Eyeing Northern Front, Israeli Army Sets Up 'Hezbollah Units'

Israeli training bases now have tunnels to simulate combat situation in Gaza, while 'red forces' will be armed to look and act like Lebanese terror group, in order to train troops to fight Hezbollah.

Hezbollah members saluting during the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter killed during clashes in Aleppo, October 2016.
Ali Hashisho/Reuters

The Israel Defense Forces is changing the structure of its training exercises in order to better simulate combat situations against Hezbollah and Hamas. In addition to constructing tunnels on some bases, the army is set to create specific training units that will perform the same maneuvers and tactics of the guerilla organizations.

The “tunnels” have been built in all IDF brigade training bases (using shipping containers) to replicate underground fighting – one of the lessons learned from the fighting in Gaza in 2014.

In recent years, it was also decided to conduct an increasing number of training exercises in the Galilee, the Golan Heights and, occasionally, in places such as Ashkelon and Harish, Kfar Samia or Fassuta.

“If we continue to train on the open hills of Tze’elim, we’re in trouble,” said an officer in the ground forces, referring to the IDF’s training base in the Negev. “We have to adapt the exercises to the enemy, and there’s a tremendous effort to make the training areas more suitable.”

The next stage of the plan will be the creation of so-called “red forces” to simulate predominantly Hezbollah fighters, but also Hamas. These forces will have to “fight” against the soldiers and challenge them during training exercises.

In the past, the IDF considered establishing designated companies to act as a “red force.” The army even considered drafting ultra-Orthodox soldiers in to don enemy uniforms, but this plan was eventually shelved.

The IDF's shopping list in preparation for its new 'Hezbollah units'
Infographic by Haaretz

Now the army wants to establish a “red force” company in every division, which will consist of reservists. The officer said these reservists will serve as an enemy force during exercises, and undergo training “in order to learn what Hezbollah is, and how to fight like Hezbollah.”

The army is in the process of purchasing equipment for this force, which will simulate everything about Hezbollah: from uniforms and flags to sniper rifles, Kalashnikovs, RPG rockets, explosive devices, and Kornet and Sagger anti-tank missiles.

The simulations are designed to improve the soldiers’ ability to understand how the enemy looks, and to increase their ability to deal with the war zone and the enemy. An internal army document sees this as necessary for both officers and combat troops.

Everything being used will be an exact copy of Hezbollah and Hamas equipment – in size, color and appearance. The army wants to purchase 600 simulated Kalashnikovs, 300 keffiyehs and djellabas, about 350 face masks, 60 Kornet launchers and a similar number of Sagger launchers, Qassam rockets, and about 100 Dragunov sniper rifles.

The Israel Air Force has had an equivalent “red squadron” simulating enemy forces for about a decade. The squadron operates at the IAF air base in Uvda, near Eilat. Pilots in the squadron, which is dubbed “Flying Dragon,” sport Arab names, such as Musa and Muamar, on their overalls, and the flags of Arab countries are also pasted on them.

This squadron serves as a training center for IAF squadrons, and occasionally also conducts training exercises with foreign air forces training in Israel.