By ANNA AHRONHEIM
The IDF’s Kfir Brigade has completed a period of brigade-level drills simulating maneuvering and fighting against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the IDF announced on Thursday.
The drill was the IDF’s 11th brigade-level exercise to take place in 2018 as part of the military’s work on improving it’s readiness.
The troops trained on a variety of scenarios in the southern front, including a ground maneuver in Gaza and dealing with troops who simulated Hamas fighters. A week before the brigade drill, platoon-level exercises were held to test the troops’ ability to fight in densely populated and urban areas and the challenges of fighting in a civilian environment.
In addition, the Haruv reconnaissance unit operated for the first time in its new format, in which the soldiers of the commando unit underwent specialized training in fighting in an urban area inside a civilian environment and other capabilities.
Troops in the Haruv reconnaissance unit are divided into specialized teams, which focus on fighting in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, with an emphasis on tunnel warfare. The unit’s squads have state-of-the art combat equipment and robots, as well as guns specifically made for fighting in tunnels.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot visited the brigade during the week and discussed the process of improving its operational readiness in preparation for the next war, with special emphasis on the special capabilities of the brigade and the Haruv reconnaissance unit in particular.
The unit was resurrected by the IDF last year after being dismantled 42 years ago and absorbed into the IDF’s largest infantry brigade, the Kfir brigade, which has five battalions: Nachshon Battalion, Shimshon Battalion, Haruv Battalion, Duchifat Battalion, and Netzah Yehuda Battalion.
Established in 2005 as a response to the need to combat Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank, it specializes in fighting on both the West Bank and Gaza fronts. The brigade has recently trained in fighting the enemy underground in sewers as well as fighting in high-rises and densely populated areas.
“During the training period, we maintained the training on a high level, while creating a simulation as close to reality as possible,” said the commander of the Kfir Brigade, Col. Zion Ratzon. “I am confident that now, after two months of intensive training that has also trained the abilities of both the fighters and commanders, that we are a more capable unit for the next campaign and are more prepared for the enemy we will meet in the arenas in which we operate.”
The IDF returned to 17 weeks of consecutive training last year, an increase from the 13 weeks soldiers trained for over the past 15 years. As part of the training program, the IDF has invested hundreds of millions of shekels into upgrading training facilities in the Golan Heights, Jordan Valley and southern Israel and adapting them to the challenges facing troops on various fronts.
While the defense establishment does not foresee any conflict breaking out in the near future, tensions have risen on both the northern or southern fronts.
On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with elite commando troops during a major ten-day brigade-level drill, in which troops trained for a variety of scenarios, including fighting in the Gaza Strip against Hamas and in the North against Hezbollah.
In the North, the growing threat posed by Iranian entrenchment in Syria and the building of missile factories in Lebanon for its proxy terrorist group Hezbollah has led to significant concerns for Israel.
In addition to having rebuilt their arsenal to have hundreds of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel, Hezbollah has changed from a terrorist group fighting guerrilla style to an army with battalions, brigades and over 40,000 fighters with immeasurable battlefield experience.
In the South, Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been engaged in three wars with Israel over the past ten years. Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, is believed to possess an arsenal of 10,000 rockets and mortar shells. It has once again grown close to Tehran, reconciling after Iran froze its financial support to Hamas after the group refused to support the Assad regime in 2012.
While the security establishment does not believe that Hamas currently seeks another conflict, the situation is fragile, especially given the worsening living conditions in the Strip.