Thirty land mines lay hidden beneath the earth in a water pipe, making up a
total of 300 kilograms of explosives. Above, an IDF jeep is parked.
is not a Hezbollah ambush, but rather an exercise held by the IDF Engineering
Corps this week in northern Israel. The aim: to simulate the type of threats the
IDF will face if and when it has to enter southern Lebanon or Gaza and engage
terror organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas that have employed the tactic
of digging tunnels and packing them with explosives.
“The jeep represents
any vehicle that can be targeted,” says Maj. Andras Schenker, head of the
Fortification Section at the Engineering Corps.
With the soldiers safely
away from the site of the blast, a countdown begins.
Then an enormous
explosion tears through the area, sending plumes of dirt and rocks 50 meters up
into the air and scattering pieces of the jeep far from the blast site. It takes
the rubble more than 15 seconds to fall back to earth.
The soldiers, all
of whom have MAs or PhDs in engineering, return to the blast site, analyzing the
damages and drawing lessons that will serve the IDF’s offensive and defensive
“I don’t see the jeep at all,” Schenker notes,
searching for its remnants. Eventually, a large black twisted piece of metal is
“These are the tactics of the enemy. Hezbollah plants bombs in
water pipes. We can see the result. No one sitting in the jeep would have
survived,” he adds.
Company commanders who will lead their soldiers into
battle are given similar demonstrations in order to increase their battle arena
“The army is naturally at an advantage on the surface.
Subterranean combat places us at a disadvantage.
Hence, we must train
other units to uncover tunnels, mark out their lengths, and destroy them,” the
officer says. “We hold a number of exercises to train our forces to search for
and destroy the tunnels.”
It was not the only blast the Fortification
Section would carry out that day. Shortly after the jeep was blown to
smithereens, explosives planted along an imposing barbed wire blew a hole
through the obstacle.
This test was aimed at ensuring that the
Engineering Corps will be able to clear a path for advancing infantry and
armored vehicles, as they progress through hostile territory. Urban combat
techniques are also an area of specialty for these soldiers, who are tasked with
setting up mock villages to provide soldiers with a training area. The
Fortification Section will fire thousands of bullets at walls to ensure that
they are strong enough for use in live fire training structures.
Fortification Section, together with the IDF’s Experiments Unit, also develops
protection for walls used in urban combat facilities.
“This allows for
safe training at the highest possible level, without the need to decrease the
intensity of live-fire drill,” says the section’s Capt. Yoel Peretz.
section regularly inspects training facilities and carries out engineering tests
– a process that began after the fatal training accident in 2009 in which Golani
soldier Cpl. Mor Cohen was hit by a bullet fired by a fellow soldier, which
pierced an urban combat facility wall.
“The most important thing for us
in protecting facilities is that such an incident does not repeat itself in any
way in the IDF,” Peretz says. The Fortification Section is not just in the business
of blowing things up and shooting at materials. Its members are also responsible
for a critical function that will play a big role in any future
Using a couple of bulldozers and a bunker that can be built
rapidly using large Lego-like pieces, a team of non-commissioned officers can,
overnight, construct rocket-proof structures and a logistics center to house an
infantry company deep in enemy territory.
The site can be also be used
for army forces within their own borders, preparing to launch a ground
“It’s a real step up in our capabilities. We can build this
site in 10 hours,” Schenker says.
The bulldozers are used to dig a large
square ditch, and then basket-like cells – purchased from the British defense
firm Hesco – are filled with sand and rocks and used to construct protective
“Even if a shell falls in the middle of this site, we design it
in a such way that the fragments from the blast are isolated to one part of it,”
A site housing these types of bunkers was first used by
the military during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
structures sheltered soldiers who gathered at the border with Gaza ahead of a
potential ground offensive. During rocket alert sirens, soldiers packed the
structure. It was uncomfortably crowded, but safe, Schenker recalls.
had 10 seconds to get in. When too many soldiers gathered inside, a bottleneck
That taught us to create two entry points to the
bunker, and that’s how we design them now,” he adds.
The site can house
food, fuel and a command center, including sensitive electronic equipment. “We
don’t plan on defending ourselves hermetically,” Schenker stresses. “But a
certain degree of defense is crucial.”
Peretz, who designs many of the
sites, adds, “What makes our branch unique is our ability to create operational
solutions. We come up with solutions for protection, explosives and
fortifications for the various army forces, and we do this in real time... Long
delays cause you to become irrelevant.”
Much like a civilian construction
project, a site is planned, and then sent to a “contractor” – in this case, the
IDF Northern Command – for construction.
In the civilian world, this
process can take months to complete. In the IDF, the process is
“This type of site provides peripheral protection and defense
through depth. We can construct a number of these sites, so that they remain in
a single line of vision from one another. We can build them deep in enemy
territory, or right on the border,” Schenker adds.
As for threats from
above, “The bunker roofs can protect against shells, rockets and missile
shrapnel,” he says.
Guard post units are built with three openings from
which soldiers can fire.
“If infantry are far from the border, we can ask
the air force to parachute the bunkers and the guard post units. One guard post
weighs about 400 kilograms, and pilots can parachute them down accurately within
a meter of their intended landing spot,” Schenker explains.
whole of the country under Hezbollah and Hamas rocket threat, such solutions can
also be used to protect IDF bases inside Israel – bases seeking to maintain
functionality under heavy rocket fire.
“The threat is only increasing,”