New IDF battalion to act as first line of defense against Hezbollah invasion
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New IDF battalion to act as first line of defense against Hezbollah invasion

Military forms new reservist unit to counter Iran-backed group’s plans to conquer Galilee region in future war

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

Israeli troops in newly created Gates of Fire Battalion simulate war with Hezbollah terrorist group in northern Israel in December 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops in newly created Gates of Fire Battalion simulate war with Hezbollah terrorist group in northern Israel in December 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli military has formed a new reserves battalion to act as the first line of defense against the Hezbollah terror group by protecting the communities along the northern border with Lebanon, the army announced Monday.

Dubbed “Gates of Fire,” or Shaare Ha’esh, the battalion was created as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ efforts to confront the powerful Iran-backed terrorist militia. Last month, the army also launched an engineering operation, Northern Shield, to find and destroy Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnels.

The new battalion is aimed at countering the Shiite terror group’s plans to conquer parts of Israel’s Galilee panhandle and the communities inside it in a future conflict. It will serve under the brigade that guards the region, the Baram Brigade.

The unit is made up of reservists freshly released from the Golani Infantry Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion. The most veteran members of the battalion left the army in 2015.

Israeli troops in newly created Gates of Fire Battalion simulate war with Hezbollah in northern Israel in December 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The creation of the battalion represents an important turning point in the defensive array along the northern border of the State of Israel,” Col. Roi Levi, commander of the Baram Brigade, told soldiers during the formation ceremony for the unit.

According to Levi, the Gates of Fire Battalion serves a dual purpose: It is first tasked with defending the communities and military posts closest to the border. Once those sites are secured, the unit is then meant to go on the offensive and attack Hezbollah inside Lebanon.

“Not without reason is the battalion called ‘Gates of Fire.’ After we block the enemy’s attack plan, the stage will come for us to attack and to decisively defeat the [Hezbollah] organization in its own territory,” Levi said.

The IDF believes the Lebanese terror group will seek to conquer swaths of northern Israel as the opening maneuver of a future war, citing Hezbollah’s own propaganda and threats as evidence. Under the plan, hundreds of Hezbollah fighters would infiltrate into northern Israel through subterranean tunnels, while many more would swarm across the border above ground, and the surrounding area would be bombarded to prevent the Israeli military from sending in reinforcements to liberate it.

Military officials have indicated that the tunnels discovered by the IDF along the Lebanese border last month were a central aspect of Hezbollah’s plans for a surprise attack and that their destruction represented a significant setback for the terror group, potentially putting off a confrontation with Israel by several years.

Israeli troops in newly created Gates of Fire Battalion simulate war with Hezbollah terrorist group in northern Israel in December 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Monday, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman said the operation to locate and destroy the tunnels was only one part of the IDF’s overall effort to foil Hezbollah’s attack plans.

He said the military was also working to counter the Iranian-back group’s arsenal of over 100,000 rockets and missiles, which it is reportedly looking to upgrade to precision-guided munitions.

The foundation of the Gates of Fire Battalion was mocked in Lebanon.

“We thank God that we live in a time when our enemy is forming defensive battalions because of the force of our resistance, after we were in a time when the enemy was able to conquer our capital with just a marching band,” Ali Shoeib, a journalist for a Hezbollah-affiliated news outlet, wrote on Twitter in Hebrew and Arabic.

The newly formed battalion has already held its first exercise. Lasting about five days, the drill focused on conquering Hezbollah positions, night-time fighting and urban combat, the army said.

“It is clear that whatever we don’t plan and don’t train for won’t happen in reality. I believe that through hard work and faith in the justness of our moral path we will become a wrought iron fist, prepared for war,” said the battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. (res.) Noam Aharon.

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