The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is prioritising tunnel warfare training as part of the lessons learned during the 50-day conflict with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip in July and August.
The IDF Ground Forces have begun building a number of training centres that are designed to simulate subterranean warfare, as well as close-quarter combat in built-up areas.
During the two-week ground operation in July, IDF units moved into the Gaza Strip and destroyed 32 offensive tunnels, some of which crossed the border into Israeli territory so that militants could be infiltrated behind IDF lines to carry out attacks. A number of Hamas cells succeeded in entering Israel and killing IDF soldiers, although others were detected and attacked as they emerged from tunnels.
Lieutenant Colonel Dotan Druck, the head of the Manoeuvring Branch in the Ground Forces, said the new training centres are designed to simulate spaces where soldiers must fire while kneeling, lying, or standing in enclosed spaces.
Firing positions from inside homes, in which window ledges and holes in walls are used to shoot, will also be simulated at the new training centre, he said.
At present, half of the IDF’s brigade training bases have such facilities, and in the coming months, the IDF will ensure that all of them do, he added.
The construction of new training centres is part of a wider shift by the Ground Forces to prepare for combat in enclosed spaces, which army officials say is a vital skill needed to take on Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza, and Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Israel’s enemies have developed their short-range combat capabilities, moving swiftly with their firearms and shoulder-launched missiles in such arenas, according to Lt Col Druck.
“Combat in closed, hilly, or rocky terrain has one common denominator: it forces us to change how we operate our weapons. The subterranean arena is part of this,” he added.
The IDF said it is not aware of any offensive tunnels that Hizbullah has dug under the Israeli-Lebanese border, but it is training soldiers for tunnel warfare inside Lebanon.
According to Israeli assessments, Hizbullah has placed command and control centres in underground bunkers, as well as digging a maze of underground passages for fighters and weapons to conceal them from the Israel Air Force and protect them against airstrikes.
Units from the IDF Combat Engineering Corps have trained in approaching tunnels quietly, entering them, killing militants, and scanning underground areas for additional targets. They also examine Hizbullah bunker models during training.