Thirty years after the outbreak of the first Lebanon war, soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces’ Givati Brigade are training to fight in the same conditions that Givati troops faced during that war.
A replica of an Arab village has been built on the grounds of the Elyakim base in the north, and soldiers taking part in one exercise there were told that they were to assume the village was a Hezbollah stronghold, and that the “enemy” was lying in wait, with anti-tank weapons, snipers, and most importantly, caches of rockets ready to be fired into Israel.
They then participated in a simulated combat, following the “discovery” of underground bunkers outside the village, “just as it happened in Lebanon,” said Itai, a 21-year-old Givati soldier from Herzliya.
The main goal of the exercise was to practice taking out sites from which rockets can be fired into Israel.
If the IDF were to reenter Lebanon now, it would face 60,000 missiles, thousands of which could potentially threaten the Tel Aviv area. The task before the troops in the training exercise was clear: take control of those areas from which rockets were being fired into Israel.
But for today’s Givati recruits, the real Lebanese landscape is something that they have only seen in films, and only a small number of their commanders have personal experience in combat in Israel’s northern neighbor. Memories of Givati’s service in the security zone in southern Lebanon have been nearly forgotten, and the brigade is primarily identified with the Gaza Strip, where its troops were deployed following the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
Since Givati’s departure from Lebanon, Hezbollah has substantially improved its rocket capabilities. Sources in the IDF’s northern command have made it clear that the years of quiet along the Lebanese border should not be misinterpreted. The source said Hezbollah is building up its forces to an unprecedented level with respect to its ability to wage guerilla warfare and its ballistics capabilities.
Col. Guy, who commands the Northern Command’s training base at Elyakim, said in addition to regular battle conditions, the IDF would have to engage in combat in village settings and in the presence of civilians, if it is forced to fight in Lebanon. At the command level, sources speak of any next round in Lebanon as shorter in duration, although it would include wide deployments on the ground.
In a reference to the former U.S. secretary of state and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Col. Guy said, “There’s an understanding that one or another Condoleezza would limit us. That’s clear.” He added that any future combat timeframe would not involve a six month operation.
For his part IDF GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yair Golan has said it would be unrealistic to rely only on air power in a future conflict with Lebanon. “When you don’t engage in combat on the ground, fewer soldiers are wounded,” Golan said, speaking at a conference marking 30 years since the first Lebanon war. He also suggested that no one labor under any illusions. “When soldiers are not hurt, those who are hurt are the families on the home front.”