The voice of first lieutenant Tal Elkobi carrying over the platoon radio broke the tension. It was the first time the young company commander was leading 11 tanks in a full-flung military exercise in the Golan Heights.
At the end of the day, the top brass overseeing the exercise were pleased. The targets had been destroyed, the cooperation with forces from the other units went smoothly and the soldiers were able to grab a few hours' sleep.
"I make them work very hard," said battalion commander Lt. Col. Haggai Amar, whose battalion is spending 13 packed weeks of training in the Golan. "Everything we do here is something we'll obviously have to do in a war, wherever we're sent to fight. We'll have to move at night, we'll have to carry gas masks and we'll run into anti-tank fire. I have to take them to the extreme during training exercises."
Before the Second Lebanon War, such trainings series - from the platoon to the company to the battalion to brigade-wide exercise - was a mere fantasy for most commanders. Today it's nearly routine. The commanders are competing to see who can make the training more realistic and demanding for himself and his troops, while being careful not to imply any connection between the long-planned exercises and the tense atmosphere on the northern border more recently.
The exact shape of the next confrontation in the north remains unclear, but few in the Israel Defense Forces believe we're likely to see tanks clashing in the Golan Heights. During the last decade, the bulk of Syrian military investment went into missiles - both anti-tank and accurate, limited range and surface-to-surface - and a confrontation with Hezbollah will also include missile barrages from Lebanon against the Israeli rear.
Nevertheless, neither party has neglected to prepare for ground combat. Hezbollah tries not to carry out openly military activities in the border area, and in all of south Lebanon for that matter, but reports of heightened activities have recently spiked. A former intelligence officer told Haaretz that lately he and other Galilee farmers have seen plainclothes Hezbollah personnel traveling along the border and photographing Israeli positions.
They are sometimes accompanied by individuals who do not appear to be Lebanese, as well as interpreters, who appear to be Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers and who have by now integrated into every command level in Hezbollah.
The IDF, on the other hand, is training to prepare for a number of scenarios to curb the Hezbollah missile threat. At the end of the day, it seems the Israel Air Force will take most of the responsibility.
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