A mix of newly outfitted “Namer” armored fighting vehicles combined with gaining direct command over drones has made the Givati brigade, charged with facing off against Gaza, a far more deadly and formidable force.
The Jerusalem Post recently got to witness Rotem battalion Commander Lt. Col. Anan Fares running a multi-day drill with his troops over a rocky and sandy terrain near Gaza, including simulating extensive maneuvers with the around 60 Namer vehicles and a couple of dozen other jeeps and vehicles as well as house-to-house fighting in a setup of mock urban facilities.
Fares gave high compliments to recent moves by the IDF high command to significantly enhance the intelligence available to him, to his men and the access to airpower to locate and destroy far more enemy targets at a record clip.
A major revolution that only happened for the Rotem battalion in the last eight months and is still in the process of being rolled out for other combat units has been providing them with their own intelligence collection drones.
Coordinated use of drones
Until now, any coordinated use of drones for either enhancing attack capabilities or intelligence collection was entirely dependent on a liaison with the air force: another layer of red tape and delay. And if Fares wants to call in an air strike from an aircraft or a drone, he would still need to call on the air force for assistance. But for intelligence collection, he now has his own half-a-dozen or so drones and specially trained drone operators under his command at all times.
In addition, the Namer itself has been outfitted with the ASPRO-A active protection system, formerly called Trophy HV, which destroys rocket-propelled grenades and antitank missiles in mid-air.
The Namer platform is critical for ground forces to be able to carry out offensives in Gaza and Lebanon, where Hamas and Hezbollah are stocked with anti-tank missiles and RPGs.
Using radar panels to detect and follow threats before destroying them mid-air with interceptors, the ASPRO-A had been installed on Merkava Mark IV tanks already prior to the 2014 Gaza War.
In addition, the Namer uses optical and other sensors to follow multiple enemy targets, including in the haze of an urban setting and in the dark where the human eye could miss a variety of moving threats.
It has a large gun which makes it a much greater offensive threat than a straight armored personnel carrier, but the gun and other aspects of the vehicle are much lighter than a full-fledged tank, giving it greater speed.
In some ways, this makes each Namer a full battle and intelligence collection unit on its own.
Pressed about how new technologies can also throw a wrench into his forces ability to operate when the additional new levels of technology lead to more malfunctions than back in the days when his forces were outfitted with simpler equipment, Fares said it was well worth the trade.
The Lt. Col. explained that any force of any size has foul-ups of some kind no matter how low-tech they might be, and the key is having a proper work ethic to be prepared to continue to prosecute a battle despite unexpected problems and temporary setbacks.
But all of this theory was tested by hostile reality during the drill witnessed by the Post.
One thing that was clear about Fares throughout the drill was that he lives and breathes the army, something which was infectious to his troops.
And Fares has the IDF in his blood – his uncle, Imad Fares, was a rare Druze officer who rose to the rank of colonel in the IDF.
Fares appeared to be the consummate IDF commander, exuding warmth and support for those troops who performed well and took their roles seriously, but with zero tolerance for troops who were lazy or incompetent. (Whoa to those soldiers who were playing with their cell phones or did not have their helmet fastened!)
In one instance, a vehicle’s communications array failed and in another instance a vehicle got stuck.
The Lt. Col. was emphatic to his mid-level commanders on how to handle the situation: do whatever needed to be done to get the malfunctioning or stuck troops back in line, but the attack with all of the other vehicles would not be held up and must continue.
He explained to the Post that this is the best way to prepare for real warfare where there are always unexpected problems and opportunities and the difference between life and death, victory and defeat, can be which side adapts better and faster to what could not be foreseen.
This is all the more crucial in moving the unwieldy Namer’s through the bumpy desert, while trying to remain in formation and carry out maneuvers which provide enough space for all of the forces to go forward, but not remain static sitting ducks for the enemy (even with its special armor).
True, the Namer is faster and more maneuverable than full-fledged tanks, but its bulkiness still slows it down and managing dozens of moving Namers is not easy feat.
Throughout the drill, Fares monitored the progress of his various units with a mix of: spotting vehicles with his eyes, calling through the IDF’s internal communications system and following the others on a fancy tablet installed in his lead vehicle.
Getting a detailed view
During the operation, Fares was also in touch with special intelligence and operations officers to understand more in detail what was going right or wrong with a particular group of soldiers.
He was also very clear with his orders, explaining even to mid-level commanders who may have stopped at a midpoint prematurely, why their analysis of the situation, despite making some sense, needed to be secondary to the primary goal of continuing to advance.
At the end of part of the drill, the Post witnessed soldiers going room-to-room, movie-style with hand signals and sudden crisp movements yelling “fire, fire” to simulate their taking out enemy soldiers lying behind the next door.
Ready for tunnel warfare
Fares also discussed his unit’s readiness for tunnel warfare with Hamas.
He had recently been training in the North, where Hezbollah has largely given up on tunnel warfare after the IDF destroyed most or all of its attack tunnels and re-digging them is extremely difficult.
In contrast, he said Hamas is still hard at work to use tunnels against the IDF and his soldiers and special tunnel units he works with, must be ready for any new curveball Hamas throws at them.
For example, his unit has different battle plans mapped out for an incursion into the south, center or north of the Gaza Strip in the event of a war.
Still, one IDF view is that Hamas may generally avoid tunnels as they just missed losing hundreds of fighters to an IDF trap during the May 2021 Gaza War, and they may not want to test their luck again.
Most importantly, he is giving his soldiers, many of whom are too new to have combat experience under their belt, a sense of how seriously they must take their jobs in order to maintain Israel’s deterrence of Hamas to hopefully avoid war.
“We will try not to go into Gaza, but if we have to, we have the tools to do so,” said Fares.