An Israeli army training exercise using dogs spoiled the fun for visitors to the Ben Shemen forest during the intermediate days of the Sukkot holiday, which ended this week.
Four-legged members of Oketz, an elite IDF canine unit, roamed around the trees and tables set up by the Jewish National Fund in the popular picnic site.
Frightened by the dogs being trained in the area, visitors abandoned their holiday outings and fled.
This wasn't the first time that Oketz has conducted exercises in the Ben Shemen Forest, which is not far from its base at Adam Camp in the Modi'in area. Local residents out for morning jogs in the forest say the unit often trains its animals, including dangerous attack dogs, in the area.
The joggers say that an area near the Gimzo Forest is particularly popular with Oketz, which plants bait between the cypress and pine trees in order to teach the dogs and their handlers to identify explosive materials. One resident who often cycles in the area says he has encountered the dogs more than once.
It's not much fun to run into that kind of dog when he's in the midst of training. I don't know why the army insists on turning the forest into its own training ground, as though it were a firing zone. It's no place to train dogs.
A local jogger says she was once requested to change her route onto another dirt path because an attack exercise is taking place. She describes the IDF's takeover of the area as angering, saying that Camp Adam already has large firing zones.
The IDF initially dismissed the Sukkot case as an isolated incident in which soldiers argued with visitors to the forest. Nevertheless, there have been reports of one of the unit's dogs running wild in the forest and of Oketz soldiers' behavior.
The IDF later explained that the forest's topography and its trees are especially suitable for training Oketz's dogs and dog handlers. Another area with similar vegetation is the Kule Forest near Rosh Ha'ayin, which is considerably farther from the Oketz unit's base at Camp Adam.
The IDF's Spokesperson's Office responded, The Israel Defense Forces does the maximum to extract the highest results with minimum damage to civilians. Maneuvers in the forest are carried out according to orders and in keeping with the unit's operational requirements.
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