In March, Lt.-Col. Dror Spiegel finally felt like his battalion had turned into a real fighting machine.

As commander of the IDF’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion – formerly known as Nahal Haredi – Spiegel was with his soldiers in the West Bank village of Arane providing support for the Israel Police’s elite Yamam counter-terror unit which was trying to apprehend two Palestinian terror suspects.

As the force entered the village it became clear that the wanted men were not in the same home but the Yamam did not have enough manpower to split up its force.

Spiegel did not waste any time and immediately sent a company to one of the homes.

Within minutes his soldiers had succeeded in apprehending the suspect.

“The ability to quickly switch modes and dispatch a force that is flexible and prepared for such a mission means that we are ready for anything that comes our way,” Spiegel told The Jerusalem Post this week during a tour of northern Samaria.

The interview with Spiegel marked two occasions – the end of his tenure as battalion commander as well as the 10th anniversary of one of the army’s most interesting battalions.

Netzah Yehuda is part of the Kfir Brigade, responsible for most operations these days in the West Bank. Established with a mere 30 soldiers, Netzah Yehuda is today the largest battalion in the IDF, with close to 700 soldiers, including four companies and an elite counter- terror squad.

Most of the battalion’s soldiers are Israelis from a haredi or national-religious background.

After they complete two years of service, Netzah Yehuda offers them resources to help them complete matriculation and pre-college studies.

Spiegel took up his post about two years ago when the battalion was still based in the Jordan Valley, where it had been since its establishment.

Together with the previous Kfir brigade commander, Spiegel pushed for the battalion to be relocated. Today the soldiers are operating in one of the most intensely active areas of the West Bank – northern Samaria.

“It wasn’t good for us to be in the same place for so long,” Spiegel said. “Deploying near Jenin has worked wonders for the unit.”

Netzah Yehuda is unique for a number of reasons. It is the only unit in the IDF whose members have to wear a kippa and keep Shabbat. It is also women-free and soldiers eat only glatt kosher food.

Many of the soldiers have families who frown upon their service in the Zionist army. As a result, among the 86 lone soldiers in the unit are 30 who have parents who live in Israel but receive the status, which includes housing, because their families have cut all ties.

“There are many different socio-economic problems,” Spiegel said. “Some of the soldiers who go home come back and tell stories of how they were humiliated.”

When it was established, the idea was to try and attract haredi youth to the IDF by providing them with a unit in which they could maintain their lifestyle and still defend the country. While it had a slow beginning, today the IDF has to limit the number of soldiers accepted into the unit to 150 each draft, otherwise it would grow out of control.

What will happen over the next 10 years? Spiegel doesn’t want to make predictions but says he is sure the battalion will continue to grow.

The IDF is already weighing the establishment of a second battalion and some of the unit’s proponents have claimed that in a number of years there will be a haredi brigade.

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