December 16, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

IDF Alexandroni Brigade prepares for second front on Lebanese border

Up North with the Alexandroni Brigade, one of Israel’s oldest infantry units, preparing for a second front against Hezbollah in Lebanon as the IDF fights Hamas in Gaza.
December 16, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

IDF Alexandroni Brigade prepares for second front on Lebanese border

Up North with the Alexandroni Brigade, one of Israel’s oldest infantry units, preparing for a second front against Hezbollah in Lebanon as the IDF fights Hamas in Gaza.

The Golan in winter is swept with high clouds threatening to bring down a downpour or snowfall. It is a land in waiting. 

The Golan is also the training center for IDF units who are preparing for threats in the North. The area has always been a center of military activity. Since the 1950s and the 1967 war, the Golan Heights have seen tanks rolling back and forth, and fortifications built, dismantled, and rebuilt.

In early December, I drove up to the Golan to take part in an IDF training with several units of reservists. Since the Hamas attack on October 7, the IDF has leaned heavily on reservist units in the war. More than 350,000 reservists were called up after October 7. They have served on all fronts, some sent to the North, others to the West Bank, and others to Gaza.

In the North, the key units patrolling and holding the border have been reservists. 

These are men and women who know this landscape, and they have left their homes to serve. Many have left their families to be on the front line for two months. When I arrived, the war was entering its two-month period. Even though we have been slogging through this war for 60 days, the end is not in sight. Dark clouds continue to gather in the North.

The training is designed to take units off the line and give them some refreshers about operations combining infantry, tanks, and engineers to seize objectives. What this means is giving the soldiers time to train with live fire, heading the percussion of tank fire and explosions, and firing their M-4 rifles at targets so they can practice operating in the field with their whole unit. The training was designed to enable entire battalions, with the tanks and engineers that will accompany them in battle, to take an objective in the field.

THIS IS important because Hezbollah continues to threaten northern Israel every day with attacks. It works in concert with Hamas and other Iran-backed groups and has launched dozens of attacks every several days since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. Hezbollah has a large arsenal of some 150,000 rockets, as well as anti-tank missiles, small arms, and drones. The group has used all of these in recent attacks. In addition, Iran has militias in Syria that continue to threaten Israel.

A number of soldiers along the border have paid the ultimate price in these attacks. Civilians have also been killed. 

Days after I covered the training, an Israeli civilian near Mattat, in northern Galilee, was killed. People have been wounded as well. Israel has evacuated most of the communities near the northern border, but evacuations are not a magic wand. Hezbollah still targets cars near the border. Many of the communities, even when evacuated, still need people to go back and forth to tend to the cows, chickens, and other animals and industries in these communities. Evacuating communities is also not a long-term solution to the Hezbollah threat. 

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have warned Hezbollah not to escalate. There is also increasing focus on how Israel will restore security in the North. 

This past week, Chief of General Staff Herzi Halevi toured the 91st Galilee Division with the division commander Brig.-Gen. Shai Kleper and conducted a situational assessment with the brigade and battalion commanders in the sector, the IDF noted. 

“He also met with members of the civilian emergency response unit of Kibbutz Malkiya,” the IDF spokesman said. Noted Halevi: “For the return to all the communities, both in the South and in the North, first we need to return to a different situation and return to both safety and a sense of security. There is a military way to do this, the beginning of which is also what you are doing here, to damage, to deter, to kill Hezbollah operatives, to demonstrate our superiority, and it can also come in the form of a strike and war, and it may be that over time this will also take other time periods and solutions because we are focusing on other things between the arenas.”

One of Israel’s oldest infantry units, playing key role in the ongoing war

THE ALEXANDRONI Brigade, based in the North, is one of Israel’s oldest infantry units. Along with other key infantry units such as Givati, Golani, Nahal and Kfir, it is playing an important role in this war. 

The 8th Armored, a reserve tank unit, is partnered with the Alexandroni. This is similar to the partnership that would usually take place during regular service between infantry and tanks. The infantry trains alongside the tanks to improve communications and prepare for actual combat when these units will work side by side. This is important because in past wars, such as in 2006, units were thrown into battle and sometimes had trouble coordinating or communicating. Today, the IDF has sought to make all operations seamless in this respect

The Golan training I witnessed was the culmination of several days of drills. The soldiers had worked in mock urban environments and had not yet been tasked with taking a mock village in a valley. Two large hills dominated the terrain. We were operating along a road. The road was to our right and stretched down the valley. There were trees dotting the terrain. On the left side of the road were several tanks. A bulldozer was on the road. To the right of the road were a number of infantry units, each with around a dozen men, keeping low and using the land for cover. They waited and prepared for the order to advance.

These fields had been churned up by tanks during previous training. The reservists I spoke to were eager to get a chance to confront the enemy. In many cases, they have been targeted by Hezbollah over the last two months. They have been active near the border for two months, protecting Israel. While their morale and motivation are high, they say that the circumstances have been difficult. 

“We are preparing for the next thing that might happen; this is a battalion drill for what we need to do to hit them, not just defend. Each day we improve in the western sector,” one of the officers said.

The units also use the latest technology. 

Today’s IDF uses more drones and better communication systems. However, not much has changed in the field when tanks and infantry have to go forward. There is no magic wand to take an objective. Men still have to run forward with rifles, and tanks have to fire their big cannons and race to make contact with the enemy. Tactics and concepts haven’t changed that much from previous exercises I’ve seen. In this drill, the tanks attacked from the flanks, and infantry went up the middle, while a bulldozer cleared a road. Large explosions marked the beginning of the drill, clearing the way for the advance.

We advanced over rolling hills, sometimes running, sometimes stopping, as each squad of men moved forward bit by bit. As some of the soldiers got to a berm, they were able to fire at a mock “enemy” in front of us. There were even cardboard cut-outs of terrorists that needed to be neutralized. Several men also brought up heavier machine guns. Behind a rock wall on the right side of the battlefield, several marksmen used specialized rifles to target the enemy. 

Tanks swept down and fired into a village below us. The village consisted of concrete blocks and several houses built of wood. Infantry units advanced, with a man holding a red flag to indicate the most forward position of the forces. 

The commanders said that the men worked well together. I spoke to one of the company commanders and one of the men responsible for the drill. Each agreed that what they had seen was positive. 

“They worked very well together; they understand what they are doing. They know why they are here. The reservists choose to be, they want to improve and see hope for the future. They left their families for this. They understand this can happen, and they want to prepare as much as possible; they want to be ready to do it,” said one officer.

At the end of the drill, behind a tank, as the infantrymen prepared to leave, Deputy Brigade Commander Lt.-Col. Avia described the importance of the Alexandroni and its role in the history of the country. 

“We are in a difficult war, and we are practicing with them [the units] for this after a month and a half on the Lebanon border. We are preparing for the next stage that will be aggressive, and we are doing this battalion-level drill that is very serious,” he said. He described how important it is for soldiers to get the feeling of working together in this kind of terrain.

“It went well. This is a phase we are doing to prevent and prepare. And we saw how important it is to bring together the battalions and everything. It’s a lot of work,” he said.  

“The soldiers brought their years of experience to this field today,” he added. “Now the fighters are ready for whatever the future may bring.”

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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