Yahalom, the IDF's Special Operations Engineering Unit, has completely changed its focus over the past year in light of the lessons learned from the 2014 Operation Protective Edge and the assessment in the defense establishment that terror groups are trying to get their hands on unconventional weapons that have been left in the field by the Syrian army fighting near the border with Israel.
The new Sayfan Company, which was established in August, is trained to deal with the threat of nuclear, biologic, and chemical (NBC) weapons on the battlefield.
Another new company will be established next year, while the unit itself is scheduled to move from its base near Petah Tikva to Camp Julis in southern Israel.
Last week, the unit held its first training exercise under its new guise in the Jordan Valley. The soldiers marched foe 70 kilometers carrying 30kg of equipment and practiced going from routine to emergency operations in cooperation with reserve troops.
The drill included all of the unit's forces, including the Samur Company in charge of handling underground tunnels, Sayeret Yael in charge of clearing routes for the troops, the Sayfan Company in charge of handling NBC threats and the Bomb Disposal Company.
The Yahalom Unit has doubled in size over the past two years. The training of its combat soldiers has been changed so that troops first receive a nine-month commando training and only then undergo a five-month course to specialize in one of the unit's fields.
During Operation Protective Edge, engineering forces assisted the maneuvering troops. To expand upon this, new control and supervision systems have been introduced into the unit to significantly improve its soldiers' ability to navigate in the field and coordinate with other forces operating around them.
The unit also has a research center where ammunition seized from terror groups is being studied in an effort to learn the enemy's work methods, alongside work being conducted to identify ammunition that includes unconventional materials. The researchers at the center are officers who accumulated a significant amount of operational experience with the unit.
The unit's troops have been operating in the Gaza Strip, in the West Bank, and in northern Israel. Yahalom soldiers have participated in over a thousand missions this year alone, some in cooperation with other security forces. They uncovered tunnels and destroyed them, neutralized explosives, and demolished terrorists' homes and arms workshops.
"We're constantly active, conducting security operations on the borders and handling explosives and unconventional threats that are being developed by the enemy," unit commander Col. Yaron Biton said.