Ten years after the Second Lebanon War, the IDF has made substantial changes in the way it trains its infantry for war against Hezbollah – arguably Israel’s most formidable military threat in the immediate region.
In the lead up to the 2006 conflict, the infantry had became rusty at war, spending nearly all of its time in counter-terrorism and anti-riot missions in the West Bank. The little training it did do involved largely unrealistic scenarios, like fighting in open areas, which were starkly different from the village battlefields of southern Lebanon that awaited it.
Today, according to a senior military source who is familiar with current infantry training practices, nearly every aspect of preparations has been revamped. The length of training programs for conscripts and reserves has grown exponentially under the current chief of staff.
In training grounds around the country, the IDF took a number of companies, taught them Hezbollah’s current battle doctrine, and set them loose in mock battles against infantry units in training.
“These companies have been instructed to pursue their missions as well as they can. They form a ‘thinking enemy’ for training units. It is something we began three years ago, and it is becoming more widespread now. This forms a real challenge,” the source said.
Hezbollah, for its part, is gaining the most powerful form of training possible, through its extensive involvement in Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year. Battle hardened, experienced Hezbollah commanders and fighters can utilize many lessons learned in Syria in a future conflict with Israel.
Back in Israel a combat lab, which monitors Hezbollah’s combat doctrines, passes intelligence to the infantry.
Today, the source said, “our training is much more suited to the threat compared to 10 years ago. In the past, we trained for battle in open areas. This is not the type of area we will fight in.
Today, we train only in closed areas with boulders and hills, and in built-up, urban areas,” the source said.
Cooperation with the Armored Corps, as well as with the air force and Artillery Corps, form intrinsic aspects of modern training, the source added.
Many training sessions occur at nights, when the IDF will likely have to fight a good chunk of its future battles.
In 2006, IDF units in southern Lebanon operated in unfamiliar turf, and ran into deadly Hezbollah ambushes, coming under heavy anti-tank missile, grenade and machine gun fire, which led to casualties. Asked if that could happen, the source said, “Yes, it can. But we are doing everything possible to prevent it from happening.
We are seeking to train them to avoid such situations, and arrive prepared. They will know how to take control of areas with the help of supporting fire.
They will utilize look-outs, and they will have access to a large quantity of good, real-time intelligence [which was not available a decade ago],” said the officer.
The IDF has fought three wars in Gaza since 2006, and these have influenced the infantry’s battle doctrine and preparations.
With 10,000 infantry soldiers to train a year, the process of introducing changes is gradual, the officer said. “We do not rush to change everything.
There are core elements that remain, like field skills, marksmanship and combat fitness,” the source stated.
Infantry soldiers today go on shorter marches than they did 10 years ago, but carry significantly heavier weights on their backs. “In the Second Lebanon War, soldiers had difficulties with movements on foot; they were not used to the heavy weights,” the source explained.
Additionally, underground warfare has become a central component of infantry training over the past two years.
Since Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, the whole of the ground forces has held in-depth training sessions for subterranean combat. “We are thinking about fighting underground all of the time,” the source said. “The weapons lab is developing weapons and techniques for underground combat.”
While Gaza has become notorious for its tunnel network, any future conflict in Lebanon would also involve underground fighting, as Hezbollah has dug its command and control bunkers deep underground, and linked them to tunnels, enabling fighters and weapons to move freely out of the IAF’s sights.
The infantry’s Reconnaissance Battalion, an elite commando force, would lead battalions moving in against Hezbollah.
Other battalions are revising their structures to better prepare for a guerrilla foe which appears and vanishes quickly, and uses asymmetric warfare to try and inflict casualties.
“Will we enter traps in the future? It is possible, but we are looking for ways to avoid it,” the source said. “Infantry units will be familiar with the terrain.
They will be assisted by commando companies... They will activate fire from the air, and from the artillery. Engineering companies will take down obstacles,” he said.
“The IDF will always be the stronger side. Once it enters a village [in southern Lebanon], there is nothing Hezbollah can do to stop it.”