kfir brigade 88.
(photo credit: )
The heavy guns and mortar squads set up on the opposite hill. On each side, the enemy position is flanked by a company from the Kfir Brigade's Haruv Battalion.
At once, the enemy post lights up like a firecracker as the soldiers on the opposite hill pound it with heavy machine gunfire and some 60 mortar shells. Several minutes later, the two companies consisting of infantry troops and snipers begin climbing the enemy hills and eliminating the remaining enemy combatants, cardboard heads with yellow balloons pinned to them.
Overseeing the exercise is Col. Oren Abman, the new commander of the Kfir Brigade and a former commander of the Golani Brigade's 12th Battalion and most recently of the elite Alexandroni Brigade. Haruv's exercise this week was the sixth battalion-level drill that Abman has overseen since his appointment four months ago.
The largest brigade in the IDF, Kfir is also the newest and stands out with its stylish camouflage beret, unlike the rest of the IDF which sports single-colored berets like red for Paratroopers and brown for Golani.
Established just over a year ago, the brigade is stationed in the West Bank where it's six battalions - Shimshon, Nahshon, Lavi, Netzah Yehuda, Haruv and Duhifat - conduct daily anti-terror operations. In 2009, the battalions carried out more than 50 percent of the arrest operations against Palestinian terror suspects.
Despite this achievement, Abman is trying to break the brigade's mold of being known as the West Bank unit, and is training his soldiers to prepare for war with Hizbullah in Lebanon.
During Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year, Haruv was the first Kfir battalion to be deployed on a front that is not the West Bank. The unit operated remarkably well, a senior officer said this week, particularly in the urban centers it encountered in Gaza which were similar to the ones it was familiar with in the West Bank.
Abman's ultimate vision is to hold a brigade-level exercise by the end of 2010 and to receive permission from the top IDF brass to begin deploying his battalions on some of Israel's other fronts, particularly along the Gaza and Lebanese borders.
In private discussions with his subordinates, Abman, who spent a year studying in America, compares Kfir to the US Army Rangers, light infantry commandos.
During Cast Lead, the Haruv Battalion lost a company commander, Maj. Roi Rosner, as the troops searched for terrorists near the Kissufim Crossing. Company medic St.-Sgt. Menachem Zik received a citation of valor earlier this month for the way he treated Rosner and other soldiers who were wounded during the incident.
Another Kfir Battalion, Nachshon, participated Saturday morning in the operation to capture the three terrorists who killed Meir Chai Thursday night as he was driving near his home in Shavei Shomron.
Alongside the operational threats, Abman is also facing a new and unique challenge from within the brigade, insubordination.
The first outright refusal of orders was in August 2007, when 12 soldiers from the Duhifat Battalion refused to climb aboard a bus departing their base in the Jordan Valley and meant to take them to Hebron where they were slated to provide perimeter security during the planned evacuation of a home taken over by settlers.
In October, two soldiers from the Shimshon Battalion pulled out a banner reading "Shimshon does not evacuate Homesh" in reference to the northern Samaria settlement evacuated during the 2005 disengagement, during their swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall.
In November, in the latest act of insubordination, several soldiers from the Nahshon Battalion were suspended and punished by their commander for waving a banner reading "Also Nahshon does not deport" from the rooftop of a building in their base in the South Hebron Hills, shortly after Border Police razed two illegal homes in the Negohot outpost.
Abman was personally involved in the sanctioning of the soldiers involved in the Shimshon case and decided to oust them from the brigade and the IDF. He sent a letter recently to all of the commanders in the brigade in which he said insubordination would not be tolerated and soldiers needed to understand that their commander's orders superseded what they are told from external sources, such as rabbis.
The recent wave of insubordination has to do with a number of factors, Abman explains to his officers. Firstly, since the Kfir Brigade is deployed in the West Bank, its battalions are the ones who rub up with the local population and are chosen to provide general security for evacuations.
"If Golani or the Paratroopers were here instead of Kfir you think it wouldn't happen by them?" asked one senior commander in the brigade.
In addition, in recent years and since the IDF Manpower Division has cut the number of hesder students who are drafted into the traditional infantry brigades, Kfir has seen a rise in the number of soldiers it gets from yeshivas, many of which are located in the West Bank. The two Nahshon soldiers, for example, are from settlements and both serving in the IDF in the hesder program, which combines yeshiva study with military service.