The soldiers entered the home at a fast pace. One kept his eye on the neighboring rooftops searching for enemy gunmen while the two others crisscrossed through the home's hallways, searching for wanted Palestinian fugitives. After entering the living room, shots were fired in the direction of the soldiers and following a short gun battle, the Palestinian fugitive was eliminated.
While the scene seemed to be taken from one of the IDF's daily raids in the West Bank, it took place recently at an urban warfare training compound in the heart of Samaria. The soldiers were also not the usual troops who carry out arrest raids in Nablus and Jenin but were Beduin trackers from the Efraim Brigade who were learning how to operate within built-up areas as part of the army's new training curriculum.
The Efraim Brigade stretches across the West Bank and is responsible for keeping terror at bay in Palestinian cities such as Tulkarm, Kalkilya and Sulfit. While most of the brigade's soldiers run arrest operations inside the Palestinian cities and patrol roads connecting the Jewish settlements, the Beduin troops play a different role, although one just as critical to Israel's safety.
"We follow the clues left on the ground," explains Capt. Aimen Barges, the brigade's chief tracker. "We arrive at the scene of an attack study the terrain, look for bullet casings and begin retracing the terrorist's steps."
Clues, he said, were difficult to find in the West Bank since the terrain was mountainous and rocky. "Sometimes we search inch by inch until we pick up the clues we are looking for," he said. "If we don't find the right clues we could lead our forces in the wrong direction."
The army has realized the tracker's importance and today in the Central Command almost every battalion commander has a tracker by his side. "The trackers are always at the front of the force," Barges said.
Technological security means, including cameras and sensors, the officer continued, could not replace the Beduin tracker. Two weeks ago, soldiers were alerted to the security fence near Kalkilya after a Palestinian was seen hopping over the barrier into Israel. Barges said he arrived at the scene and after scouring the area he picked up the infiltrator's trail and tracked him to a nearby Israeli-Arab town.
"Without us trackers they would have thought the infiltrator had gone in a different direction," he claimed.
The terrorists, Barges said, were getting smarter and, knowing that Beduin trackers were involved in IDF searches, they have developed deception techniques.
"They sometimes retrace their steps and try and fool us," the officer said. "That is why we need to pick up any change in the terrain since only that way will we succeed in capturing the enemy."