Eilat Counterterrorism Unit takes down cardboard terrorists, rescues ‘hostages’
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Eilat Counterterrorism Unit takes down cardboard terrorists, rescues ‘hostages’

Though hijackings have waned, Israel’s crack response team in the country’s southernmost city prepares for the worst

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Way down, down in southern Israel lies the port city of Eilat.

With Jordan to the east, Egypt to the west, the Red Sea to the south and a huge swath of desert to the north, Eilat has to be fairly self-reliant, including with its security.

The elite Eilat Counterterrorim Unit, known in Hebrew as Lotar Eilat, is meant to provide an immediate, effective response to terror attacks and hostage situations. Made up mostly of reservists who are residents of the southern city, the unit keeps caches of weapons and gear throughout Eilat, allowing them to react quickly to threats.

Last week, the unit conducted an extensive exercise at the Mitkan Adam training base outside Modiin.

Members of the IDF's Eilat Counterterrorism Unit in a training exercise on December 9, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Members of the IDF’s Eilat Counterterrorism Unit in a training exercise on December 9, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Video footage, released by the military, sheds light on the counterterrorism unit’s tactics, though the identities of the reservists are kept secret for security reasons.

“Almost everyone in Lotar Eilat is a reservist soldier. These guys have a double life. You can see them when you’re in Eilat and you go to the grocery store, the hotel or the airport, and never even you know you’re facing a world-class, trained anti-terror GI,” the deputy commander said.

Members of the IDF's Eilat Counterterrorism Unit in a training exercise on December 9, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Members of the IDF’s Eilat Counterterrorism Unit in a training exercise on December 9, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

During the training exercise, the soldiers practice hostage rescues — their raison d’etre — as well as other terror attack scenarios, said the deputy commander of the unit, Lt. Col. (res.) “E”.

“We trained our fighters how to enter a multiple-room location, a public place that’s being held by terrorists,” he said.

In the video, the soldiers can be seen going from room to room, checking the corners for cardboard cut-outs of terrorists.

“The most important thing is that you release the hostages safe and sound. This is the main difficulties of SWAT. We have lethal weapons, but we also can’t hit everyone. You have to understand the scene,” the deputy commander said.

“If one of my fighters kills even one hostage, I’ve failed my mission. It’s a huge problem.”

Members of the IDF's Eilat Counterterrorism Unit in a training exercise on December 9, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Members of the IDF’s Eilat Counterterrorism Unit in a training exercise on December 9, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Of course, hostage situations are not the only type of attack that terrorists can carry out, and in fact, the prevalence of such incidents has diminished in recent years.

“It’s not like the ’70s where you have airplanes being hijacked and ships being hijacked. The internet has caused some kind of a change in terror attacks. [Terrorists] can be fast, they can be quick. They can broadcast it worldwide with their mobile phone,” he said.

Members of the IDF's Eilat Counterterrorism Unit in a training exercise on December 9, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Members of the IDF’s Eilat Counterterrorism Unit in a training exercise on December 9, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

“You can just do a hit-and-run, use a lot of firepower and broadcast it all over the world and you will have the same effect,” the deputy commander said.

“And that effect is fear.”

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