An IDF soldier overlooking a Hamas terror tunnel in Gaza in 2014. Photo: IDF.
JNS.org – Since Hamas came to power in the Gaza Strip more than a decade ago, it has built, trained and armed a terrorist-army and guerilla force. Furthermore, Hamas has planted that army in high-rise buildings, underground bunkers and tunnels — right in the midst of the civilian population.
Israel and Hamas have engaged in three large-scale conflicts and numerous smaller-scale flare-ups over the past ten years. As the IDF looks ahead to the future, it is preparing new ways for its units to operate in this urban warfare jungle, if the need arises.
The IDF recently held a war exercise for its infantry commanders to prepare them for the challenges of combat in Gaza.
The drill, held by the Givati Infantry Brigade, played out over a number of areas, including the southern city of Ashkelon, where officers simulated fighting in and around tall residential towers.
"Through fire and ash, through smoke and battle / You raise your shattered hands / A clot of blood covers...
In Gaza, such multistory buildings double up as military bases for Hamas’ armed wing. The terror group uses them as command posts, lookouts and firing positions for its cells. Such buildings will, in the IDF’s assessment, be used as positions by Hamas cells armed with shoulder-fired missiles, sniper rifles and additional heavy firepower.
The exercise showed IDF commanders how to operate in such an environment, and taught them how to train their own soldiers.
“In this last drill, we focused in a major way on the concept of the 360-degree threat. The fact is that the enemy can appear from above and below,” Maj. Guy Madar, a former Givati deputy battalion commander and a key planner of the drill, told JNS.
“When they enter the combat arena, they could have [enemy] people under their feet. And they need to look up. The enemy is not naïve. It wants to try [to use] surprises against us,” said Madar. “Those who will win are those who act with cunning and creativity. It will be those who know how to think differently.”
Madar added that “this exercise is about Gaza. We wanted to achieve four training goals: night-time combat; fighting in armored vehicles; combat in urban closed areas, with a strong emphasis on tall buildings and tunnels; and focusing on the smaller units, at the level of platoons and companies.”
The drill reflects new thinking in the IDF. According to this new approach, it’s these kinds of smaller units — the companies and platoons — that will ultimately decide the outcome of urban battles against Gaza’s armed factions. As a result, the training of commanders has become a top priority.
Commanders of larger units, like battalions,will oversee a wider area of the future fighting, said Madar: “The platoon commanders are at the operational edge. They will be the ones experiencing friction with the enemy.”
The training drill also made use of the IDF’s digital network, which links up commanders to tanks and air force planes.
“I can identify an enemy, press the coordinate on the [digital] map, and it will show up immediately in the tank,” said Madar. “Our lethality has grown.”
The drill also involved new quadcopter drones that recently entered service in the IDF. The drones — currently commercially made for now, but which will be replaced with military quadcopters in the future — have revolutionized the ability of low-ranking commanders to request and receive aerial pictures of their battle space.
“Until today, it was the air force that provided this. Now, the military company provides it,” said Madar. “This is a huge change.”
The exercise marks the start of a four-month war-training period, meaning that the Givati brigade has rotated away from active missions in order to focus solely on training. The first step of this effort focuses on showing commanders how to train others. “In the civilian world, it would be like preparing the managers to run their departments,” said Madar.
In addition, the need to train commanders in dealing with civilian populations during combat is also critical, he added. Soldiers in the exercise role-played as civilian families and wounded civilians. The commanders “experienced civilians shouting and [other] chaos” that the Israeli military will have to face.
As Madar explained: “It is clear to us that the deeper one maneuvers, the more civilians one will have to deal with.”
Platoon commander Sec.-Lt. Nadav Serlin, who took part in the exercise, told JNS about an unprecedented level of intelligence that commanders now receive about the threats that await them in Gaza. “We heard about how the enemy is preparing itself against us … hearing specific information on what is waiting for us makes us feel much more prepared,” he said.
“We understand that in Gaza, many of the main multi-story buildings contain a lot of threats,” said Serlin. “These tall buildings give control of the area.”
For IDF units, training how to cooperate closely with the armored corps and the air force is key to victory, he added: “You have to use all of the additional means [at your disposal] to get over the limitations of the infantry. Knowing how to train our soldiers is the most important thing. There is always room to improve, but this was a significant step up.”