The military has field-tested a new fighting method combining infantry, tanks and combat engineering into one unified force, as part of a major military reform meant to streamline the Israel Defense Forces, the army said Sunday.
The method was tested during a drill simulating war in the north against the Hezbollah terrorist group, during which the military also tried out new technologies, including an anti-mortar laser and more accurate artillery.
The restructured unit type was dubbed Tzakach Gideon, a Hebrew acronym that stands for Gideon brigade combat team, named after the Israel Defense Force’s multi-year Gideon Plan, a streamlining effort that the army began rolling out in 2016.
The details of this new organizational style were revealed earlier this year, and it saw its first trial during an exercise on the Golan Heights last week.
The drill saw infantry soldiers from the Golani Brigade, tanks from the 7th Armored Brigade and combat engineering troops from the 603rd Battalion working together, under one unified command. Currently, those different types of units can cooperate with one another, but with a far greater degree of independence.
The proposed change is designed to make the military’s ground forces more efficient and better suited to the types of fighting they are liable to encounter, specifically battles against terrorist groups, as opposed to national armies, officers involved in the project told reporters in February.
Chief among those terrorist groups is Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed proxy based in Lebanon that has been fighting in Syria in support of dictator Bashar Assad.
Israel considers the Shiite group to be its primary military threat in the region, and the IDF treats its readiness to face Hezbollah as the metric by which it determines how prepared it is for war.
In addition to the new unit structure, last week’s exercise also tested a number of recently developed technologies, some of which are not yet fully operational.
According to the military, this included: a high-powered laser capable of shooting down incoming mortar shells or drones, known as Gideon’s Shield, or Magen Gidon; a “smart” trigger, which only allows a weapon to be fired when it is locked on its target; an improved night vision system; a powerful radar detection system; communication equipment that gives commander access to up-to-date intelligence; and a number of drones and autonomous vehicles.
Soldiers also tested a new model of precision-guided artillery shells, which are far more accurate than the varieties currently in the IDF’s arsenals.
“There is a tremendous improvement in our capabilities. If we don’t invest in technology, the battlefield will remain a kingdom of uncertainty,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said during a visit to the exercise.
The military’s underlying understanding is that fighting more nimble non-state actors hiding among civilians, as with the Hezbollah terrorist group in southern Lebanon, is fundamentally different than squaring off against formal militaries on a deserted battlefield, and requires the IDF to be more flexible and more precise to avoid civilian casualties.
In addition, new technologies, like drones, require the military to develop techniques and systems to counter these emerging threats.
“We are aware of and monitoring the enemy’s changes, capabilities and developments, and against these things we are taking care to set up capabilties that will always put us two steps ahead of them,” said Col. Roman Gofman, commander of the 7th Armored Division.
“This is the first time that we are seeing a combined brigade fighting team. This is a battle in which tanks, infantry and combat engineering are coming together in a coordinated and synchronized way, where our forces are squaring off against the enemy,” he said.
The new Tzakach Gideon organizational style would have a ground forces brigade made up of at least six battalions, three infantry or armored battalions, one combat engineering battalion, a reconnaissance battalion and an administrative battalion, the IDF said Sunday.
It is expected to take several years before this reorganization is implemented throughout the military, and it will likely face opposition as old units, with decades of history, are dismantled.
“The heritage issue is a headache in and of itself,” a senior IDF Ground Forces officer said earlier this year.