The Gaza border region: “A totally different sector”

Archive photo

The Iron Trails tank brigade was along the Gaza border during Operation Pillar of Defense. It now faces an improved but still challenging security situation in that region

Date: 14/06/2013, 4:23 PM     Author: Daniel Temkin

While Israelis have felt the improvement in the security situation in southern Israel since mid-November of last year, few are more acutely aware of that improvement – and of the threats that still persist – than the soldiers of the Iron Trails tank brigade.

Stationed near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, the Iron Trails Brigade defends Israel against cross-border attacks. Equipped with advanced tanks, it is largely responsible for maintaining quiet and stability in southern Israel.

Last November, the Iron Trails Brigade was called into action during Operation Pillar of Defense, targeting terror activity sites in Gaza and protecting Israel’s border with the territory. Stationed near the Gaza border, it now faces a reality very different from the persistent rocket fire that terrorized the region prior to that campaign.

“Contact with the enemy was a daily occurrence,” Cpt. Erez Gabbai, a company commander within the Iron Trails Brigade, recounted to the IDF (Zahal) Website, describing the reality during Pillar of Defense. “[As compared to] during Pillar of Defense and before Pillar of Defense – [today] it’s a totally different sector.”

Recent months have seen a much lower level of violence from Gaza than the period preceding Pillar of Defense. In particular, rocket fire has dropped from a frequent and sometimes deadly type of attack to a relatively rare occurrence.

However, while the situation along the Gaza border is much improved, the region has not been entirely free of cross-border attacks. Though the frequency and scope of attacks remains relatively low, there remains a risk that the level of violence from Gaza will rise again.

Gaza-based terrorists have launched a number of attacks on southern Israel in recent months, both from Gaza and from the Sinai peninsula. On Wednesday, April 17, two rockets fired from Sinai fell in an open field in Eilat, causing no injuries. Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, a Gaza-based terrorist affiliated with Islamic Jihad, was involved in that attack. Israeli aircraft responded, targeting Masshal.

Rockets from Gaza struck Israel several times in April. Following one such attack – on Saturday night, April 27 – Israeli aircraft targeted terror activity sites in the Gaza Strip.

Protecting the border region

Equipped with cutting-edge technology, the Iron Trails Brigade is prepared for the various threats that it could face in the region. Its tanks are among the world’s most advanced.

Additionally, the Iron Trails Brigade’s tanks are equipped with the Trophy active defense system, which protects them from missile attack. The Trophy can detect and track an incoming anti-tank missile and then fire in the direction of the threat, intercepting it before it can strike the tank. It can also locate the source of an incoming missile.

Sgt. Yechiel Avital, a gunner within the Iron Trails Brigade, emphasized the defensive advantage that the Trophy system gives to the soldiers it protects – as well as its impact on their confidence. “I’ve never had an anti-tank missile fired at me, but [the Trophy] definitely gives you a sense of security,” he stated.

These soldiers are well aware of the importance of their contribution to Israel’s security – and of the risks that they face.

Sgt. Avital, who was raised in southern Israel and whose family lives in the southern city of Be’er Sheva, emphasized his sense that he is protecting his family by guarding the border. This feeling was particularly palpable during Operation Pillar of Defense, as the Iron Trails Brigade and other IDF (Zahal) units targeted the terror infrastructure responsible for rocket fire on southern Israel.

“Civilians from Be’er Sheva who saw me in uniform would look at me with obvious appreciation,” he recounted.

Yael Livnat contributed to this article.