its current formation, is so new, the course that will be completed in two months is only in its ninth cycle. However it is already evident that there is growing interest. “The demand for the unit and number of admitted soldier are constantly growing. The number of soldiers in the next course is almost double what it is right now,” said Master Sergeant Swisa.

And like in the rest of the IDF (Zahal), soldiers who want to excel have room to shine. “The best of the course proceed to an officers’ course of the Tzraa boat, which is very unusual since usually only naval officers command ships,” explains Master Sergeant Swisa. The Tzraa is a small, fast ship sailed by Snapir soldiers on their various missions. “The opportunity to command a ship without having done a naval officers’ course is very unique and encourages students in the course to do their best,” he adds.
The course is divided into three main parts. In the first part, also known as the basic level, the soldiers learn basic seamanship. In the second part, also known as the preparatory part, they gain experience in diving and undersea medicine. In the final part, also known as the advanced level, the soldiers are trained on the Tzraa ship and gain expertise in advanced shooting and searching ships.

The current cycle is in the preparatory part, the challenging advanced part yet to come. Even still, when the soldiers get out of the rubber boats soaked and exhausted after an hour and a half of intense training, they know even though the course still has ways to go before its over, they completed yet another hurdle to becoming Snapir fighters.