When the entire Israeli military entered a state of alert and vigilance over the last few weeks in view of a potential escalation on the northern front that could lead to a third Lebanon war, the forces of IDF Home Front Command, with the emphasis on its regular rescue and emergency battalions, were among the IDF elements placed on alert and deployed in the northern part of Israel.
A short while before the targeted elimination in Syria, attributed to Israel, in which several Hezbollah operatives and a high-ranking officer of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were killed and before the Kornet missile attack against the IDF Givati detachment on Har-Dov, the Shahar battalion of IDF Home Front Command conducted a battalion exercise. The tactical exercise simulated a scenario known in IDF jargon as “Mahaluma” or “Strike” – an enemy attack involving multiple, simultaneous missile/rocket hits, a strike Hezbollah is known to be preparing for the Israeli rear area, to be launched at the outset of the next confrontation in Lebanon. The exercise, which included the Shahar Battalion of the Regular District of IDF Home Front Command, simulated a scenario where a barrage of rockets was launched at the Israeli rear area, resulting in multiple destruction sites.
The people of IDF Home Front Command understand that a future confrontation on the northern front will be different from anything we have experienced during the last confrontation – Operation Protective Edge. Hezbollah has a much more substantial arsenal of higher quality missiles and rockets – about 100,000 in all, which covers the entire territory of the State of Israel. Accordingly, it is understood that intercepting all of those missiles will be impossible, so we would probably see more of them dropping on Israeli population centers. Consequently, IDF Home Front Command is preparing for such a scenario, where the rescue and emergency forces would have to reach multiple damage sites simultaneously.
The training exercise was conducted pursuant to a comprehensive process initiated for the purpose of preparing all of the rescue and emergency battalions to operate in platoons, as a response to the large number of destruction sites. The numerous destruction sites require numerous rescue forces, so the forces would have to operate in platoons rather than in companies, as was their standard operating procedure.
“In a ‘Strike’ event, where our battalions are required to operate as independent platoons and deal with separate destruction incidents, according to the new mode of operation, the platoon commanders become the senior authority on the ground, and they are required to deal with a large number of destruction sites at the same time,” says Colonel Yoram Lardo, Commander of the Regular District of IDF Home Front Command – the equivalent of a regular IDF brigade.
“It is a known fact that military organizations always prepare for the war that was. At this District, we are currently trying to think ahead and prepare for the war that might be,” says Lardo in an interview to IsraelDefense. “We understand what the next war will look like. Pursuant to the Second Lebanon War, both we and Hezbollah learned some important lessons. Hezbollah derived three lessons from the 2006 confrontation: the first lesson was that their enterprise worked well. They had created a decentralized system, a fire arsenal capable of pouring fire on our rear area while we were unable to affect the scope of fire they generated. The lesson they derived was that the system they had created was a ‘mission-driven command’ and that it worked actively. Along with this positive lesson, they also derived two negative lessons: they realized the confrontation was too brief and that the way to generate a substantial impact was to focus their hits (on the area) between Hadera and Gedera, while during the Second Lebanon War the farthest point they managed to reach was Hadera.
“The third lesson was that increasing the ‘trickle’ rocket launches to higher rates failed to work. They realized they should have concentrated their barrages and launched everything they had to maximum effect right at the outset, rather than wasting away the effect by launching their arsenal ‘bit by bit’ – that a dramatic opening move would have been more effective. This is a rational conclusion: what they fail to launch during the initial stages, they would no longer have for the final stages. We are preparing for a massive and highly concentrated fire strike within a small radius in the central region. What we have here is an attempt to predict the future and anticipate the developments.”
How does your understanding of the future challenges project on the build-up of the IDF Home Front Command?
“We have recently celebrated the first anniversary of the establishment of the Regular District. The IDF Home Front Command was established in 1992, pursuant to the first Gulf War and relied heavily (more than 95%) on a reservist Order of Battle (OrBat). This is fine for a conventional war, when you have time to mobilize your reserves. When things began to change, we realized that IDF Home Front Command needed a regular Order of Battle.
“In 2008 we established the first regular battalion of the IDF Home Front Command, the Shahar battalion, whose troopers were capable of infantry operations to ‘Rifleman 03’ standard. It is a mixed battalion of male and female troopers, of which 30% are female troopers who commit to a third year of service. They are capable of CBRN warfare as well. Over time, they realized all was well and by 2013, three additional battalions were established: Kedem, Ram and Tavor. In 2013, the process reached saturation. If you have four battalions, you will require a longer training period, which calls for your own basic training camp, and you will require squad leader training and a dedicated officer training course to complement the standard IDF officer training course. With that, you will no longer be a ‘niche’ unit. So we decided to establish a regular brigade HQ. In August 2013 we announced our establishment. It is a layout of four battalions whose troopers are engaged in routine security operations in the Judea and Samaria district for the best part of the year, but keep teams on immediate alert who can report to any incident within thirty minutes.”
How will the Regular District be employed in a wartime situation?
“If a war should break out by surprise, as we are all aware of our reality and know how quickly things can deteriorate, then we will have an immediate response by the IDF Home Front Command, in the form of intensive employment of units in a situation of massive destruction in numerous locations, which must be contained within a short time. This is the story of the Alon District – the Regular District. A unit is not just about people and vehicles, but about the ethos that drives them and their sense of belonging to the people and the mission. I am proud to say that we have succeeded in leading our people to believing in their capabilities. We have already handled many operational incidents – something other units take a long time to accomplish.”
What kinds of rear-area experience have you gained so far?
“Our first time, our Baptism by fire, or more accurately our Baptism by Ice, was during the snow storm in Jerusalem. We assumed responsibility for Highway No.1 and opened the route to vehicular traffic. A few weeks later, we found ourselves in the Philippines, under extremely hot weather conditions in a remote part of the world, as part of an Israeli relief mission. We had 17 representatives from the District with a field hospital, and we helped the local inhabitants rebuild their lives and their demolished homes.
“During the tension opposite Syria, before the expected attack by the USA, we pulled our entire brigade very quietly from the routine security sectors and deployed so that if the Americans attacked and the Syrians wanted to respond – we would be ready to face it. One of our routine operations involved the collapse of the residential building in Akko. Our forces excavated the ruins and, regrettably, extricated the bodies of the dead. The original idea was to find survivors.
“The battalions of the Regular District of the IDF Home Front Command are currently deployed throughout the country. Every six months, we rotate the units between these routine security sectors.
“Admittedly, our troopers only have ‘Rifleman 03’ qualification, but we reinforce the routine security capabilities. In a wartime situation, two of my battalions will operate with the maneuvering elements.”
How was the Regular District operated during Operation Protective Edge?
“During Operation Protective Edge, IDF Home Front Command assigned a company to each maneuvering division. One of the reference scenarios for the forces maneuvering into the Gaza Strip involved the collapse of a building over its occupants. During Operation Protective Edge, an UNRWA medical clinic collapsed over a terrorist tunnel which caused a building in the southern part of the Gaza Strip to collapse. Our Shahar battalion had assigned a company to each division, to remain on alert in preparation for the possible entrance into the Gaza Strip. They were ordered to go in and help extricate the survivors, but regrettably there were no survivors to extricate, so the mission was aborted. The battalion remained on alert throughout the operation and two teams entered the Gaza Strip. We possess the capabilities required in order to crack walls using demolition tools and cut through concrete slabs. In any operation in an urban environment, you need to go through walls and you need someone who excels at cracking masonry. You can do it with a missile and you can do it using a circular saw.
“One of our teams entered the Gaza Strip with the Givati Brigade and another team entered with the IDF Squad Leader School Brigade. The model proved to be successful so we duplicated it and applied it to the northern region with our Kedem battalion – assigning a company to a maneuvering division.”
In fact, that leaves only two battalions for the civilian rear area…
“Presumably, the actual maneuver will not begin on the first day of the war. There will be a fire strike and maneuvering will not commence at the same moment. When we have our complete reservist OrBat mobilized, we will be able to commit our highly-trained regular forces and save lives on the battlefield.”
Like many commanders of the IDF Home Front Command of 2015, Lardo is a “graduate” of a combat unit: “I enlisted in the Nahal Brigade in 1987,” he recounts. “I went through all the mandatory command positions up to the post of Yair Golan’s deputy brigade commander. I established the Nachshon Battalion of the Kfir Brigade. I am the lucky IDF officer or one of the few lucky IDF officers who had the good fortune of establishing both a battalion and a brigade. This is one of life’s most gratifying things. It is sheer luck. I also served as S3 of the Gaza Division under (division commanders) Gadi Shamani and Shmulik Zakai.”
What is your forecast and vision regarding the future organization of the IDF Home Front Command?
“Within ten years from now, the entire IDF Home Front Command will be a product of the regular brigade, as will the branch heads and brigade commanders. As it had relied on reservist personnel originally, the Home Front Command took its people from the entire military. Now it is a different situation. One of the things we realized pursuant to 2006 (the Second Lebanon War), according to my own analysis, is that two conditions must be fulfilled in order to win: one – you need to deny the enemy the will to fight and dictate things in a lethal manner. The other thing is for the Israeli public to say ‘we have won’. If you fail to fulfill any one of those conditions, they will not say ‘we have won’. The story of 2006 must not repeat itself – when people spent most of their time in the shelters and no one cared for them and they felt neglected. The name of the game is the civilian population. We should reinforce the civilian population, from early warning to passive and active defense. We must help the people maintain their resilience and strength.
“The next war will not last two days and will not be a brief event, and this is the task the IDF Home Front Command has undertaken. The scope of destruction in the urban areas will be something we have not experienced since 1948. The civilian population should be reinforced and supported. Focused, correct early warning will save lives. Every missile we fail to intercept will hit the target and cause destruction. When Yair Golan entered the Home Front Command he inquired how many tons of ordnance were required during the Blitz in London in order to kill a single British civilian, as initially they had early warning and alarms. During the second stage, the Germans launched V2 rockets that were not picked up by British Radar, so no early warning was provided. They had ten times more fatalities during the times when no early warning was provided. IDF Home Front Command accomplished a quantum leap by dividing the country into more than 230 early warning zones. A missile may hit a neighborhood in Tel-Aviv while the people in the adjacent neighborhood will go on with their normal life. Back in 1992, the apartment protected spaces (MaMaD) were designed to conform to a standard according to which they can sustain a hit by a SCUD missile with a 500 kg warhead exploding at a distance of 15 meters. Whatever they may fire at us – those who will be disciplined will have a chance to save their lives. People will no longer feel as if the state does not exist, as they did in 2006. According to my understanding, with regard to properly analyzing the challenge and providing the response – we are heading in the right direction.”
Unlike the situation during Operation Protective Edge, when we saw each family in the settlements around the Gaza Strip deciding independently whether they should evacuate to some other Kibbutz where they will stay as guests, do you consider the evacuation of the civilian population?
“The military authorities know that they should have treated the settlements around the Gaza Strip differently. Operation Protective Edge is not a reference scenario for what we are preparing for.
“The District will do what it is ordered to do. We will carry out any life-saving mission. It has not yet come to the point where we have a practical plan for the Regular District. Whatever they order me to do, we will do, as we understand the abundance of destruction sites and the multiple missile/rocket hits. We have changed our concept. The realistic scenario we should expect involves many hits of varying degrees of severity, and we will need numerous forces. I know how to split my force to platoon-size elements, and when my platoons reach the destruction site, they will be able to deal with it effectively. Each platoon has an equipment truck, and this vehicle can reach any location within a short time, ‘storm’ the missile hit site and extricate those who need to be extricated. The more sites we will reach – the more lives we will save. We improve our readiness and alertness all the time, as if we fail to make the most of it, people will lose their lives. The missiles will land in the neighborhoods and in the cities where our troopers live.”
What can you tell us about the alert state in the Lebanon and Syria sector, which was raised recently?
“We sent forces to that sector and maintained a state of alert. This only goes to show you how volatile the situation is. The entire region is unstable. Any such border incident can deteriorate into a full-scale war. The situation is explosive. We went up to the north and maintained a physical presence up there.”