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IDF helps prepare US troops for tunnel combat

An Israeli soldier stands on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza, near the opening of a tunnel, that Israel says was dug by the Islamic Jihad militant group.
Jack Guez/Pool via AP
The Israeli army gained critical experience in underground warfare during the last conflict with Hamas in Gaza

The US Marine Corps are learning the finer points of bitter tunnel combat from the Israeli military during a joint infantry drill currently underway in Israel.

The joint Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and US Marine Corps exercises are code-named Kaya Green, which is itself a sub-exercise of the massive Juniper Cobra 2018 maneuver which involves thousands of Israeli and American soldiers.

Beginning last week, the exercise kicked off with beach landings at Palmichim on the southern Israeli coast, executed by American hovercraft vehicles, and later featured training for urban and desert warfare. Kaya Green will run through to Thursday.

In addition to the hover crafts, the Marines brought along V-22 Osprey aircraft and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, artillery batteries and a range of armored vehicles.

When asked to point out differences between Israeli and American combat methods in urban warfare, Lt. Col. Marcus Mainz, a Marine battalion commander and veteran of the Iraq War, noted that Marines tend to enter a room faster and more aggressively, because they are more used to "a full-on combat environment where the enemy has a lot of machine guns and mortars ... the IDF have a slower approach into a building because of the numerous amounts of IEDs and things like that."

Lt. Col. Mainz described typical conversations between soldiers of the two services, noting that they might share 80 percent of the same military ideas when discussing an urban combat scenario, but that the remaining 20 percent represented the "golden nugget" that had the potential to enrich the respective participants and make them more effective fighters.

Lt. Ran Semel, a combat officer in the IDF's Paratrooper Brigade, said he was particularly impressed with the Marines' ability to integrate light armored vehicles and infantry.


He also described "a force-on-force drill that we'll conduct from this [Tuesday] afternoon until tomorrow morning. During this force-on-force drill the Marines will encounter underground tunneling and they'll have to deal with that threat ... They'll have to work together, in cooperation with us, in order to use our knowledge."

The Israeli army gained critical experience in underground warfare during the last conflict with Hamas in Gaza in 2014 (Operation Protective Edge). Since then this area has become a top priority in terms of training for IDF ground forces.

Lt. Col. Mainz added: "That's a lost art for us. When I first entered the Marine Corps my instructors and commanders had been in Vietnam but we had let go of all the tunneling techniques, so the tunnel techniques are something I had never worked on ... having some of those ideas and experts and some of the specific equipment that they talked about was something that we hadn't thought of."

A real-life joint Israeli-U.S. operation featuring underground combat against Gaza militants is perhaps not a realistic scenario, but the knowledge could prove useful for American troops stationed in remote corners of the Middle East.

Shai Ben-Ari is i24NEWS' Senior Defense Correspondent.


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