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July 31, 2017 10:26 am

IDF’s Counter-Terrorism Branch Prepares for ‘the Next War’

avatar by Yaakov Lappin /

An IDF training exercise. Photo: IDF. – On Friday night July 21, Major Hanan (whose full name is withheld for security reasons) received word of a gruesome development.

A knife-wielding Palestinian terrorist had killed three members of an Israeli family in the settlement of Halamish. The terrorist — a 19-year-old Palestinian from a nearby village — was shot and injured by an Oketz K9 unit soldier, who lived next door.

By the time that Major Hanan, who heads the Counter-Terrorism Branch at the IDF’s Counter-Terrorism School, arrived at the blood-stained scene, there was little that he or his soldiers could do.

“We scanned the area searching for more potential attackers, and spent the rest of Shabbat there,” he said.

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Hanan and his soldiers are not an ordinary response unit — they’re responsible for training all of Israel’s elite special forces.

“We can’t be a school that is disconnected from what is happening on the ground,” Hanan told that. “I arrived there with my team, and we started to work.”

The IDF’s Counter-Terrorism School, based near Modi’in in central Israel, was founded in the 1970s as a response to a wave of terrorist airplane hijackings and bus attacks.

Since then, Hanan said, the terrorist threat has evolved in a major way. The IDF branch’s job is to make sure that the military is ready to confront these new threats.

The Counter-Terrorism School is made up of Hanan’s branch, as well as a branch that trains soldiers in underground warfare, which Hanan also helped set up. His experience as a paratrooper company commander who fought in Gaza during the 2014 summer conflict has proved essential for his job.

An additional branch at the school is dedicated to training the military’s snipers, and a fourth specializes in rope climbing and abseiling (also known as rappelling) techniques for combat units.

“Outside of Israel, we see states falling apart, and many terrorist organizations filling up vacuums, which enable them to grow stronger. Some are becoming semi-military,” he said. Such enemies threaten Israel with rockets, missiles and plans to infiltrate Israel, either overground or through tunnels.

The Counter-Terrorism Branch monitors tactics used these groups, and also by lone-wolf terrorists. The special forces that are trained by the branch range from commando units to covert elite units. They also include reconnaissance units that are part of every IDF infantry brigade. After completing their lengthy, grueling training, the units go on standby — ready to move into action in several areas if called upon.

“We try to give them the best training and equipment,” Hanan said, which “they will need to conduct complex missions.”

According to Hanan, the forces that he trains will need to know how to operate skillfully in civilian areas.

The Counter-Terrorism Branch studies incidents such as the July 14 terror attack near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, in which a cell of three Arab jihadist gunmen shot dead two Israeli Druze policemen, and looks for lessons to be learned. The branch also pours over speeches made by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in which he threatens to “conquer” the Galilee, and draws  conclusions from them.

“We understand that the enemy will try to enter Israel, and move the fighting into our territory, with large numbers of attackers and weapons. This calls for selective combat, but at a higher level of intensity than we have known,” Hanan said.

“We could find ourselves in an Israeli village near Gaza, engaging a Hamas cell, which is backed by Hamas fighters launching mortars at us. And civilians would be stuck in this,” the branch chief added. “We need to prepare for that, and to come up with suitable replies.”

To make that happen, Hanan said, his instructors must take part in real-life operations.

“As a school, our approach says that you can’t teach something that you’re unable to do alone, or have no experience in,” he said. “Therefore, we instruct our cadets, individually and in teams. Afterwards, we instruct them on how to instruct. … And where we can, we go out and do operations.”

“My soldiers, who train other units, stood in that home in Halamish,” Hanan said, and “they emerged from that as different instructors. … We need to be ready for the next war, not the last one.”

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