Sometimes the best strategy to combat a threat is to face it head on – with double the manpower. Yahalom, the unit of the IDF Combat Engineering Corps that specializes in underground warfare, is doing just that.
The Tunnel Threat
Since before 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, Hamas, the terror organization controlling the Gaza Strip, has been building numerous cross-border terror tunnels. They’ve changed the face of the battlefield by moving it underground. Their aim: to infiltrate Israeli communities and attack citizens.
They’ve succeeded in the past. During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas fighters snuck through a terror tunnel and emerged near Nahal Oz, killed five soldiers at an IDF outpost, and attempted to kidnap one of their bodies. These tunnels have even reached the civilian communities of Kibbutz Nir Am and Kibbutz Sufa, placing thousands of innocent lives in danger.
Our Answer: Yahalom
To counter this threat, the IDF is doubling the number of soldiers in “Yahalom,” the elite commando unit of the Combat Engineering Corps. While combat soldiers in most units are trained in basic tunnel warfare, Yahalom specializes in discovering, clearing, and destroying terror tunnels.
As the threat of terror tunnels continues to grow, the role that Yahalom plays becomes even more vital. Although the entire unit deals with the tunnel threat, the unit is split into specialized companies. The “Yael” Company is the engineering reconnaissance force. “Sayfan” is trained to handle the threat of non-conventional weapons (WMD’s). There are two additional explosive ordinance disposal units, and “Samur,” which specializes in tunnel warfare.
Fighting Inside Terror Tunnels
“The main challenge of underground warfare is that the enemy has no above-ground signature, says Col. Yaron, the commander of the Yahalom unit. “The fact that the enemy is hidden and collecting intelligence is complicated and difficult.” Hamas’ use of the tactic is no different. “Hamas views warfare underground just as it would aboveground, utilizing defense, offense, and retreat. They even destroy the foundations of their terror tunnels to harm the IDF soldiers inside, similar to the tactic used in Vietnam.”
Lt. Hezi has first hand experience fighting inside of Hamas’s terror tunnels from Operation Protective Edge. “No two tunnels are the same. The first person to enter the tunnel has to improvise,” he explains. “This is exactly what we train for – to be prepared for any situation, whether it be a terrorist or an explosive. When you see the inside of these terror tunnels – that’s when you suddenly understand how big of a threat we face.”