Sayeret Mat'kal, otherwise known as General Staff Recon and more popularly as "The Unit", was formed in 1957 by an Officer by the name of Avraham Arnan. He petitioned the IDF General Staff to create a unit that could be dispatched to enemy held territory to carry out top secret intelligence gathering missions. The unit was initially based on the examples set forth by the SAS. Member of the unit were trained by Bedouin trackers on the finer points of looking and thinking like an Arab.
In 1959, a draftee named Ehud Barak was accepted into Sayeret Mat'Kal. He later succeeded the original Mat'kal leader, Lt. Meir Har-Zion, became Israel's most decorated soldier, and then went on to become the IDF Chief of Staff. Barak has a great influence on Sayeret Mat'kal. He was a highly innovative soldier, charismatic and brave. His presence inspired confidence in his soldiers and gave rise to a talented crew of operators that became a deadly and effective force.
Although a top-secret unit, Sayeret Mat'kal had a tremendous influence on the IDF. They were the original developers of helicopter infiltration techniques in Israel. In addition, their heavy use of the Uzi led them to convinced Israel Military Industries to produce an Uzi with a folding stock for increased accuracy while maintaining its small frame. They saw extensive action along the fronts of the 1967 Six Day War; many of Israel's warfighting successes before and during this conflict are evidence of their presence and abilities.
Sayeret Mat'kal has participated in many anti and counter-terrorist operations, including the storming of a Boeing 707 held by Black September terrorists in 1972 and the killing of a force of bus hijackers in the Gaza Strip. They are probably best know for their actions in the 1976 rescue of 106 passengers at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. There have been rumors linking them with several recent operations but these have never been confirmed by the IDF.
Members of Sayeret Matkal go through one year and 8 months of training before they are fully qualified as Matkal commandos. The best of the new recruits go to Unit 269, a part of Sayeret Matkal that specializes in counter-terrorism operations. Unit 269 is responsible for counter-terrorism activities outside of Israel and operates with the Israeli Navy's Flotilla 13 regularly.