The Combat Engineering Corps’ elite unit, Yahalom, held a five-day largescale drill last week in the Jordan Valley, in which both reserve and enlisted soldiers participated, a senior IDF officer said on Wednesday.
It was a full-unit drill in which members practiced all of their capabilities, with soldiers simulating raids against fortified bunkers, fighting in urban areas as well as in the field.
The drill, meant to be as realistic as possible, saw soldiers in the engineering unit use live fire as well as locate and destroy explosives, clear safe passage through minefields, break down fortified doors and deal with nonconventional threats in the battlefield.
According to an IDF statement, the drill “is a part of the change in perception and understanding for the unit to aid ground forces alongside its own activities, in which the unit has its own advantages.”
While the IDF has seen a decrease in soldiers serving in combat roles, Yahalom has grown significantly, becoming an essential component of the IDF, a senior officer told military journalists at Yahalom’s training center at the Syrkin Base near Petah Tikva.
The Samur section of Yahalom, for example, which specializes in underground warfare “continues to work, day in and day out, to counter the threat of tunnels originating in the Gaza Strip.”
During Operation Protective Edge the IDF destroyed dozens of cross-border tunnels used by Hamas to ferry weapons and operatives into Israeli territory, and Yahalom has “learned many lessons from Protective Edge and received a lot of new technology to deal with the threat,” the senior IDF officer said, pointing to the recent discovery of two tunnels near the Gaza border in April.
While the Combat Engineering Corps does not see any threat of tunnels on the border with Syria, it is also closely monitoring the use of chemical weapons by groups in Syria and Iraq, with the secretive Saifan unit, which specializes in dealing with chemical weapons threats on the battlefield.
“We are always seeing new types of threats, so we must train our soldiers to think outside the box, to think of the most unlikely place the enemy might put an IED [improvised explosive device], for example,” the senior officer said.
Unlike past wars where soldiers were the first inside enemy territory, the unit now has the ability to send in technologically advanced equipment, recently receiving new robots which are able to detect any dangerous chemicals which may be in the air, alerting soldiers to the threat before they enter.
The Micro-tactical ground robot, which can be carried in the field on a soldier’s back, also has eight cameras and a range of 50 meters, allowing soldiers to see inside a tunnel for any threat before entering. Another robot used by Yahalom, the Andros, has a remote-controlled mounted shotgun, which can be used to neutralize threats, and according to the senior officer, the army is also working on robots that can explode.
Yahalom unit members are responsible not only for locating and destroying tunnels but also for advance engineering reconnaissance, looking for and dismantling any possible bombs before other forces move in.
According to the senior officer, it has taken part in over 1,000 incidents this past year alone, including raids and several dozen home demolitions in the West Bank.