The Israeli and German armies have conducted joint exercises in urban combat in recent weeks — the largest joint training ever between the two countries.
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Over a hundred German soldiers arrived in Israel three weeks ago to train at the Tze’elim army base in the south. In addition to infantry and logistics troops, Germany sent five heavy military vehicles.
News of the exercises was published simultaneously with this article in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. The German soldiers will remain here until Friday.
The German defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, said during a visit to Israel in May that her country's closest security operations were with Israel. Israel has received five submarines from Germany, with a sixth expected soon.
The 110 German soldiers from the 1st Panzer Division were joined by the deputy divisional commander, Brig. Gen. Ernst-Peter Horn. During his stay he visited Yad Vashem; he said he felt a duty to visit the Holocaust research center and memorial on his first visit to the country.
The exercise, meanwhile, was designed to share experience in infantry. “We’ve had experience in that over the past 10 years — in Afghanistan and Kosovo,” Horn said. “The Israeli army also has experience.”
The two sides demonstrated their modes of operation in urban areas and appraised the other’s methods. “This doesn’t mean we’ve changed anything, but it’s always good to evaluate things and see something different,” Horn said.
The Germans said they were impressed by the Israeli side and said they believed the two armies were equally professional.
The delegation arrived amid security tensions in Israel — with the recent wave of Palestinian knifing and car-ramming attacks and Israeli security forces' response. But both sides noted that the exercises had been planned long beforehand.
The soldiers visited Jerusalem and did not feel the tension, one of them said. They did not, however, wear their uniforms on their visit to the city.
During their month at Tze’elim, the Germans blended in, doing kitchen duty like all other soldiers there. They also joined reserve soldiers in evening sing-alongs.
Conversations revolved around comparisons of daily life in Germany and Israel. The past did not come up, nor did the Germans’ experiences in Afghanistan.
The joint exercises were held 50 years after the two countries established diplomatic relations. The army of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Bundeswehr, was established a decade earlier.
In Israel, the Germans were invited to Friday-night Shabbat dinners with Israeli families. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t different from my family back home,” one of them said.