Alpinistim

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Alpinistim is an IDF reserve SF unit specializing in extreme weather warfare. The unit was formed to protect Mount Hermon, North of Israel, which is the host to strategically important electronic intelligence gathering installations. The unit's secondary mission is performing search and rescue.

Mount Hermon


The existence of an extreme weather unit for a country that has but one real snowy mountain, seems as an anomaly at a first glance. However, Mount Hermon is also one of Israel's key intelligence gathering stations, offering unequaled surveillance of Syria.

Located in the Golan Heights, the Israeli Mount Hermon is part of the Hermon mountains range, with two peaks in the Israeli side of the border and additional peaks in the Syrian side. Commonly refereed to as the "Eyes and Ears of Israel", Mount Hermon features heavily fortified military posts bristle with a vast complex of antennas, towers and dishes of observation and electronic surveillance equipment.

Overlooking Damascus, the Syrian capital, just 35 kilometers away, Mount Hermon provides Israel with a strategic early-warning advantage. It is also a constant reminder for Syria that Israel can easily range their capital city at will.

As the two Israeli peaks are located less then 500 meters from the Syrian border, they are vulnerable for sneak Syrian commando attacks, which is why a dedicated SF unit was created to protect the mountain and counter any such attacks.

Unit Overview


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While many IDF SF units have a reserve force, Alpinistim is unique as it an all reserve unit. Most of unit's operators are PALSAR Golani veterans, while the rest are Jewish immigrants with extensive mountain/snow warfare experience from their native countries. These individuals benefit the unit with their knowledge and expertise, unlike Israeli soldiers who rarely had to cope with harsh winter environments.

The reason why PALSAR Golani was selected as the main source for the unit's personnel, lay in the fact that the Golani infantry Brigade is in charge on Israeli northern border. As such, PALSAR Golani personnel typically received more extensive winter training than other IDF units. Moreover, highly trained reserve SF personnel is required due to the threat of Syrian commandos attacks.

History


Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. At that time two IDF units that specialized in extreme weather warfare:

  • PALSAR Golani - as the primary SF unit of the IDF Northern Command.

  • Sayeret MATKAL - which had a alpine team with specialized gear and equipment.

However, in both units winter training and equipment were secondary to the units' primary role roles.

During the Yom Kippur War in 1973 Syria and Egypt launched surprise attacks at Israel. In the first day of the war, a battalion-size force of Syrian commandos, well trained in mountain warfare, took over the Israeli military outposts on the mountain that were protected by infantry soldiers. The Syrian forces encountered little resistance, took several Israeli soldiers as prisoners and killed the rest. Part from the lives lost, the Syrians also managed to put their hands on classified information and intelligence gathering equipment.

On the last day of the war, the Golani infantry brigade, led by PALSAR Golani, managed to recapture Mount Hermon. By the time the battle was over, 52 Israeli soldiers were killed and over 100 were badly wounded. After the end of the war, sporadic fighting and skirmishes involving Israeli SF units and Syrian commandos continued throughout the winter in the area until a cease fire agreement was achieved and effected in May 1974.

The Yom Kippur War demonstrated that the Israeli infantry soldiers were ill-equipped and undertrained to effectively fight in alpine conditions, and the IDF saw the need for a dedicated SF unit. While a general IDF decision to from such a unit was made shortly after the war, the direct trigger for its formation was an incident in October 31, 1973. While conducting a reconnaissance mission inside Syrian territory, A PALSAR Tzanhanim  team encountered a snow blizzard and was confined to a cave. After the PALSAR Tzanhanim  sent out a distress call, Sayeret MATKAL alpine team was sent in for the rescue. The Sayeret MATKAL team was underequipped and undertrained for such harsh conditions and on the way to the area one operator froze to death. Few months later in early 1974, Alpinistim was formed. The unit was first established as a mandatory service personnel IDF unit, but after two years it was disbanded as the IDF no longer saw justification for a full-time unit. In late 1979, the IDF try again to form the unit, but this time it was strictly based on a reserve (voluntary) force, made up of veterans from various SF units, mainly PALSAR Golani.

Training


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As all Alpinistim operators are SF veterans, with years of training and combat experience in Lebanon and elsewhere, regular training is not necessary. The unit training regime is focused on mountain and alpine warfare, including survival, climbing, camouflage, medical training, skiing and combat maneuvers.

Each training session usually consists of spending several nights in the snow, in war time conditions, including digging snow cave for sleep. Focus is placed on capturing and defending fortified positions in snow conditions, the unit's primary objective.

The unit's more experienced operators, typically Jewish immigrants who served in foreign armies' Alpine units, provide guidance and advanced training.

Initial training regime for new operators is comprised of 8 non consecutive weeks.

  • 3 weeks - basic winter training - snow movement, survival, winter dressing, fighting and navigation.

  • 2 weeks - general search and rescue training - rope work, mountain climbing and medical training.

  • 2 weeks - advanced winter tactics such as skiing.

  • 1 week - extreme weather search and rescue.

As the soldiers are on reserve duty the training is spread on several years, each year with a different training focus. For example, training in snowing years will be focused on skiing and maneuvers, while training in non snowing years, will be dedicated to open field combat training. With the soldiers in the unit tend to stay in service for many years, they gather much experience and expertise over time.

The primary training challenge is that the Israeli winters rarely provide good snow conditions, suitable for intense winter training. Therefore, the unit's operators often travels to Europe and to the U.S. for training when there is insufficient snow. To further advanced its skills the Alpinistim also joint-train with similar units from the U.S. and Europe.

The overseas travels, the unusual training and the unique deployment make the Alpinistim a desired destination for SF veterans. However, positions in the units are mainly open for former PALSAR Golani personnel.

Deployment


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Wartime

In wartime the unit will deploy in the Mount Hermon's surroundings. Also, While the unit was formed especially to protect Mount Hermon, it can be deployed in other peaks and mountain ranges surround Mount Hermon.

Peacetime During peacetime the unit's routine comprised of training and security activities such as ambushes and patrols around the mountain. The unit also support SAR or medical evacuation sometime required for the civilians taking place in recreational winter activities on the mountain.

In extreme snow conditions, when regular convoys and helicopters can't reach Mount Hermon's outposts, Alpinistim functions as an emergency link to the posts. The unit works closely with the IDF Snow Clearing unit that using heavy machinery to clear the roads to the IDF posts and the nearby civilian villages. As part of this cooperation, the unit's operators provide security and guidance for the heavy machinery. As with other specialized IDF SF units, Alpinistim frequently train other SF units in their expertise - winter warfare. Most IDF SF units visit Alpinistim for extreme weather training sessions, which provide them with the foundational skills required for deployment in occasional snowing northern fronts.

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Alpinistim Guide