IDF prepared for Hezbollah’s surprises, Golani officer says

‘Post’ observes troops drill for war on Golan Heights in the dead of night

Golani Troops during a large scale drill in northern Israel simulating war with Hezbollah. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Golani Troops during a large scale drill in northern Israel simulating war with Hezbollah.
With tensions high along Israel’s borders and with enemies continuing to build up their arsenals, battalions of Golani soldiers are participating in a large-scale exercise simulating war with Hezbollah along the northern front.
It was the dead of night when The Jerusalem Post joined the troops from Golani’s 12th and 13th battalions, after they had marched more than 25 km. from their starting point to a hilly outcropping where they were drilling on surprising and engaging the enemy.
“It’s a challenging drill, both physically and mentally,” Deputy Commander of the Golani Brigade Lt.-Col. David Dadon told the Post during a short pause in the exercise. “It’s one drill after the other and we have to make sure that we have a drill simulating reality during the next war as best as we can.”
While Golani operates under General Officer Commanding Northern Command, its units are sent to combat zones on a number of different fronts including the North, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. With the IDF stepping up the scope and frequency of its combat training, troops from the Golani Brigade know the Golan Heights territory very well.
The defense establishment has stated that any outbreak of conflict on the northern border will not be confined to just Lebanon or Syria, but along the entire northern front.
The IDF expects that in any conflict, whether it be against Hezbollah or Hamas, soldiers will have to fight their heavily armed enemies entrenched in the middle of built-up civilian areas.
Ground forces will need to be deployed to conquer enemy territory and destroy weapons stores, especially rocket launchers, to minimize the number of missiles and rockets the enemy can fire onto the home front.
While the military expects to also have to deal with underground infrastructure in the North, Dadon told the Post troops will not be training in tunnel warfare during the drill.
Unlike Gaza where Hamas has a network of attack tunnels, Hezbollah’s tunnels are mostly for the storage of weapons and command centers.
“Whenever we talk about underground infrastructure the image of Hamas tunnels pop up in our minds, but in Lebanon it’s different,” Dadon said. “At the end, these are storage centers with dead ends and not a network of tunnels. If troops need to go down and neutralize an enemy, we expect them to kill the enemy.”
During the drill, troops were tested on their capabilities both during the day and night, in urban combat exercises as well as in open terrain. The infantry troops were also joined by armored personnel vehicles as they marched from one target point to the next.
The drill, which simulated the next military campaign against Hezbollah, challenged not only the soldiers but their commanders to prepare them as best as possible for the next war.
“We don’t need something to happen for us to prepare. We are always preparing,” Dadon said. “Even if war breaks out tomorrow, I will go to it thinking of what else I could have done to prepare even better if I had more time.”
With the drill simulating real-time war scenarios as best it can, troops who are wounded in the field are treated by medics and paramedics.
“If someone is injured, we make sure that we have a sterile environment free from enemy activity and treat the injured soldier,” Dadon said, adding that several troops were “injured” during the drill when they didn’t act properly and were detected by enemy forces.
“We have to make sure that what we wanted to train on was actually what was done in the field, that not everyone can do whatever they like,” he added. “We have to train exactly what we want to see happen. If I tell him to run forward and ignore the injured, he can get to the next point but he won’t be fulfilling the mission because we have to have the proper amount of troops. And at the target location, in another 4 km., there will be more enemy troops.”
In addition to soldiers who were “injured” by the enemy, four troops had to be evacuated after a mortar shell detonated when they started a bonfire to warm themselves. The troops suffered mild injuries and were taken to Safed’s Ziv Medical Center before being released back home.
The challenges posed by the winter such as cold temperatures and rain, as well as the difficulty of communication between maneuvering units, are central parts of the drill that troops are training on.
“At the end of the day, the point of the drill is to bring troops to the extreme and see what the troops are capable of doing and how they can deal with the hardest challenges, like what they might face during times of war,” one soldier told the Post. “It could be sleeping in the field for a week in the cold and walking everywhere with tons of gear on you, it could be up against an enemy or the weather and terrain.”
In addition to the darkness and cold weather challenging troops in the field, Dadon said it is also challenging to think of new drills that force commanders to think differently and be challenged themselves.
The IDF has been training on the Golan Heights for another war with Hezbollah, which since the Second Lebanon War has morphed into an army with more advanced weaponry and more mobility, able to draft large amounts of fighters and deploy them quickly into Israeli territory.
Hezbollah has been described by senior military officers as the strongest army in the Middle East after the IDF.
Yet even if Hezbollah has surprises in store for IDF troops like the group has warned, the IDF is prepared, Dadon told the Post.
“We have advantages over the enemy in every way,” he said. “If the enemy surprises us at the beginning by starting the campaign then we will very quickly turn it around and get the advantage.”
Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006, which came to an end under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, calling for disarmament of Hezbollah, the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon and for the deployment of the Lebanese army and an enlarged UN force in southern Lebanon.