When it comes to covering large numbers of security sectors in short periods of time, few units can compete with the Palhod (forward) Company of the Paratroop Brigade’s 890th Battalion.
From June until now, the unit covered six security sectors, fought in the Gaza war and managed to squeeze in intense combat training sessions in between.
Capt. Itay Elyasof, commander of the Palhod Company, told The Jerusalem Post
last week that his soldiers were the first paratroopers to cross into Gaza, clear a path forward and engage the enemy.
“We blazed a trail for the rest of the brigade,” he said.
The forward company is tasked with engaging the enemy first, and specializes in navigating hostile territory.
“This company must be very strong, to avoid holding up the rest of the brigade,” said Elyasof.
The company’s hectic routine reflects the unusually heavy workload carried by conscripted forces this year. It alternates between taking hold of a sector for security missions, and training.
Back in June, the paratrooper forward company was on the Golan Heights, training, when Hamas in Hebron kidnapped three Israeli teenagers, and the IDF launched Operation Brother’s Keeper, sending 10 brigades into Judea and Samaria. This, Elyasof noted, marked the start of three intensive months of operations.
“We headed south to the Paratroop Brigade Base in Hebron. After the bodies were found, we continued searches the area,” he said.
Then the operation ended, and the unit returned to the Golan for more training. However, it was then quickly deployed to the Syrian border, after a 14-year-old Israeli- Arab boy was killed in cross-border missile fire.
Before long, Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza began showering southern cities, towns and villages with rockets, prompting the IDF to raise its level of alert. The paratroopers found themselves heading south again, this time to the Gaza border region.
Events unfolded quickly, and the IDF launched Operation Protective Edge with a series of air strikes designed to stop the rocket attacks.
As fighter jets roared overhead, striking targets in Gaza, the company primed itself the Tzelim ground forces training center in the Negev, preparing to enter the Gaza Strip.
On July 17, the order came.
“We headed into Gaza,” recalled Elyasof. Fifteen days of intensive combat awaited them in the Strip, against close-range enemies, in closed and built-up spaces.
“Our mission was to locate and take control of [offensive terrorist] tunnels. We found a number of tunnels, and assisted in their destruction. We went on to destroy the tunnels with other units.
We also located a lot of enemy ammunition, and classified maps – things I suppose will help our intelligence,” the officer said.
Paratroopers played a key role in Operation Protective Edge, often trading fire with Hamas terrorists as they accompanied Combat Engineering Corps units.
Two weeks later, the company left Gaza, its mission accomplished.
It then boarded buses and traveled back up to the Golan Heights for training.
Within weeks, the forward guard point company was once again redeployed, this time to the northern West Bank for continuous security missions. Its area of operation is currently the Nablus region, where it secures Israeli communities, and takes part in counter-terrorism raids by night.
Asked how the unit is able to handle this number of sectors, Elyasof said, “We need to be very flexible, and prepared for any area.
Our flexibility was tested; in every place we were sent to, we stood up to the test.”
After a grueling summer, Elyasof said he and the members of his company are walking away with a “sense of victory. This is our feeling, as we met our missions.”
Other unique companies in infantry battalions include units that specialize in commando combat, and others that are well-versed in deploying a range of firepower to destroy targets.
Now, Elyasof’s company is taking part in continuous security missions in Samaria, as well as occasionally arresting terrorists from various organizations in night raids. The raids have also targeted suspected rioters who hurled Molotov cocktails at Israelis, the officer said, adding, “We came back from such an arrest last night.”
Next month, the unit will, once again, head back north, where it will help secure both the Syrian and Lebanese borders.
The company is moving north as Jabhat al-Nusra fighters consolidate their control of the Quneitra region along the Israeli border, and as intense fighting rages in the region between rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, with occasional cross-border spillovers into Israel.
Lebanon too is becoming more restive than it once was, with Hezbollah openly deploying uniformed and armed members along the Israeli border.
“This is the life of our battalion,” said Elyasof.