The Eilat Counterterrorism Unit is familiar with almost every vacation site in the southern Israeli city of Eilat. And that’s not because they go there to relax and have fun. They are there to prepare for any emergency scenario, at any place and any time.
Within a few minutes, fighters from the Lotar Eilat counterterrorism reserve unit have to transform themselves from regular Israeli citizens into combat soldiers ready to fight terror. They know that there is no choice: no matter where they are when they are called, whether with their wives at the supermarket, visiting their parents, or reading a story to their kids, they must leave to fulfil their mission: to protect the city of Eilat.
Due to it’s popularity among tourists, its location and the airport it operates, Eilat is full of threats. “We prepare for many scenarios simultaneously,” says Lieutenant Colonel T., the unit commander. “We are capable of rescuing hostages from vehicles, hotels, boats, buses, airplanes – from anywhere.”
1) The unit has trained in every major building in Eilat.
The Eilat Counterterrorism Unit conducts an exercise in almost every building in the city that is open to the public. Familiarity with the building’s structure gives the soldiers a significant advantage, and prevents them from feeling like they are walking into a maze. “The goal is for the unit to feel as familiar as possible with the buildings so that they will know how to work in case of an emergency,” Lt. Col. T. says.
2) During winter downtime, the unit trains in Eilat’s hotels.
During the winter, many resorts in Eilat close sections of their hotel for renovation. This gives the Counterterrorism Unit soldiers the perfect place to train and improve their skills.
3) All of the unit’s soldiers live in Eilat.
The Eilat Counterterrorism Unit is a reserve unit, whose soldiers are required to be residents of the city between the ages of 20 and 60. Because the soldiers live in Eilat, not only do they know the area very well, but they can also react to any situation quickly, arriving at the scene directly from their workplaces or homes.That feeling, of being the ones who protect their homes, their families and their friends, gives the soldiers motivation to do their best.
4) The unit started as a small backup force.
Only three units in the IDF (Zahal) are authorized to free hostages, and one of them is the Eilat Counterterrorism Unit. Established in the beginning of the 80s, it was meant to provide only an immediate response until the special units could arrive. A few years after it was established, the unit was called to operate a hostage situation, and lead a remarkable rescue. After proving itself, the unit became an intervention unit, like the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit and the Yamam (Israeli SWAT).
5) One of the unit’s teams is called the ‘Terror Monkeys’.
The Eilat Counterterrorism Unit is composed of a number of teams, including the ‘Terror Monkeys”. This team specializes in extreme operations, like breaking into buildings through a window or the roof. They can hit a terror target anywhere – even on the 40th floor of a skyscraper.