Even after 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) of movement on the foothills of the Carmel Mountains over a period of 48 hours without sleep, in 30 degree heat and with dozens of kilograms of equipment on their backs, the Egoz Unit combat soldiers remain focused on their mission. When a demolition charge "explodes" near one of the teams and "hits" almost half the team, the others didn't hesitate for a moment. They immediately lifted their friends on their shoulders and continued on their mission.
This week's rare glimpse into the Egoz Unit training exercise reveals how the ground forces commando prepares for close range combat against Hezbollah.
A senior officer present at the exercise described the method: "We let them experience a situation that is as close as possible to reality. No excuses; we aren't playing 'make believe', this is the only way they can truly be prepared".
The only knowledge these Egoz combat soldiers have of the Second Lebanon War is what they saw on their television screens. Most of them were in school during the battles of Bint Jbeil and Maroun al-Ras. This week, it was their turn to prepare for the next war, which could in many ways, be a lot like the battles of the summer of 2006.
Pyrotechnics simulate launches, explosions
It started in the Carmel's tangled territory, the route taking them through the Saar stream and climbing up the Hermon Mountain. The training exercise, which was conducted for the most part with complete uncertainty over what to expect, included some of the toughest physical and mental conditions the IDF has to offer.
A senior officer described the situation: "Hezbollah hasn't changed its method of operation, which includes munitions charges, anti-tank missiles, and guerilla fighting. Even though it carries out operations in residential areas, it knows how to operate in open areas, the thicket, and to fire rockets at civilians from there. These soldiers need to get to those places and attack."
The process described by the senior officer is extremely complicated and demands an advanced level of skills, from knowing the terrain, through dealing with weather and carrying heavy loads. "It's very hard to create something that comes close enough to reality, but we do everything we can so that it seems as real as possible, including using pyrotechnics, which can simulate launches and explosions," unit commander Shlomi told Ynet. "The goal is to give the soldiers a sense of the battle and we try to do the best job we can."
Senior officers in the Golani Brigade, to which the Egoz Unit belongs, admit that the manpower that makes up the Egoz unit is some of the best the IDF has to offer. "These are serious guys with resolve and a deep understanding of the mission; you won't hear a peep out of them over the difficulty or stress. That is because you can take them to the edge of their endurance," one officer noted.
Soldiers train (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Office)
"Add to that the fact that the commanders arrive here with a lot of combat experience, it isn't their first job, and you can understand just what this unit is capable of."
During the exercise, under the scalding Carmel sun, the soldiers went across the dense thorny vegetation, where each bush is suspicious. One of the officers praised the soldiers, most of whom are just out of basic training, and said: "You need quite a bit of aggressiveness to complete these missions, it's no picnic."
Striving for contact
The Egoz Unit was established in the 1950s under the order of the then Northern Command chief, Yitzhak Rabin, in order to fight the Syrian enemy. It has gone through many reincarnations and only become a commando unit when it was re-established 15 years ago.
Since then it has gained major achievements and tried to maintain its character. For example, the unit doesn't take part in activities in Judea and Samaria as there is no advantage to use it in the existing circumstances. An officer explains the uniqueness of Egoz: "From the dawn of its foundation the unit has sanctified the value of striving for contact, of close range combat, and other than a few tweaks here and there, nothing has changed, only improved."
In the exercise which began on Sunday, the Egoz soldiers trained in one of the unit's added services, navigating fighter helicopters towards "suspicious" targets and even practiced working with fighter planes which were "attacking" more significant targets. The IAF also participated by parachuting supplies.
Egoz Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Shlomi feels very sure of his soldiers' abilities. "The fact that they haven't experienced war is a good thing, I hope they will never have to, but we are making sure that they will be prepared", he said.
"We don't rest on our laurels; the unit is constantly developing abilities and techniques from the combat soldier level and through to the unit level, in a way that will serve almost every situation I could expect in the next war. I have no doubt that the goal in every battle is that we meet them face to face, and only we return victorious."
The IDF's working premise is that Hezbollah will try minimizing face to face combat as much as possible. "Not for nothing do they wrap themselves in detonators, rockets and obstacles; it is in order to avoid close combat. Their nightmare is to face the Egoz unit" says a senior officer.
The Unit commander, who is well acquainted with his men and their abilities, believes that their professional level is extremely high. "I don't think there is a situation where the enemy would want to meet us," he says.
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