The army’s preparations for Operation Northern Shield included sending 11 Engineering Corps service members to Europe, where they trained and learned from excavation experts about working in rough terrain and with similar rock types as the ones in which Hezbollah dug its tunnels from Lebanon under the border into Israel.
In 2015, the Israel Defense Forces realized it would have to contend with Hezbollah’s tunnel project. A team, made up of army engineers, intelligence officers and technology experts, determined that plans should be drawn up for destroying the tunnels at a later date.
Senior officers in the Engineering Corps realized that the terrain in the north is different than the one the army was dealing with along Israel’s border with the Strip, and that experience gleaned in the south might not be relevant when the time came to deal with the ones in the north.
Only a few people in the army knew about Hezbollah’s tunnel enterprise, so preparations were made under a veil of secrecy, with people involved believing for a long time that they were participating in routine training.
A year ago, it was decided to send 11 members of the corps to Europe for special training to learn about hard-rock excavations, in terrain the army is not used to working in, one which is similar to that on the northern border.
Drilling in rock and the challenges it poses required preparing IDF experts who would learn how to contend with such challenges, in changing arenas of operation.
“We realized we had to train people to excavate,” said a senior IDF officer before the beginning of the operation, in which he is deeply involved.
“We encountered such tunnels in the Second Lebanon War. We called them ‘nature reserves,’ which served as underground command centers.”
Going to Europe enabled this team to learn and train with the best experts in the world in this area.
“We trained in terrain we weren’t accustomed to, working in hard earth and rocky terrain and in tough areas, in order to learn about excavating,” the officer said.
The IDF understood that excavating on the northern border would force them to take different measures than ones used previously. In contrast to the south, where bucket auger drills remove sand easily and quickly, in the north the army uses diamond drills, which cut through the rock more slowly and make for slow progress.
In some sites in the north, civilians are engaged in the drilling, while at other sites the work is carried out by members of the Engineering Corps, some of whom were in the team trained in Europe.
“We’re preparing the IDF and the corps for all challenges, using professionals we hope will remain in the army for many years,” said the officer.