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December 10, 2018 8:25 am

Through Rapid Raids, IDF’s Special Forces Will Play Critical Role in Any Hezbollah War

avatar by Yaakov Lappin / JNS.org

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IDF soldiers patrol the Israel-Lebanon border, near Metula, Dec. 4, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Karamallah Daher.

JNS.org At the end of November, the Israeli military’s Commando Brigade held a secretive war exercise, which sheds light on how Israel is preparing new capabilities against Hezbollah and Hamas.

Just a short time before Israel launched an operation to expose and destroy Hezbollah cross-border tunnels, the three-year-old Commando Brigade held a 10-day war exercise, drilling combat against Hezbollah in Lebanon and against Hamas in Gaza.

The brigade’s special forces units — Egoz, Maglan, and Duvdevan — worked with the Israel Air Force practicing airlifts and close air support, and moving quickly between combat arenas, and between open areas and urban-warfare settings.

The exercise is the latest sign of a new ground-forces doctrine taking hold in the IDF. This doctrine will be highly influential on how Israel would take on Hezbollah in any future war.

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Earlier this year, the IDF divided up all of its ground forces into three new categories. One of those categories, dubbed Yeshuron (a Biblical reference to the people of Israel), is made up of the Commando Brigade and the Paratrooper Brigade.

The IDF defines the role of this category of forces in an important way. Yeshuron forces are “to deliver a strong punch to the enemy from multiple directions,” according to a senior officer who spoke at a media briefing earlier this year.

That means they will travel ahead of, and often in isolation from, the rest of the infantry and armored brigades during any ground offensive into enemy territory.

They will be equipped with their own arsenal of high-tech weaponry and can be expected to receive missions to launch rapid raids against the most sensitive, strategic enemy targets.

As Lt.-Col. Yaron Simsolo, commander of the battalion that trains special forces, told JNS in October, “We talk a lot about raids, about going in and out. This is the main battle aspect that we teach them. What is the meaning of raids, how to strike the enemy and move back. Lots of small victories, in the end, are one big victory.”

Special forces, then, would have a critical role to play in any Israeli future victory against Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s highly trained and war-experienced personnel, back from the Syrian battlefields, are experts in asymmetrical urban warfare, utilizing underground tunnels, and working their way through civilian areas; they also have a host of deadly weapons to challenge their enemy.

The special forces could be sent into to those areas that air power would find difficult to reach.

According to the IDF, this is the sixth war drill held by the new brigade, and the exercises are “at the base of the process to enhance the IDF’s capabilities for emergency and combat.”

Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot visited the forces at the end of November, speaking with commanders and soldiers about the changes experienced by the Commando Brigade since it was founded in 2015.

Eizenkot also met with the Commando Brigade’s commanding officer, Col. Kobi Heller, who stated that “the brigade, which was only formed three years ago, is the new operational device in the IDF’s toolbox, capable of providing a solution for any challenge or threat.”

Heller said that “this exercise proves that the brigade is prepared to deal with any scenario required of it, and that it is ready to face any enemy in any area.”

The Commando Brigade is one aspect of something that military chiefs in Israel have identified as being crucial for any future victory against Hezbollah — and that is a rapid, lethal ground maneuver against what the military describes as “the enemy’s centers of gravity.”

Changes are also underway regarding regular ground forces. These are receiving their own drones for aerial intelligence and new accurate firepower — capabilities that once only the air force had. These forces will also come with their own mobile defenses — an “Iron Dome” for ground forces — against rockets, shells, and anti-tank missiles, which Hezbollah can be expected to rain down.

Last summer, the IDF trained new types of regular-force brigades made up of combined infantry and armored units to see how the new system works.

Quietly, the IDF’s planners are developing a new Israeli ground capability that could dramatically improve Israel’s strategic situation, if the need to activate it arises.

Yaakov Lappin is a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He specializes in Israel’s defense establishment, military affairs, and the Middle Eastern strategic environment.

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