In late January 2022, an incident on the brink of disaster occurred on the Egyptian border when drug smugglers climbed the fence with ladders and quickly moved sacks from side to side. The smuggling took place in several locations, and the forces on the ground, fighters from the Caracal Battalion, were required to be very sharp in identifying the movements. They swore they heard bullets above their heads and returned fire at the firing sites on the Egyptian side, but the firing did not stop. Suddenly, cries of "cease fire. cease fire," and it turned out that undercover Border Police officers operating a step away from the perimeter fence had been wounded.
One of the officers from the Faran Brigade explained that the shooting is "a regular method used by the smugglers to deter us from approaching the fence while they are throwing sacks or packages. Shooting has become an integral part of smuggling. It sounds like thwarting is easy, but it's really not, and even similar to encountering terrorists."
IDF soldiers in mixed battalions (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)
A command investigation carried out by the commander of the Red Division, Brigadier General Itzik Cohen, revealed that the command squad of the deputy commander of the Caracal Battalion positioned itself on a travel route between Nitzana and Ezuz in order to stop the drug smugglers who were moving with off-road vehicles. At the same time, an undercover unit operating under the command of the Caracal Battalion made its way to the scene in order to block the escape route of the smugglers.
The company headquarters, which was moving along the same route, drove past the undercover unit's vehicle and assumed it was the smugglers' vehicle. The officer reported to the battalion sergeant that the vehicle had passed her and was on its way. The deputy battalion commander blocked the civilian route with his vehicle, and the force under his command opened fire at the suspect vehicle. The SWAT fighters in the vehicle identified the Karakal fighters firing at them and carried out several actions in order to identify themselves. As a result of these actions, the shooting stopped.
The two undercover soldiers, who were lightly wounded during the shooting, were evacuated to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva. The investigation was defined by former IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi as a "flagship investigation" and on its basis a work plan was developed to implement the lessons. The investigation determined that the battalion commander acted dangerously and that the shooting was contrary to orders, and the incident was defined as a "mistake in identification."
The battalion's deputy commander was dismissed from his post, and the first mixed battalion in the IDF, established in 2004, underwent a shake-up.
Questions were raised about the professional level of the battalion, but later in the year, together with the parallel mixed battalion - Cheetah, they managed to record achievements in thwarting smuggling on the Egyptian border. In 2022, drug smuggling worth NIS 60 million was thwarted, and only in the first five months of 2023 were smuggling of this value thwarted. "The dizzying successes have become the greatest enemy of the fighters," a senior officer in the Southern Command said this week, "None of the battalions involved have made easy achievements, they are working very hard around the clock."
The officer added, "The delicate line between the main purpose as IDF combat battalions designed to deal with ISIS terror squads and Palestinian squads that may leave the Gaza Strip and walk through Sinai to the fence, and operations against drug dealers has blurred over time. Apparently, I say cautiously, there was a stupor or identity crisis that led to the deadly attack by the Egyptian policeman, who is now under command investigation into the sequence of events. The FFAM investigation examines the modus operandi of the battalions involved on the borders with Jordan and Egypt. How can you explain what happened?"
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Soldiers in mixed battalions (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)
There were also those who said at the Southern Command headquarters that the incident in which Border Police undercover officers almost lost their lives indicated more than anything else the level of motivation of the female fighters of the battalions involved to prove themselves to everyone and accumulate operational achievements, while the other battalions in the IDF gained experience vis-à-vis Palestinian terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip, Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.
Last Friday and Saturday night, at around 2:30 A.M., female fighters from the Cheetah Battalion in the Faran Brigade set out to thwart drug smuggling along the Egyptian border. Two hours later, the operation ended successfully with the seizure of drugs worth over a million and a half shekels. At around 9:00 A.M., a patrol under the battalion headquarters arrived at one of the positions near the Egyptian border and found that the soldier and a female fighter guarding under the canopy that served as a temporary position had been shot dead.
The incident unfolded by 12:30 P.M. and ended with the killing of another Cheetah Battalion fighter by a terrorist, an Egyptian policeman, who infiltrated into Israeli territory and killed all three of them and lightly wounded a tracker. Following the tragic results of the attack, the harsh findings of the initial investigation into the functioning of the Red Division, the Faran Brigade, and the Cheetah Battalion raised once again the question of the professional level of the battalions involved in the IDF's border defense corps, the discipline, and the gap between their mission and what transpired on the Egyptian border last weekend.
Colonel Talia Lankri was defined as a groundbreaking officer after serving as the commander of the first battalion in Bahad 1 and in other senior positions in which she was the first woman, including as head of the IDF's operational employment branch and responsible for planning and deploying the combat forces, including the mixed battalions. She also later became head of the Counterterrorism and Civil Space Division of the National Security Council. Lankri referred to the battalions involved: "It is impossible to undo the great successes of the battalions, including the female fighters. They make a great contribution to security. But the truth must also be told that the establishment of these battalions was established in sin – with the intention of covering up the political gap of border police large enough and significant to carry out this mission. In the end, these battalions deal with police threats. They are very border defense oriented."
About three years ago, the IDF General Staff examined the importance of the battalions for security, the human fabric, training, weapons, infrastructure, and the ability of female fighters to fulfill missions. These aspects were examined when the entire security establishment saw that the police were overwhelmed, and the threats from the borders to smuggle drugs and weapons were only increasing. The maneuvering infantry, armor, engineering, and artillery battalions were required to fill the void in a way that impaired training for real war.
"Among women there is tremendous motivation", a female fighter in a mixed battalion (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)
Kochavi saw the work of female fighters in the mixed battalions as a very significant value for security and placed an emphasis on the people's army. To this end, it budgeted a real revolution in the training processes, equipment, weapons and infrastructure under the Border Defense Corps, which is subordinate to the IDF Ground Forces. Alongside five combat collection battalions in which there are platoons of only girls and no boys, it was decided to upgrade the battalions involved. It was decided to establish a fifth battalion called "Panther", which will be commanded on the seam line in the Ephraim Regional Brigade, and a sixth mixed battalion is already being considered due to the operational need in the field.
In the war for every female fighter, especially against the combat roles offered by the Border Police, air defense, combat engineering and Unit 669 recently, over the past year the commanders of the Border Defense Corps have held about <> meetings with fighters, with an emphasis on female fighters, in order to encourage recruitment to these battalions. Between the meetings there were also large conferences with the participation of parents.
Thousands of boys and girls enlist in the largest training base on land located in the Arava: the School for Border Protection. Since the female fighters volunteer for combat roles, they enlist and undergo two weeks of preparatory course for the job, at the end of which they are required to decide: whether they give up and return to the best (in the combat unit), or continue on the combat track in one of the battalions involved.
Immediately following the soldiers' decision, the recruit cycles of the various battalions will begin at the training base in the Arava for four months. After that, the soldiers of the mixed battalions are sent to the various sectors and undergo the necessary completions according to the sector: the Jordan Valley and the Egyptian border.
"Our challenge is to take the reference scenarios and give them the qualifications for that. It's very complex," explained a senior officer in the Border Protection Corps. "The operational reference scenario is determined by the commander of the Regional Command (Southern Command, Central Command, Northern Command, AB). The competence derived from the reference scenario is determined by the commander of the Border Protection Corps. At the corps' training base, scouts take the qualifications determined by the corps commander and do the best possible. Sometimes the girls show higher abilities, they have a very high level of motivation."
"The girls' training track is identical for boys, including the different professions." A female fighter in a mixed battalion (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)
At this stage, a very sensitive seam point is being created, which is now being examined as part of an in-depth investigation by the IDF. From the moment of completion of basic training, the battalions involved are transferred to the responsibility of the commanders of the regional brigades in the areas of operation for advanced training, at the end of which they will be defined as having 0.6 rifles and will then be operationally activated. This is different from brigade commanders such as Golani, Paratroopers, Kfir, Givati and Nahal, who are responsible for the training processes from absorption to the end of military service. The girls' training course is identical for boys, including the various subjects, except for two increases in tension and a shorter time in the 3,000-meter run.
During the four months of basic training, the battalions involved will undergo a series of shooting, squad individual exercises, duo exercises, command posts such as the Negev machine gun, grenade launcher and more. At Camp Aryeh in the Jordan Valley, a special training facility was built for the Jordan Lions, Lavi Jordan Valley and Panther Brigades, and near Shivta in the Negev, a training facility was built for Caracal and Cheetah.
"The plan for change in the mixed battalions, 'Momentum at the Borders,' was decided two and a half years ago," the senior officer said. "The change includes new weapons, personal equipment, high-quality protective equipment, new shooting ranges, a route tester, soon classrooms, gyms, what's the advantage? Proximity to the sectors of operation. Disadvantages? The quality of training and training suffers because geographically they are far from the IAF school."
In advanced training, the commanders of the regional brigades make the necessary adjustments for fighting in the sectors. For example, in the Jordan Valley, warfare is practiced in greenhouses, orchards, built-up areas and arrest lines.
"A great contribution to security." Soldiers of the battalions involved (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)
The senior officer from the Border Protection Corps came out to defend the training processes and professional quality of the battalions involved. "These are battalions that are in the highest friction in the IDF all year round. On the Egyptian border, the Jordanian border, the Eilat sector, the Jordan Valley, these are deadly clashes and terrorist incidents. In relation to the balance between what happens from the training and the field, the training is appropriate."
"Every four months, nine border defense battalion commanders meet with the commander of the border defense division for a day of summary of competence," the officer added. "They discuss the quality of training and accommodations and present: this is the training, these are the results, these are the gaps. We measure effectiveness against the operational edge. Don't examine the training product on the basis of this incident, which is still under investigation." According to the officer, most of the year the mixed battalion is in its sector, and according to the decision of the commander of the regional brigade, companies go separately for three-week training.
"Units standing in line to get into the friction"
The battalions involved in the Jordan Valley sector have been at their peak over the past year. The Jordan fighters operate around the clock in the triangle of terror: Tubas, Pharaoh, and Tammun, which are defined as violent places, and any entry to them leads to the arrest of wanted persons or searches of weapons accompanied by terrorist fire.
A senior officer in the Central Command explained that "the goal of the 'Momentum at the Borders' program is to empower the battalions involved, fixing them to specific sectors in order to create expertise and maximize capabilities. As part of the program, new vehicles, armored vehicles, a sniper platoon, Negev machine guns, advanced reconnaissance equipment, weapons and a drone were received for each platoon. It's happening not because the IDF doesn't trust them, but on the contrary, that's what the IDF promised them."
"Units stand in line to enter the 'friction' in the Jordan Valley, but there are first of all two battalions," the officer added. "They are operating very successfully. Four months ago, the 47th Battalion, the Valley Liones, encountered armed men from head to toe, and they responded amazingly. Fourteen female and 14 female fighters killed five terrorists and wounded two in the 'Aqbat Jaber refugee camp. The terrorists fired first, the fighters and commanders overcame them with heavy fire. They are really excellent. It is wrong to tailor an ideology to a difficult event (on the Egyptian border). In the Jordan Valley, we are building the fighters for the threat of the infiltration of a well-trained and strong squad that will penetrate through the Jordanian border to attack our forces or civilians."
Regarding the congestion of the battalions involved in the Jordan Valley, the senior officer said: "We are after the attacks around Jericho. We made three crowns around Jericho and five exits from Jericho were closed 12/24. The women and fighters checked a vehicle in order to look for the terrorists who carried out the attack. One crown lasts two weeks, one crown three weeks, and one crown five days. Those crowns were under rain, and some under heat load 7, the warriors stood and didn't chirp. I don't know of any battalion that has done anything like this. Following the serious attack at the Hamra junction, the Jordan Lions Battalion isolated the Nablus area and the villages in the area for a month and a half. Some of them did not go home for a long time, wearing ceramic bulletproof vests and helmets, fighters and female fighters. Was it simple? Not. It was very difficult. But they lived up to it."
How would you explain the criticism of the quality of the battalions involved?
"I think the tasks are serious and so is the training. The existence of the battalions is no less obligatory than reality. There is tremendous human capital and among women there is tremendous motivation. At the end of the day, they are volunteers who want to bring abilities as fighters. Not to give them a platform, and this expression is nothing short of delusional. A combination of women in the company who bring something different has very strong potential. We have battalion commanders, and they're super high-quality."
"At first we made a lot of mistakes in the physiological aspect, but we quickly dealt with it. There is an effort bar and nutrition. I think we have become professional, today it is in a much more serious place, a great trend of improvement. We have physical fitness instructors for each company."
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How do you see it in the grinding activity on the Jordanian border?
"In pursuit of arms smugglers? I see their command and tenacity to come full circle. In one case, they spent 48 hours in the field, lurking, searching until they found. Didn't need me to stay there. The encounter in the 'Aqbat Jaber refugee camp, also in the crowns, I reached the points of isolation and barriers, I was in the mode of coming to reprimand. But I met forces alert, under load, goggles, ready to be encountered, and coming out with the upper hand. I think people are doing a great injustice to the servants of these battalions. One event should build a worldview is not serious."
- Military & Security
- Drug Smuggling