(photo credit: IDF [file])
In line with IDF policy to upgrade relations with friendly countries that are involved in the war on terror, the military has set up a unit that is responsible for creating "package deals" for foreign armies that are interested in training alongside their Israeli counterparts.
The International Training Branch is part of the Ground Forces Command and is headed by Maj. Tal Lazaros. Its most recent initiative is to market the IDF's newly-built urban warfare center at the Ze'elim training base in the south to foreign militaries for training sessions. The center was opened a year ago and is an exact replica of a Palestinian town with hundreds of structures and even includes a mosque and a minaret.
Two weeks ago, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi offered the IDF's assistance to dozens of militaries engaged in the war on terror whose commanders participated in the annual NATO Chief of Staff conference in Brussels.
"This is in Israel's interest," an officer involved in the initiative explained. "We are all facing the common threat of terrorism and it is important that we work together."
For the IDF there is also an economic benefit from marketing the packages. In its two years of operation, Lazaros's unit has brought in tens of millions of shekels in revenue from selling training sessions to foreign militaries. The unit has even launched a Web site to market its wares - www.idf.il/international-training.
In addition to the new urban warfare center, the unit is also trying to interest foreign militaries in coming to Israel to study the way the IDF combats the threat of roadside bombs, known universally as Improvised Explosive Devices (IED).
Most foreign militaries that come to Israel for training, the officer said, are interested in learning Israeli techniques in Low Intensity Conflicts (LIC), such as urban and guerrilla warfare.
In addition to creating packages, the unit also holds six international courses annually for foreign military officers on C4I communications networking, logistics, and combat psychology. Next year, the unit is considering opening a new course at the IDF's School for Counter-Terrorism.
"The main purpose is cooperation," the officer said. "But Israel as a country benefits from having these foreign soldiers come here since they get to see what Israel and the IDF really are and not just what they read about in the news." Most recently, the unit facilitated the transfer of MK19 40mm machine guns to Poland, which had asked Israel to borrow the weapons.
"They said they needed the weapons and we loaned [them] to them," the officer said, adding that while he was not sure where they were today it was possible that the guns were fighting in Iraq together with the Polish contingent.
The unit has also assisted the State of Israel in strengthening diplomatic ties with other countries. Earlier this year, the Foreign Ministry asked the unit to send two explosives experts to Vietnam to teach officers there how to neutralize bombs that were left behind by the US during the Vietnam War.