A confrontation between the IDF and the Hezbollah terror group in 2018 will significantly differ from that fought in 2006, and the nature of the preparations will also be dramatically affected. One of the factors the IDF is most unsure about is the condition of Hezbollah within Lebanon.
The morale of the Shi'ite militia, which the IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant Colonel Gadi Eizenkot called Israel's number one enemy, is at an historic low point. The terror group is facing unprecedented challenges politically, financially and with regards to its leadership.
On the other hand, not only will its thousands of fighters be armed at the next conflict against Israel with a stash of more accurate rockets, hundreds of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and heavy mortars, but it will also possess valuable battle experience gained fighting in the Syrian civil war.
Hezbollah's main characteristic will be its offensive capabilities and its proven ability to deploy and position combat battalions and brigades. In fact, many at the IDF's Northern Command have no qualms about calling it an army and not merely a militia.
The Golani Brigade represents one of Israel's main counterpunches to the threat of a strengthened Hezbollah.
Ynet reporters attended a recent exercise by the brigade in the Golan Heights where they witnessed the changes taking place in the infantry unit. Heavily armored personal carriers (APCs) are being integrated into the battle strategy.
Namer is an APC based on the platform of a Merkava Mark IV tank and it is being incorporated into all the Golani battalions. The interior is fitted with advanced technology that integrates the infantry into the modern war machine, at the forefront of the ground forces.
The Namer APC includes the famed missile defense Trophy system capable of intercepting anti-tank rockets and the IDF plans to add grenade launchers and 30mm guns that can penetrate walls at 60 degree angles or more. This means that the crew of the Namer will be able to obliterate a room packed with terrorists on the fifth floor of a building. Its firing range is also expected to increase from the current 1.5 kilometers to 4-5 kilometers.
Recently the Golani reconnaissance battalion was practicing on the Namer APC at an abandoned base in the Golan Heights and early feedback reveals that in addition to heavier firepower and more advanced technology, more attention is being paid to protecting the fighters inside the APC.
"Today, clearing targets is not like in the past, but rather more accurate, using intelligence," explained a senior officer in an interview with Ynet. "From a vehicle that transferred fighters to the battlefield, the Namer APC has turned into a weapon that fights the target itself. Nothing similar exists in other militaries because they lack such a technologically advanced vehicle."
Indeed, a ride in the Namer is a unique experience. It climbs steep hills with ease and can surmount both mountainous terrain and weave between urban structures. It's in-built air conditioning system provides a comparably comfortable ride for the 11 soldiers inside.
Most importantly, its occupants can view their surroundings without raising, and therefore exposing, their heads outside of the turret, with the aid of cameras mounted on the exterior that project the images onto screens inside.
Golani just completed training the first class of officers who will command Namer squads. The commanders are qualified to operate its weapons systems and have acquired the necessary technical skills to maneuver the vehicle.
"This is a different experience for the enemy because we can use the Namer to break through structural walls that they are hiding behind," explained the officer.
The fighters training on the Namer expressed high levels of confidence. In the past, soldiers would exit the APC a kilometer or a few hundred meters from the target and then march from there by foot, but the Namer rides right up to the target itself and softens any resistance with its mounted machine guns. Only then do the occupants exit and attack the target from minimal distance.
What is a Pini Gershon briefing?
Before they exit the Namer, they carry out, what has become known in Golani vernacular, a "Pini Gershon briefing," (named for the basketball coach).
The squad commander inside explains the order of exit and which directions to cover in taking the target. He uses a whiteboard and employs language similar to planning an offensive sports move against an opposing team, "till we score—destroy the enemy."
"In the past an APC would discharge its fighters and then wait for them to return. Today, the Namer APC is not static but rather charges all the way to the target with its occupant fighters, provides cover for them when they discharge and can engage targets near and far. It also provides a smokescreen for the soldiers accompanying it," explained the officer.
The IDF is also planning to arm the soldiers inside the Namer with tablets as a replacement to the thick and unwieldy mounted screens through which they view their surroundings. An additional seat is also in the planning, as well as a public address system via which civilians in the vicinity of the enemy can be instructed to evacuate.
As part of the new aid agreement with the US, part of the Namer development will be transferred to the US.
"A Namer company is a rifle company that knows how to engage a target by combining the capabilities of the Namer APCs and the soldiers it discharges. Namer will not replace infantry but will be added to it. The Golani Brigade is becoming a hybrid, its right flank on foot and a mechanized battalion advancing by Namer in parallel. It's not a revolution, its evolution and some of the material we learn on the go. When Steve Jobs planned the first iPod he thought it was for solely for music," explained the officer.
"War is more advanced today. Soldiers and commanders must be the best fighters. During battle, a soldier must think how to utilize the Namer in the best way possible, and how it serves on the company level," said Commander of the Golani Brigade, Colonel Shlomi Binder.