Security and Defense: Taking to the streets

Narrow alleys, enemies posing as civilians and schools doubling as storerooms for weapons – urban warfare is an IDF nightmare.

war311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Not many periods resemble this year in terms of military buildup among Israel’s enemies.  A quick glance along the borders demonstrates just how significant the current trend is – Hamas is re-arming at an unprecedented rate in the Gaza Strip; Hizbullah is doing the same in Lebanon; and Syria is also training its forces in guerrilla tactics in the event of a future war.
What will spark this future war is unclear, but IDF officers joke about how they will have to cancel their overseas vacation plans this summer. One possibility is an IAF strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which will likely lead to conflict with Hizbullah, Hamas and possibly Syria. Another possibility is that Hizbullah will succeed – after many failed attempts – to avenge the 2008 assassination of its military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, in Damascus. If it shoots down an El Al plane or blows up an embassy, Israel will likely feel compelled to respond.
Conflict could also erupt if Israel decides to attack a Syrian weapons convoy to Hizbullah. This comes amid news that Syria has transferred an unknown number of Scuds as well as hundreds of M600 missiles. The Syrian-made M600 – which has a solid propellant and is a clone of the Iranian Fateh-110 – has a range of 250 km., a 500 kg. warhead, and is equipped with a sophisticated guidance system, giving Hizbullah unprecedented accuracy.
On the ground, the common denominator between all three fronts is the urbanization process that is taking place. While Syria retains its tanks and artillery, its recent investments have been in its commando units, antitank missiles, rapid deployment capabilities and the construction of ghost towns along the border to trap IDF troops.
Hizbullah has done the same. In the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the IDF encountered an enemy both entrenched in civilian infrastructure and heavily deployed in what it called “nature reserves,” forested areas where Hizbullah dug bunkers and set up Katyusha launch sites.
Based on current intelligence, the situation has gotten worse. Hizbullah is almost completely stationed inside cities and villages throughout Lebanon. A future war will be fought not in the hills but in the narrow alleys and streets of Bint Jbail, Maron a-Ras and Hirbet Selm.
Hamas is no different. Following Operation Cast Lead, it underwent an extensive internal inquiry, together with its Iranian patrons, and decided to increase its dependence on civilian infrastructure. If Hamas fighters hid in a dozen hospitals during Cast Lead, the number is likely to be double in the next war. If it fired rockets from a dozen schools, the number next time will likely be triple that.
Tasked with preparing IDF units with the future urban warfare it faces is the Ground Forces Command (GFC), currently headed by Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman, a veteran tank commander and until last year commander of Division 36, the IDF’s mobilized division on the Golan Heights.
Immediately after the Second Lebanon War, the IDF embarked on a process which culminated six months ago in the approval by the General Staff of a new operational doctrine for ground forces. Other IDF branches, like the air force and the navy, are currently in the process of writing their own operational doctrines.
The document, authored by a number of senior officers and overseen by Brig.-Gen. Ilan Peretz, one of Turgeman’s deputies, essentially serves as the reference for the military on how it should prepare its infantry, armored, combat engineering and artillery forces for a future war, either asymmetric or conventional.
“The document is our compass,” a top GFC officer recently told The Jerusalem Post. “We analyzed what the nature of the next war will be and what we need to do to get ourselves ready for it.”
Urban warfare, for example, has two innate difficulties. First, the closed quarters makes it easier for the enemy to conceal its positions and weaponry. As a result, it is difficult for the military to collect intelligence. It is also difficult for a conventional military to accurately distinguish between civilians and fighters who wear civilian clothing.
Therefore, the GFC recently decided that urban warfare training would be mandatory for all its units – whether infantry, armor or combat engineers – in their basic training.
“We don’t train for specific missions, but we create the capability the soldiers will need to effectively carry out any type of mission they receive,” the senior GFC officer said.
With the demand for the increase in training has also come the need for additional IDF urban-warfare training centers.
Currently equipped with close to 20 facilities – the largest at the Tze’elim base in the Negev – the IDF will increase that number by close to 50 percent by next year and is currently building new facilities at the Golani and Kfir infantry brigade training bases.
The IDF is also constructing a mock village in the Combat Engineer training base in the Negev that is modeled after urban areas in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon where, according to the IDF, Hamas and Hizbullah have booby-trapped homes and built underground passageways stretching dozens of kilometers.
Another decision was to create brigade combat teams (BCTs) made up of a combination of infantry, armor and combat engineers like the forces that fought in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead. All combat units are part of BCTs, so while the commander of the Paratroop Brigade, for example, is only in charge of his four battalions on a daily basis, in the event of a war or large-scale operation, his brigade will take in tanks and engineering squads.
“The name of the game is interoperability,” the officer said. “This way the commanders already know how to operate together and how to effectively utilize the wide variety of forces under their command.”
For large-scale operations which involve the air force, each brigadecommander will receive an air liaison officer. This officer has his ownarmored personnel carrier and enters the area of operations with theBCT and serves as the brigade commander’s main air consultant.
“The brigade commander can say that he needs a specific targetdestroyed, but doesn’t know which bomb or aircraft to use,” the officersaid. “This is what the liaison’s job is.”
To meet operational requirements, the GFC has recommended to theGeneral Staff that training regimens be increased from 13 weeks everytwo years to 17 weeks. The target date is next year.