Civilian response squads in training this month.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
The IDF has in recent weeks stepped up training of armed civilian response squads in communities located near the Gaza Strip, reflecting a new security approach that gives the squads an official standing in the military’s defenses against terrorist infiltration.
The development comes a few months after Hamas repeatedly attempted to send murder squads from Gaza into southern Israel through tunnels, to carry out atrocities and kidnappings during the summer conflict.
Squads are made up of local civilians who have access to IDF-issued firearms, including M-16 rifles, ceramic vests, and helmets. As the IDF prepares for future attempts by Hamas and other Gaza terrorist groups to go on killing sprees in civilian areas, the squads’ importance in military eyes is growing.
Lt.-Col. Imad Sif, territorial defense officer in the IDF’s Gaza Division, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that following Operation Protective Edge this summer, the army “took a decision to significantly improve the readiness of the response squads.”
“As part of a drive to improve the security of Gaza-border communities, we included them in our approach, adding them to the operational response to threats,” Sif said.
Over the past month and a half, some 49 squads held a series of intensive training sessions at the Lakhish Command Training base, which saw civilian responders improve their firearms skills, and test responses to a scenario involving a terrorist who entered a civilian home.
“We understand that a number of attackers, or a lone terrorist, can reach a community before the army gets there.
Therefore, to reduce damage that can result from an infiltration, we have placed these squads into our security approach. They will be the first response in neutralizing terrorists,” said Sif.
He stressed that the IDF provides near hermetical protection to Gaza-border communities, but acknowledged that “there are instances in which terrorists might be able to break through our contact lines and reach communities.”
Communications between the squads and the army are the responsibility of a civilian security coordinator.
Last month, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon decided to reverse an earlier Defense Ministry decision and maintain the current number of full-time coordinators protecting front line communities.
“The coordinators scramble response squads and communicate with the army as soon as an infiltration occurs,” explained Sif. “This is someone who lives in the area and is a liaison person for us.”
This month, Sderot received its own response squad as well, Sif said.
“Sderot is very close to the border, and is part of the group of areas threatened by infiltration... A squad has been lacking in Sderot for years,” Sif added.
Capt. Natanel David Hai, Medical Officer in the Gaza Division’s Northern Brigade, told the Post that as part of the stepped up preparations, medics and doctors in areas near Gaza held a drill this week practicing emergency medical responses to terrorist attacks.
“We have seen the threat of infiltration rising. It was already there, but prior to this summer, it wasn’t in the awareness of many residents,” he said. “In the evenings, after work, we trained local residents who are medics, paramedics, and doctors living near Gaza. We want them to be able to provide the right medical treatment, like stopping bleeding, on the scene,” Hai said.
The training, which included civilian and reservist medics and doctors, lasted two days, and taught volunteers how to evacuate the wounded from danger zones, and get them to hospital within 60 minutes of sustaining wounds.
“It’s not a question of if, but when the threat will materialize,” Hai said. “We are preparing for the next time. I think we did unequivocally improve the chances of patients surviving.”