‘We’re in a race against our enemies,’ says IDF tank battalion commander

A recent combat exercise mixing battalions from the different branches of the IDF’s ground forces included live-fire drills, urban-warfare simulations and fighting in open spaces.

By: Yaakov Lappin/JNS.org

In recent days, the Israel Defense Forces held a large-scale, planned war drill in the northern part of the country, in which military commanders got a chance to test new ways of combat.

The new model, called the Gideon Brigade combat team, mixes battalions from the different branches of the IDF’s ground forces—the armored corps, the infantry, and the engineering corps—to create an unprecedented level of battlefield cooperation, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the army.

Taking part in the drill, which was led by the Golani (infantry) Brigade, was an armored battalion equipped with Israel’s most advanced Merkava 4 tanks.

Lt.-Col. Radi Azmi is the commander of that battalion—the 75th battalion, or Romah (Hebrew for “spear”), as it is dubbed in the army. Azmi told JNS on Tuesday that what he experienced during that drill was a new level of battlefield performance—a level he has not previously seen, despite taking part in many previous exercises.

“It is something that the ground forces have not known before,” said Azmi, an Israeli Druze officer. “The ability to fight shoulder to shoulder together with the infantry and engineering corps to utilize new means, some more technological than others, increases our tempo of operations. And the ability to better engage the enemy.”

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Like the rest of the military, the 75th battalion is in the midst of a race with Israel’s enemies, added the battalion commander. It’s a race against how quickly each side can learn and improve—skills that may one day be put to the test.

“The race to learn and change is occurring between us and all those who surround us,” said Azmi. “And I think I can say with much confidence that we have the upper hand—certainly, after the last exercise and the recent processes that have occurred in the ground forces.”

The IDF’s ‘speed and lethality’

Ultimately, he said, it comes down to the “speed and lethality” of Israeli forces. All of the recent improvements are about “creating superiority over the other side—whether it is the enemy in the northern arena [a reference to Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian forces] or those in the south [a reference to Hamas].”

The combat exercise was an “excellent opportunity” to take the new combined-forces model to the edge, said the officer. It included live-fire drills, urban-warfare simulations and fighting in open spaces.

Such intensive exercises “brought things as close as possible to a real situation,” he said.

Despite the new fighting doctrine, structure and weapons, Azmi was adamant that what ultimately wins wars is the leadership ability of commanders during combat and the fighting spirit of the forces involved.

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“There is a total belief among us—the commanders that lead the formations—in the justice of our path, and it fills us with a sense of mission. We are also driven by an obligation to our families and country. From there, we embrace all of the missions we receive. When I look at my personnel, that is what I feel,” the officer stated.

‘A system that is almost unstoppable’

Azmi’s battalion has cutting-edge Merkava 4 tanks that are currently the most advanced in the IDF’s inventory, though they will soon be joined by an upgraded version.

The tanks have an active protection system that defends them against incoming missiles, in addition to sophisticated networking abilities that allow them to share target information with other forces and coordinate firepower.

The 75th battalion, which fought intensively in the 2014 conflict with Hamas in Gaza, was the first to receive the Merkava 4 tanks. It is the youngest battalion in the 7th Armored Brigade—one that Azmi noted was formed just two days after the State of Israel was born. “The brigade’s story is the story of the revival of the nation of Israel in its land,” he said. “It has taken part in every war.”

The battalion also has units that conduct reconnaissance patrols and lookouts, and that can support combat operations with mortar fire. “It’s a strong unit,” said Azmi.

“When I look at my battalion—its weapons and tanks, its ability to work with other units, and the people who run this whole great thing—I see a system that is almost unstoppable,” he added.

In the coming days, the battalion will deploy to the West Bank, where it will receive responsibility to secure a designated area and operate like an infantry unit, leaving the tanks behind for a while.

“This is a mission of defense that we are prepared for,” assured the officer.