Hundreds of Golani Brigade infantrymen last week took part in a large-scale exercise simulating urban combat in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.Soldiers from Golani’s 12th “Barak” Battalion began the two-day drill late Tuesday night with an overnight march of some 30 kilometers from Moshav Meitav, south of Afula, to Harish.“The soldiers were ‘ambushed’ during their march and had to fight off their enemies and deal with their wounded comrades,” a senior Golani officer in charge of the exercise told The Jerusalem Post while taking a short break from the drill.The IDF has significantly stepped up the scope and frequency of its combat training, and while most such exercises take place on the Golan Heights, this one took place in the growing town of Harish, just inside the Green Line and an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv.The Post visited Harish as soldiers were drilling on taking over half-built buildings and engaging the enemy, who lay in wait to ambush them from a ditch.
“This is the perfect place to hold a drill simulating urban combat,” the senior officer said as a young boy pedaled by on his bike. “The biggest challenge for the soldiers in this drill was to differentiate between the ‘enemy’ and civilians.” Hovering above the town throughout the exercise was a Skylark drone, the IDF’s smallest, which operates on all fronts for tactical surveillance.According to the senior officer, the Skylark was not the only unmanned aerial vehicle taking part in the drill.Once soldiers succeeded in taking over a building, they launched quadcopters – helicopter drones that are lifted and propelled by four rotors – to see what lay ahead.Launched by one or two soldiers and able to be operated from rooftops or the back of armored personnel carriers, the quadcopters provide live-video to operators, giving them a clear view of their next target.Although the Golani Brigade is under the Northern Command, its units are sent to every combat zone in the North, West Bank and Gaza Strip. The IDF believes that in any future conflict, whether it be against Hezbollah in the North or Hamas in the South, soldiers will have to fight heavily armed adversaries entrenched in the middle of built-up civilian areas.According to the senior officer, while the terrain of the northern front and Gaza are very different, there is, nevertheless, something important in common, namely that soldiers will encounter high numbers of civilians during urban combat.“For a soldier to enter an enemy house in Gaza or Lebanon, it’s the same thing,” the officer said.While the IDF assessment is that Hezbollah and Hamas do not seek a conflict with Israel at this time, both groups continue to invest enormous resources into building up their arsenals. At the end of February, Golani troops held a large war drill on the Golan Heights where they practiced storming a village, seizing an open hilly area, dealing with incoming artillery fire and moving around in the Namer armored personnel carrier that can transport 11 soldiers under heavy fire.Equipped with the Trophy active protection system for vehicles, which can intercept enemy rockets, the Namer “is the one thing that will allow us to beat the enemy,” the senior officer said, pointing to two jeeps that acted as Namers during the current exercise.It was a significant challenge to bring all the necessary equipment to Harish, as well as mental health officers to train commanders on how to treat soldiers who act as if they are shell-shocked, the senior officer said, but, “When you put all the pieces together it completes and increases our capabilities,” he said, stressing that the soldiers will not be on their own against the enemy.“The commanders will be at the front line. That’s what I expect of myself and of other commanders.That’s what the soldiers and their families expect of us. There’s no question about it,” he told the Post before putting on his helmet to rejoin his men.“I really hope my soldiers will not need to go to war, but if we have to, the soldiers are ready.”