On both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border, the IDF and Hezbollah are quietly
and intensively preparing for the next clash between them, a conflict both
expect will surpass previous wars, in the scope of firepower each side will seek
The IDF’s 300th Infantry Brigade is based in what is known in
the army as the Western Sector of the Lebanese border.
in the brigade told The Jerusalem Post
this week that the quiet reigning over
the frontier is highly deceptive.
In the midst of the green mountains and
pastoral Shi’ite villages of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah is installing the most
serious conventional threat to Israeli security, planting tens of thousands of
rockets in civilian homes, digging underground bunkers for command and control
centers, and plotting cross-border attacks.
“Hezbollah is carrying out
massive preparations,” a senior source from the 300th Brigade said in recent
days. “They’re focused in civilian Shi’ite villages. They know we won’t just
attack the villages for no reason. Hezbollah members come to the border too, but
without their uniforms.
They arrive in the form of shepherds, farmers,
“Hezbollah has the operational capabilities to attack now.
When it will do so remains to be seen,”the source added. “This might end up
being something we haven’t experienced. The threat exists from the air, sea and
ground, as well as underground tunnels.
We’re always thinking about what
the next step might be.”
In the middle of this build-up is
Lt.-Col. Raafat Halabi, Commander of the Division’s Sword Battalion,
which is composed of Druse infantry soldiers. The battalion is highly esteemed
among IDF commanders for its professionalism and fighting capabilities, and is
seen as a major northern infantry asset.
Sitting at battalion
headquarters near the Lebanese border in the Upper Galilee, Halabi sketched out
the beginnings of the Druse-Jewish relationship. “It started before the
establishment of the state. The Druse felt they were an oppressed
The Jews arrived here with the same feeling,” he
When Arab forces first began armed attacks on pre-state Jewish
communities, the Druse were neutral, but soon enough, the leadership of the
Druse community made a decision to tie its fate to that of the Jewish national
By 1948, when the War of Independence broke out, the
Druse joined battles against invading Arab League armies, forming a Minorities
Company in the nascent IDF. During the conflict, Druse leaders in Israel got in
touch with a contingent of Syrian and Lebanese Druse, who had joined the Arab
League’s offensive after being told that Israel was ethnically cleansing Druse
“Our leadership told them this is a lie. No one is being kicked
out here. Their commander understood what had happened, and told his soldiers,
‘Those of you who wish to stay can do so. The rest should return home with me.’
The grandson of one of the soldiers who stayed became the first Druse navigator
in the Israel Air Force,” Halabi said.
The Minorities Company evolved
into a battalion in the 1950s, when the government extended the mandatory
national draft to Israeli Druse.
In the 1970s, Druse soldiers began
joining all army units, a process that today sees them integrated in and
commanding vital military forces. Last month’s appointment of a Druse commander
to head the Golani Brigade, Col. Rasan Alian, is one example.
concedes, his battalion is facing stiff competition from other units keen to
enlist young Israeli Druse, who are not only bilingual in Arabic and Hebrew, but
also, like their Jewish-Israeli peers, are often fluent in the world of
computers and technology.
MILITARY INTELLIGENCE’S Unit 8200 and the air
force are just two of the contenders.
“But motivation to join this
battalion remains high,” Halabi argued.
The history of Halabi’s family is
intertwined with the Sword Battalion. His father served in it, and four out of
seven of his brothers did too.
“Today, like any infantry battalion, we’re
carrying out continuous security missions and training for war. We moved to the
Lebanese border from the South following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. This
area is our specialty,” he added.
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the
Sword Battalion fought nonstop throughout the course of the conflict, earning a
citation from the chief of staff. On the wall of the battalion’s headquarters is
a photograph of Druse soldiers waving an Israeli flag as they passed through the
border gate back into Israel, the last to leave Lebanon.
“We met all of
our missions with honor. Very few were injured,” Halabi said.
plain advantage possessed by the Druse battalion is its Arabic language and
familiarity with Arab culture. Halabi researched the issue on behalf of his
“When I enter a village in Lebanon, it’s very
similar to my village. If there’s a sign with a photo of [Hezbollah leader
Hassan] Nasrallah, I can read it. I can see a gas stove and know it’s not an
explosive device. I can tell that a floor door is most likely a well. I dug one
in my home recently,” he explained.
In the course of house-to-house
fighting in 2006, Halabi found Hezbollah books that transmitted the Iranian
ideology at the heart of the Shi’ite terror organization, and read them. He also
found a book that listed Hezbollah’s members killed in action.
part of the indoctrination of the population, also achieved through summer camps
and other civilian programs. I read these books during breaks in the fighting,
and learned about the Khomeinist [Iranian Islamist] ideology which is being
spread throughout the population,” Halabi added.
The cultural advantage
also enables members of the battalion to easily discern Hezbollah men
approaching the border to carry out reconnaissance, while pretending to be
Despite the many criticisms of the IDF’s performance during the
2006 conflict, Halabi firmly believes it enabled the northern border to remain
quiet, due to deterrence. “But we understand this is time-limited,” he
Halabi’s army career contains within it the story of the IDF over
past decades. In Gaza, before Israel’s departure, he was a company commander,
and his base near Netzarim was fired on by Palestinian gunmen every
He once rode in a jeep driven by a young, quiet army driver, when
an explosive went off nearby, which was detonated by Palestinian
Despite being alone, Halabi acted quickly.
“I didn’t know
if the terrorists were near the sea or in the orchards, in the opposite
direction. I did what we were trained to do; I drove forward, turned at a
40-degree angle, got out and stormed the orchards, firing as I went. I took up a
position on a hill and continued firing. The young jeep driver got out and
crouched next to me, firing as well,” Halabi said.
“We’re an excellent
battalion in the IDF, with certified accomplishments,” he
“We’re familiar with engaging Hezbollah, and maintain a
collective, firsthand memory of our experiences. This helps us to be smarter,
deeper in our understanding, and more creative.”
The battalion carries
out daily patrols of the border. “We’re on permanent alert.
side is learning, too, and drew lessons from the last conflict. They’re thinking
about how to act, what to do.
The Iranians are investing a lot of money
in this,” said Halabi.
“They’re monitoring our activities. The initiative
is in their hands. We have no intention of attacking them. We’re defensive, and
seek quiet. They sometimes act otherwise. There’s an array of threats in the
sector, and they decide when things happen.”
As part of preparations, the
Sword Battalion recently held a two-day battle drill, in which soldiers marched
for 10 hours and linked up with other Ground Forces units to simulate a sudden
entrance into Lebanon.
“We’re getting ready for all scenarios, including
sea-based infiltration, aerial attack, and attacks through tunnels. Fighting
here is not like combat in the sands of Gaza,” Halabi added.
commanders in the IDF’s Northern Command told the Post
this week that
Hezbollah’s clashes with Sunni rebels in Syria are enabling the organization to
gain valuable operational experience.
“They could exploit this against
Israel in the future. The IDF is taking this into account. Their fighting
abilities are far higher today,” one source said.
individuals approach the border, the IDF alerts the UN Interim Force in Lebanon,
which can whisk away unwanted individuals. However, UNIFIL refrains from
entering Shi’ite villages, the gravitational center of Hezbollah’s activities,
after the terror organization signaled to it in the past, through gun and bomb
attacks, that this would be a transgression of “the rules of the
Hezbollah’s field intelligence units are highly developed, the
source said. “On this side, we’re mapping out where Hezbollah is. We’re working
closely with intelligence,” he added.
The IDF, UNIFIL and the Lebanese
Army hold regular meetings, which contribute to cooperation and border
stability, the senior source said.
The Battalion is one of five enlisted
battalions under the division’s command.
They are joined annually by some
three to five reserve battalions, which include Combat Intelligence, armored
units, sappers and K-9 units. “They’d all be activated in a war,” the source
“This relaxing scenery can change in seconds if there’s a
missile, bomb attack or an infiltration,” he continued.
concern is the significant budget cut suffered by the IDF, which has limited
training. Week-long drills have shrunk to span just two days. “We’re finding
ways to close the gaps. We hope the situation will change in 2015 [when a new
defense budget will be passed],” the source said.
For his part, Halabi
broadcast a quiet confidence in the IDF’s readiness to tackle Hezbollah. “Israel
is stronger,” he said.
“We’re protecting our homes here, which are in the
North. We love the state very much.”
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