As border heats up, reservists train for Syria scenarios
Training exercise takes Yiftah Brigade across Golan, preparing for range of hypothetical threats soldiers could face
Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter
As the Syria-Israel border heated up in the wake of Tuesday’s attack on an IDF patrol and Israeli retaliatory strikes on regime army positions, IDF reservists trained this week for scenarios they might face in a hypothetical operation in Syria.
Though the Yiftah Brigade’s exercises were not tied specifically to this week’s events, the growing uncertainty in the border area adds urgency to grueling training to prepare for combat against jihadist groups, Hezbollah, and the Syrian army.
According to the Ynet news site, the brigade, part of the new Bashan Division based on the Golan Heights, trained on Hummers designed to mimic tanks after doing an exercise in their Merkava 3 tanks seven months ago in the Negev training base Tze’elim.
The exercise this week started just north of the Sea of Galilee, where the reservists gathered at their unit’s logistical headquarters, operating as if they were under a Syrian missile attack. From there, they climbed the Golan Heights, and “fought” their way all the way across the plateau to Mount Hermon.
Brigade Commander Amir Hamud said that his soldiers needed to prepare for a variety of scenarios.
“It could be two jihadi terrorists with a Kalatchnikov, or rebel para-military militias, or Hezbollah guerrilla cells, or Syrian armored divisions. Our operational plan is updated according to changes in the theater. The goal is that the forces will be ready for everything they are accustomed to from other theaters.”
On Tuesday, a bomb was detonated against an Israeli patrol near the Israeli-Syrian border, wounding four IDF soldiers riding in a jeep. Early Wednesday morning the Israeli Air Force carried out several air strikes on Syrian military positions in the Golan Heights. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strikes had targeted units involved in Tuesday’s attack.
“Our policy is very clear,” Netanyahu said. “We attack those who attack us.”
Syrian officials said the attacks killed one soldier and injured seven. They warned that such actions by Israel would “endanger the security and stability of the region.”
Reservist training was cut back significantly in 2013. Infantry and armored reserve formations continued to train, whereas other combat reserve units only performed basic exercises.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said the army would have to adapt to changing financial constraints. “Because of budgetary cuts,” he said, “we will have to change the way we maintain our skills and our readiness in the reserves. It is important you know that, going forward, despite the difficulties in the budget, we will maintain our skills.”