IN THE shadows, away from the public glare, several elite combat units operate
to safeguard Israel’s security.
Some gather intelligence behind enemy
lines, others are sent to secure a strategic site, form Israel’s first response
to hostage situations, while still others rescue soldiers in
Some units receive classified missions that will never be known
to the public.
But all of them have one thing in common – they train at the IDF’s
counter-terrorism school at the Mitkan Adam base, near Modi’in.
Lt.-Col. Lior Kenan, the school is like an intersection, where highways from
different areas in the military meet.
It trains both elite soldiers and
ordinary infantry forces. Its staff members instruct others in combat, but also
take part in counter-terrorism missions themselves on a regular
“We can’t disconnect these two worlds [the training and the
operational],” says Kenan, a Rehovot native.
“To be a good instructor,
one has to be a good fighter. For an instructor to perceive himself as a
professional, he has to sense the enemy. In the right doses, we have to maintain
operational experience. This enhances the level of
The counter-terrorism school was founded in 2012, and is
divided into four sections: counter-terrorism, shooting, sniper training, and a
fourth one dedicated to security, break-ins, and camouflaged combat.
any given day, soldiers can be found simulating rope jumps from helicopters,
breaking into buildings to open fire on targets, rappelling from rooftops and
hurling grenades into windows, or storming complexes and “freeing hostages” at
the school’s training facility.
“We train forces to go from a routine
state to an emergency state instantly,” Kenan explains.
shooting section reaches the largest number of soldiers. The section focuses on
the most basic infantry skill of them all; ensuring that every combat soldier
knows how to operate his rifle, deal with stoppages and enter a combat situation
During Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, as tens
of thousands of infantry troops gathered at a staging area waiting to enter
Gaza, 100 instructors from the shooting section arrived to train and refresh
soldiers in firearms use.
In the staging area, “we succeeded in getting
reserves back into good shooting shape,” Kenan says. The ground forces didn’t
end up entering Gaza, but had they been ordered to do so, “they’d have
confidence and faith in their abilities,” he adds.
Kenan said the
school’s ability to reach every combat soldier – those in regular service and in
the reserves – is one of the big perks of his job.
“It’s very satisfying.
Ultimately, this is different from being a battalion commander. I don’t
take soldiers into battle. But my potential to influence soldiers is far
wider. Thousands of soldiers are trained a year. This represents my ability to
have an influence,” he says.
“To work here is to be with professionals,”
he adds. “When I entered this position, I didn’t understand how big the
challenge would be, and how much influence I would have.
As the school’s
commander, I can help steer an entire army corps, and beyond.”
Shalom, head of the shooting section, is tasked with making soldiers comfortable
with the new Tavor rifle, which is replacing the M-16 as the army’s standard
“The IDF’s assumption is that you don’t go into battle without a
firearms refresher course. This is part of the lessons learned from Second
Lebanon War,” Shalom says.
The school’s shooting section also sends out
firearms instructors – 70 percent of whom are females – to infantry bases across
Asked why most of the instructors are women, Shalom says,
“They’re smarter. And soldiers accept them more readily, after weeks of
being shouted at by [male] platoon commanders.”
Over at the school’s
counter-terrorism section, instructors divide their time between training the
cream of the crop and participating in real-world operations.
instructors take part in counterterrorism raids, such as arrests of wanted
suspects in the West Bank,” Kenan says.
The instructors typically go out
on operations on weekends, to avoid disruptions to their weekday training
During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in January 2009, when ground
forces were sent to the Strip, counter-terrorism instructors joined a battalion
and entered Gaza with them.
These days, their merger with ground forces
is more regulated, and a battalion has been preselected to receive the
instructors in the event of a conflict.
The Jerusalem Post was shown a
display by the counter-terrorism section, in which two masked men rappelled down
from the rooftop of a structure.
Within two giant leaps, the soldiers
were at window level. One hurled a grenade inside, setting off a massive
explosion. The soldiers kept their guns aimed at the windows while dangling from
the building. After scanning the building through its windows, they repelled to
the ground in a smooth descent.
In a second display, a large hanger
formed the setting for a hostage situation.
Masked gunmen gathered
quietly outside a room, and one began countdown.
Suddenly, the special
forces stormed the room, opening fire on pictures of terrorists, and sparing
cardboard photos of civilians. “Clear!” they shouted. Within 10 seconds, the
exercise was complete.
The head of the counter-terrorism section, who can
only be identified as S., explains, “We drilled storming a building to rescue
hostages. We have to take many threats into consideration, like explosives
planted at the entrance. Around 1,000 soldiers take this training program
S. maintains that while global terrorism is continually
advancing and becoming more complex, he and his team are keeping
“Things are only getting more complex. Terrorists are getting
more efficient from day to day. We research all major incidents in Israel and
abroad, including terror attacks in India and Russia. Most recently, we studied
the attack on the Algerian gas plant… we are learning a lot.”
incident closer to home which they have studied closely is the 2010 navy
commando raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla, in which an intelligence
failure caused the first wave of commandos to be unprepared for the violent,
radical Islamist activists who were waiting for them on deck, armed with knives
and metal poles.
Nevertheless, the navy commandos “acted heroically,”
Kenan said. “This is an excellent unit.
“The IDF is always making
strides. We’re assessing threats continually, to the North, in the West
Bank, and in the South,” S. adds.
Maj. David Abo, deputy commander of the
school, says their elite fighters require highly developed skills in firearms in
order to keep up with ever-changing threats.
“He needs to be able to cope
with high-pressure situations, and make decisions while under fire, facing the
enemy,” he says.
Abo adds that elite units take advanced courses in Krav
Maga, not only to improve their self-defense capabilities, but also to mentally
“These are very intensive training sessions,” says Abo.
“For the fighters, this is critical to the development of their units. It takes
a month for special forces to complete their training here.”
counter-terrorism school’s snipers section has been busy too.
snipers pass through the school, which is training them to use the American-made
H-S Precision Heavy Tactical Rifles, a recently issued firearm.
school is also teaching infantry battalions in the IDF to break into structures
without the use of explosives.
In one display, a group of instructors
stealthily approached a door to a building.
Two soldiers crouched down
and pointed their guns at the door, while a third soldier acted as a lookout,
facing away from the building. Two additional soldiers approached the door, and
began to force it open with a jack.
As soon as the door cracked open, the
soldiers stormed the building, opening fire.
The counter-terrorism school
represents a positive change in operations for the IDF, says
“Something good is happening in the IDF. Instructors are taking up
a central role, and turning into a core component. This is the right line
of thinking on the army’s part, and it will only grow.”