IDF Home Front Command Search and Rescue Brigade in the West Bank in recent days.
(photo credit: COURTESY IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Palestinian attacks are set to continue for a “lengthy period,” and the IDF is preparing itself accordingly, a senior army source told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
The source, from Home Front Command, described the reality facing the coed Search and Rescue Brigade, which has four battalions and divides its time among grinding security missions, mostly in the West Bank, and training for domestic emergency response missions, like locating and plucking trapped civilians out of missile impact zones – their area of unique specialty.
In recent weeks, with the ongoing stabbing and rioting sprees that have rocked the West Bank, the brigade has focused almost exclusively on its first mission: Nightly security raids as well as protecting roads and settlements.
“We are preparing for this to continue,” the source said. “It won’t pass in two days. This can escalate and decrease in strength. We have to be prepared.
It can go in any number of directions. We have to be ready for all scenarios.”
Three of the Home Front Command’s four standing battalions are deployed in the West Bank, and the fourth in the Arava region of southern Israel, securing the Jordanian border.
In recent weeks, the Home Front Command sent a third battalion to the West Bank as part of the IDF’s move to inject four back-up battalions.
The Search and Rescue battalions are spread out across the Binyamin and Etzion regions, and are particularly busy in the areas of Surif, near Hebron, and the Hussan bypass road near Betar Illit, “We understand this won’t end soon,” the source said.
“One of our key missions is to provide civilians with a sense of security. Our battalions are at the forefront of active arenas and friction points, responding to violent disturbances and terrorist attacks.”
Arrest raids on security suspects have doubled in some areas.
Last Wednesday, a terrorist with a knife lunged at a female soldier, Cpl. Dikla Magidish, stabbing her in the throat at Adam junction.
A fellow female soldier, Cpl. Lihai Malka from the Home Front Command’s Kedem Battalion, shot the attacker dead within seconds.
The source said it was this kind of cool-headed, professional response that the battalions had trained for.
Soldiers from the battalion shot a terrorist in the knee after he attacked an IDF Beduin scout with a knife in Gush Etzion last Friday. The source said the soldiers stuck to the correct rules of engagement in that incident.
Shots fired on a military look-out tower in the Nabi Saleh area and gas-bomb attacks on civilians, are also incidents the units have responded to.
“I feel that the forces are in control, and that they understand their mission and the threat. They are operating in a complex environment, and wish to defend the fabric of life for both Israeli and Palestinian civilians,” the source added.
“I trust the soldiers. I see their alertness. The incident in Adam junction proves the capabilities of female soldiers, who carry out all types of missions without any distinction from their male counterparts,” he said.
The source acknowledged that recent events have posed a major challenge to the battalion’s second goal, of maintaining readiness for domestic search and rescue missions during wartime and natural disaster.
Still, he said, past war drills have ensured that the battalions can rapidly change missions, and go from West Bank security to scouring the scene of a rocket impact area in an Israeli city, in very little time.
“We are used to moving from one situation to another quickly. We carried out a four-day war exercise for a battalion during the High Holy Days. It started with a 10-kilometer march, with the soldiers carrying their rescue equipment on their back, for rescuing other units in hostile territory. Then we rapidly transited to an unconventional attack scenario,” said the source. “We then completed the drill by simulating responses to missile attacks all over central Israel.”
The Search and Rescue Brigade is the only qualified IDF unit that trains to deal with unconventional attacks.
Its senior officers have been closely monitoring the use of hazardous chemicals, such as chlorine gas, in the Syrian civil war, and have trained for encountering such incidents on the northern border.
“This story [hazardous substance use in attacks] is approaching the border, and necessitates in-depth preparations,” said the source.