After months of operational activity in the West Bank, troops from the IDF’s Artillery Corps’ 55th “Dragon” Battalion have begun three months of drills in the Jordan Valley simulating war in the North.
“We spent four months protecting civilians against terror attacks – and now we are back to drilling to be prepared if a war were to break out in the North,” Battery Commander Cpt. Alon Luria told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
The military has carried out several drills in the northern arena in recent months, as an ongoing war of words between Israel and Iran as well as the IDF’s Operation Northern Shield have increased tensions along the Jewish state’s northern border.
But tensions are not only high in the North, but in the West Bank as well, with a recent intelligence assessment by the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate warning that Israel is facing possible military escalations against Palestinian factions in both Gaza and the West Bank in 2019.
According to Luria, “the biggest challenge for troops is to always be on high alert and always be ready to stop attacks” against Israeli civilians on the roads or inside communities.
In early October, just days before the battalion was deployed to the northern West Bank, Ashraf Walid Suleiman Na’alwa walked into his former place of work at the Barkan Industrial Zone and shot dead Kim 29-year-old Levengrond-Yehezkel of Rosh Ha’ayin, and 35-year-old Ziv Hagbi from Rishon Lezion.
A week later, a Palestinian tried to stab a soldier standing at a bus stop at the busy Gitai Avishar Junction on Highway 5 before being shot dead by troops belonging to Luria’s battalion. No Israelis were hurt in the attack at the central intersection of the highway, which links Ariel to central Israel.
Hundreds of Palestinian workers travel through the junction, which has been the site of several previous attacks.
“It happened just days after we were deployed to the area. It made us realize the importance of always being ready for attacks,” Luria said. “While there’s not an attack every day, the soldiers always have to remember that an attack can happen at any time.”
Two months later, Saleh and Asem Barghouti carried out a drive-by shooting attack outside the settlement of Ofra which injured seven Israelis – including one newborn child, who was delivered prematurely as a result of the attack and died three days later.
Four days later, Asam Barghouti carried out another shooting attack outside the outpost of Givat Assaf, just south of Ofra, killing two IDF soldiers, St.-Sgt. Yuval Mor Yosef and Sgt. Yosef Cohen. Two more Israelis were wounded: a female resident of Beit El and another IDF soldier, Netanel Felber, who remains in critical condition.
“After Givat Assaf, we thought to ourselves ‘what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen to us?’ That a terrorist would come out of a car with an automatic weapon and kill troops,” Luria said. “We discussed what the troops could do in order to make sure that there would be a different outcome [if such an incident happens again]. Of course, like every attack, it was a painful event, but we had to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
According to Luria, “it doesn’t matter if the individual belongs to Hamas or if he is a lone wolf, we just have to stop him.”
The 55th Artillery Battalion includes both male and female combat soldiers with some 40 female soldiers. Following its three months in the Jordan Valley, the battalion will head south to guard the border with Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula.