(January 8, 2018 / JNS)
A new elite IDF infantry unit is about to take up its position along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.
The Haruv (Carob) unit, named after a renowned force that operated in Israel’s southern desert borders in the 1960s and 1970s, was once a regular infantry battalion in the Kfir brigade, focusing on security operations in Judea and Samaria (the territories).
Several months ago, the IDF decided to convert this battalion into an elite unit, and to give it the training, weapons, vehicles and high-tech equipment it would need to fight in Gaza.
Since then, the unit has been selectively recruiting cadets into its ranks and placing them under intense special force training. This process culminated at the end of December in a large-scale war drill that simulated Gaza’s urban warfare settings.
“The elite unit has abilities and components that an ordinary infantry battalion does not,” Maj. Nir Mor, deputy commander of the new unit, told JNS.
“The training, structure and organization are all different,” he said. Cadets had to undergo weeks of high-intensity field navigation training before practicing combat drills against heavily armed, well-trained guerrilla terrorist forces embedded into built-up areas—otherwise known as Hamas, Gaza’s ruling faction.
“The Gaza Strip requires complex preparations, which begin three to four months in advance. Preparing to operate in Judea and Samaria is simpler than Gaza,” Mor said.
The Haruv unit had to learn how to use armored vehicles to maneuver on the Gaza border, and to practice moving into Gaza itself, in the event of an outbreak of a new round of fighting. The soldiers also learned how to use new kinds of weapons, including those mounted on the armored vehicles.
“The soldiers became familiar with the enemy, and learned about the [Gaza] sector’s history,” said Mor. “The doctrine for using force in Gaza is different than Judea and Samaria. Commanders had to learn to make the adjustment.”
In the event of a new armed conflict with the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, the entire Kfir infantry brigade would be mobilized from the territories to Gaza, but the Haruv unit would have special missions. These would include engaging Hamas’s underground tunnels and destroying them. Most of Hamas’s tunnels are inside Gaza, forming an underground maze designed to allow operatives to move weapons and fighters around, and launch hit-and-run attacks.
In mid-December, the Haruv special unit arrived at the IDF’s training center for ground forces at the Tze’elim base in southern Israel, which has a mock Palestinian village that replicates conditions in Gaza.
A week later, it travelled to the Jordan Valley, where it held a live-fire combat drill in cooperation with the military’s Armored Corps, Artillery Corps and the Engineering Corps—all units that would need to work together in any new ground war.
“We train as we will fight,” Mor said. “This exercise summed up eight weeks of training. There was live fire, tank fire and artillery fire. We used digital command systems and operated as if we were going into Gaza tomorrow.”
Capt. Yinon Gadasi, a company commander in the Haruv unit, said the latest drill was the most realistic and intensive he had encountered in his three years of military service.
“It simulated as much as possible the enemy that we are supposed to encounter. It dealt with the underground tunnel threat and there was also a big emphasis on the civilian population, which is a large challenge in Judea and Samaria, and certainly even more so in Gaza,” Gadasi told JNS.
“We understand that in any situation we will encounter in Gaza, we will run into the threat of tunnels,” the company commander added. “We are preparing the soldiers for this, mentally and physically, through briefings, lectures, videos, and physical and technological training.”
The unit is now scheduled to rotate to the Gaza border for the first time in its current form. It will conduct daily patrols and surveillance operations along the volatile border, on guard to protect the southern Israeli villages, farms and towns, which came under mortar fire as recently as Dec. 29.
“There are all sorts of scenarios we must be ready for—a terrorist infiltration, via tunnels or overland, into communities; attacks on patrols,” Gadasi said.
“This is the first time that this elite unit, with this quality of personnel and ability to deal with the underground threat, is arriving at the Gaza border,” he said. “There have been many incidents there recently. As a company commander…I can say that my company is ready to deal with any mission or challenge.”