Along a quiet border in southern Israel, IDF troops held a large-scale drill preparing for the next round of conflict with terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
Several months after Operation Guardian of the Walls, the border between Israel and Gaza is quiet. Troops know, however, that deadly fighting can once again break out between the two sides.
“It’s quiet for the moment, but it can all change very quickly,” said Maj. Yair Ben-David, operations officer in the northern brigade of the Gaza division. “But we have our hands on the pulse and are watching the enemy, which is always looking for ways to kill us.”
The two-day brigade-level drill this past week saw hundreds of soldiers and some 50-60 reservists train along the northern sector of the Strip. Troops came from the Paratroopers Brigade, Armored Corps, Military Intelligence, and more.
Prior to the start of the drill, Ben-David and his fellow officers set their expectations of the drill that was held by the Gaza Division, and saw multi-dimensional maneuvering and the integration of various new capabilities.
Cpt. (res.) Y, the fire assistance officer in the northern brigade who lives in the area, took part in what he called “a really important drill.”
Responsible for all artillery and precision firepower in the brigade during the drill, Y. told The Jerusalem Post that the military has received new munitions and other weapons.
“It’s crazy how the technology has advanced,” he said. “The IDF’s capabilities and intelligence have grown... We have extraordinary strengths to stop threats coming from Gaza.” He said that when the IDF hits back with the intelligence and new technology, “it’s like striking with tweezers.”
Various threats posed by terror groups in the coastal enclave were simulated, including a multi-incident scenario that included rocket fire toward the home front and closing the circle against the cell that launched the rockets.
“A lot of intelligence was gathered during Operation Guardian of the Walls that helped us better understand how Hamas acted during the fighting, and we learned a lot of lessons from the conflict as well,” Ben-David said.
One of the lessons, he said, was not allowing civilians into areas that could be threatened by rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles.
During the May fighting, a civilian jeep was struck by an ATGM, and one soldier, Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib, was killed when an ATGM struck the military jeep he was in near the community of Netiv Ha’asara.
Civilians living in the Gaza envelope were also killed and wounded during the 11 days of fighting, which saw over 4,000 rockets and mortars fired by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“The brigade is responsible for the defense of many communities along the border,” Ben-David said, and that troops are also able to protect communities and cities further away from the Strip should they be threatened.
“We can close the circle quickly on terrorists,” he said. “We have aerial platforms and intelligence that can locate and destroy a threat like a cell that fires rockets.”
As someone who is “very tied” to the communities of the Gaza envelope, Cpt. Y said that he was called up during the May fighting and felt that the operation was personal.
“I was protecting my family,” Cpt. Y said. “During the fighting, there were sirens going off in all the communities, and I was always thinking of my family... that they could be more at risk than I – or that I stopped a threat that could have targeted where they lived. It was really personal.”
The drill this past week not only saw troops train on threats similar to what was seen in May, but also on additional war-time scenarios that troops didn’t expect.
“We were challenged,” Cpt. Y said. “We learned a lot.”
Despite the relative quiet that the South has seen since the end of the May war, dozens of incendiary and explosive balloons have been launched toward southern Israel. In return, the Israeli army has struck Hamas targets in Gaza.
Border Police Officer St.-Sgt. Barel Hadaria Shmueli was killed in July during a violent riot in the northern part of the Strip. He was shot in the head at point-blank range by a Palestinian through a gap in the border barrier, succumbing to his wounds nine days later.
The Palestinian terrorist, though initially believed to be a Hamas member, was identified by Ynet on Thursday as a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He has reportedly been released from protective custody by the Gaza terror group.
While there have not been any riots or balloons since the violence that claimed the life of Shmueli, Hamas is not resting.
“The enemy is getting ready for the next round, and is always trying to test our forces,” Ben-David said. “Despite the quiet, we know that Hamas doesn’t want to sit down for coffee with us. The enemy is learning and getting ready for the next round. But the IDF is ready for any threat that is thrown at it.”