Two new Home Front Command search and rescue battalions training in December .
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
The IDF Home Front Command’s Galilee District has two new search and rescue battalions, which converted from their prior role as response units to nonconventional (biological, chemical and atomic) incidents.
The move is a reflection of the decrease of the chemical threat to northern Israel, due to the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons program, and the simultaneous increase in the threat posed by Hezbollah’s ever-growing conventional rocket and missile arsenal in Lebanon.
The Galilee District is responsible for civil defense in communities situated within kilometers of Lebanon, and operates directly under IDF Northern Command.
Col. Ron Lotaty, commander of the Galilee District, told The Jerusalem Post in recent days that “growing threats from the north” are behind the move.
“We converted these two battalions and deployed them to civilian defense, to counter any threat to the home front. In Lebanon, we see Hezbollah advertising its will to ‘conquer’ the Galilee [through cross-border raids], and we see its projectile capabilities. We take this seriously. Hezbollah is gaining operational experience in Syria. We are preparing for all threats with our eyes open. We have to adapt ourselves to reality. As a result, we took this step,” Lotaty said.
Describing Hezbollah as “an arm of Iran,” Lotaty said the search and rescue battalions will deploy near cities and towns, and provide rapid response to civilians in built-up areas in case conflict breaks out.
“We will have this available and professional force that can contain incidents. They rescue civilians and save lives in a very short time period. Civilians who see them deployed near cities will have an added sense of security,” Lotaly said, describing a policy of “making sure orange is visible to the public,” in reference to the orange berets of Home Front Command soldiers.
The battalions will “retain their knowledge and training, and their ability to deal with unconventional attacks,” Lotaty added.
Col. Eran Makov, commander of Northern District in the Home Front Command, said the level of the chemical threat to civilians is a central feature of the IDF’s risk assessments.
“There is a need to strengthen search and rescue units in the northern district, as part of a longer process. We will convert more battalions in this way,” he said.
A search and rescue battalion is slightly smaller than a standard infantry battalion.