Historic resonance as Israeli paratroopers train over Germany, Poland
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US-led Swift Response exercise

Historic resonance as Israeli paratroopers train over Germany, Poland

Officers note 'moving' symbolism of Jewish soldiers operating in Polish territory, where Nazi death camps once stood

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

  • Dozens of Israeli paratroopers land in Poland during the US-led 'Swift Response' exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Dozens of Israeli paratroopers land in Poland during the US-led 'Swift Response' exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli paratroopers prepare for a jump as part in the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli paratroopers prepare for a jump as part in the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli paratroopers board a helicopter as part of the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli paratroopers board a helicopter as part of the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli paratroopers take part in the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli paratroopers take part in the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli paratroopers speak with American soldiers during the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli paratroopers speak with American soldiers during the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli paratroopers board a helicopter as part of the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli paratroopers board a helicopter as part of the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli soldiers take position as other paratroopers land behind them during the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli soldiers take position as other paratroopers land behind them during the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli paratroopers trained alongside their American counterparts in the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe this month, practicing how to take over an airfield with a jump into Polish territory, an officer who took part in drill said Wednesday.

Last Monday, a company of 40 soldiers and officers from the Paratroopers Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion traveled to Europe to take part in the exercise, which was organized by the US European Command (EUCOM). Earlier reports that said they had taken part in NATO’s Saber Strike exercise, which was taking place at the same time, were incorrect.

The annual Swift Response exercise was held this year in Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with participants from across Europe, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Poland and Portugal.

“It was the first time that Israeli paratroopers took part in an exercise on this scale,” said Maj. (res.) Ido Sharir, an operations officer from the IDF Paratroopers Brigade.

Officers from the brigade said the location and timing of the exercise carried special importance for the Israeli paratroopers, coming just over 70 years after the end of World War II and the Holocaust.

“This was a great privilege and honor for us, both the cooperation [with the US] and the symbolic event,” said Maj. Amir Puri, the commanding officer of the Israeli paratroopers.

Hannah Szenes dressed as a Hungarian soldier on Purim (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Hannah Szenes dressed as a Hungarian soldier on Purim (Wikimedia Commons)

Puri noted that it had been 74 years since Jewish paratroopers from pre-Israel Palestine, including, famously, Hannah Szenes, jumped into Europe on behalf of the British Army to help rescue Hungarian Jews from the Nazis.

“This was a symbol of the power of the State of Israel,” Puri said in a Hebrew video released by the military.

Maj. Yotam Ruf, who led the exercise itself, also noted the symbolism of the jump by Israeli paratroopers into Poland, where millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

“Nothing can be more moving than that,” he said.

An Israeli soldier takes position as other paratroopers land behind him during the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli soldiers mostly trained with US EUCOM’s 173rd Paratrooper Brigade. The Israeli company “joined forces” with one of the American paratrooper companies and worked together “from A to Z, from the planning status of the mission through the jump,” Sharir told reporters on the phone from the US military’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

The reserve operations officer said the focus for the Israel Defense Forces was on the sharing of tactics and learning how to fight alongside American troops.

“We took back lessons, and I think they did too,” Sharir said.

Israeli paratroopers land in Poland during the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The broader, more Europe-centric goals of the Swift Response exercise were not the primary interest of the IDF, he said.

“The general scenario was less relevant, from our point of view,” Sharir said. “It was less about the macro, more about the micro point of view.”

The central element of the drill for the Israeli paratroopers was a mission to take over an airfield in Poland, he said.

In order to fulfill the objective, the Israeli and American paratroopers flew from Germany and performed a jump into Poland.

The officer said the European countryside was “more swampy” than the Israeli soldiers were used to, giving them an opportunity to learn how to operate in a different type of terrain.

The soldiers also performed night missions and learned to fight in the forests of Europe.

Israeli paratroopers take part in the US-led Swift Response exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Taking part in an exercise in Germany and Poland, where many Nazi death camps were located, alongside the US Army, which helped liberate some of them, had “great meaning” for the Israeli troops, Sharir said.

The major noted that Israel had recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of its establishment, just three years after the Holocaust.

“We concluded the exercise by singing our national anthem, Hatikva,” he said.

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