Molotov cocktails, burning tires with exploding gas tanks hidden inside, slingshots that can break bones, shootings – these are the daily security challenges that the Home Front Command’s Tavor Battalion has faced for the past five months, as it defended the West Bank security barrier.
The battalion was deployed in a sector west of Ramallah, covering areas such as the Maccabim checkpoint, Budrus, Bil’in, Ni’lin and Kibya.
Lt.-Col. Dror Shaul, commander of the Tavor Battalion, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday about the daily battle to protect the security barrier, and how his soldiers have thwarted Palestinians’ attempts to bomb, cut and burn the barrier.
The Tavor Battalion is the fourth and newest Home Front Command unit of its kind.
During peacetime, it is tasked with continuous security missions (patrols, counterterrorism, riot dispersal), and during wartime emergencies, it carries out search and rescue operations in missile explosion sites in Israel.
In the coming days, the battalion will be rotated away from the West Bank for a sixweek exercise, before taking up a new position along the Jordan Valley.
The area of the security barrier that the battalion has protected comes under frequent attack, including the planting of improvised explosives, Shaul said. “We manage to get to them before they can plant their devices on the fence.
We’ve neutralized dozens of explosive devices.”
Often, Palestinian attackers plant gas tanks inside tires and set them alight in an effort to lure soldiers to explosions.
“It’s a trap,” Shaul said.
“When we see a burning tire, we have stay back hundreds of meters. Recently, we were 150 meters away from one of these.
A very large gas tank blew up, and we felt the heat wave pass through our bodies. I can’t describe the sensation. The heat was very intense, and if this device would have been on the fence, it would have torn a part of it off.”
The battalion’s soldiers have responded frequently to attempts to cut the fence and infiltrate through it, he said.
Additionally, Shaul described rising numbers of riots over recent months in his sector.
“Levels of violence have risen,” he said. “Not dramatically – violence isn’t as high as it was 10 years ago. We’re not facing the same level of shootings as that period. But there is a local rise of violence, including rioting, rocks and slingshots – which present a bigger danger: If a soldier wearing a helmet is hit with a rock hurled with this slingshot, he can lose consciousness. It can break bones. I’ve had a few soldiers recently return to active duty after prolonged injuries from these attacks. This is fighting in every way – not a shooting battle, but we’re seeing a rise in things like Molotov cocktail attacks and other attacks on soldiers.”
More rocks are being thrown at Israeli motorists, and the number of security arrests have risen compared to a year or two ago, Shaul said. “Still, the situation is under control.
It hasn’t changed in a fundamental way. We’re seeing more lone attackers, local terror cells, but we’re not seeing an increase in the formation of organized terrorist infrastructures.”
The battalion, which is just a year-and-a-half old – one of the youngest in the IDF – has already seen its fair share of incidents. Two weeks ago, Shaul recalled, a company commander protecting the security fence came under a Molotov cocktail attack.
“Fortunately, the firebomb didn’t ignite, but the glass and fuel shattered against a fence the commander stood behind.
He recovered in two seconds, shooting and hitting the attacker in the leg, precisely in accordance with the rules of engagement. The attacker was injured and taken to a hospital,” Shaul said.
The battalion took a lead role in making security arrests during and after incidents, Shaul added.
Last year, it arrested a Palestinian gunman in Ni’lin who carried out a drive-by shooting on an Israeli vehicle. “We recovered the firearm and the vehicle used in the attack,” he said.
This week, the battalion broke up a Hamas terror cell in the area, arresting suspected members and seizing bombs in a security raid. “When you see these bombs and realize that they were supposed to be hurled at soldiers and civilians, you feel like you’ve saved lives,” Shaul said.
The unit’s soldiers also boarded a helicopter for a speedy deployment to a village in its sector, for an operation that remains classified.
“Had we gotten to the area through a village in vehicles... we’d be seen. So we landed in a helicopter, and blocked off roads for a certain operation,” the commander recalled.
He took pride in the fact that female combat soldiers play an equal role to men in his battalion.
“They are full partners in security operation, and play a key role in our achievements,” he said.