Israel bulks northern defense with new mountain brigade amid ongoing Hezbollah threat

IDF soldiers operating in mountainous terrain. (IDF)

The Israel Defense Forces announced the creation of a new unit with the objective of protecting Israel’s mountainous terrain on its northern border with Lebanon. The new unit will be called the ‘mountain brigade’, or Harim in Hebrew. This is one of the first major concrete military reorganizations since the October 7 attack by Hamas, in the wake of which another Iranian-backed terrorist group, Hezbollah, has carried out near-daily attacks against Israel. The Hezbollah threat caused Israel to evacuate its civilians along the northern border back in October.

The war in Gaza has provided many lessons for Israel. Like many western militaries, the Israel Defense Forces have been focusing on rolling out new technology over the last decade. This includes new drones and precision munitions. The IDF also concentrated on special forces, uniting many of the existing special forces under a Commando Brigade and then placing that brigade under the 98th division, essentially creating an elite infantry division with numerous special capabilities.

While the IDF’s new hi-tech investment has paid off in this war, the war has also revealed that traditional military platforms, such as tanks and APCs, helicopters and regular infantry, are still necessary on the modern battlefield and as relevant as they were in the past. For instance, only two helicopters were on alert on October 7 when Hamas attacked, and both were based in northern Israel. Lack of infantry on the border on October 7 led to disaster as Hamas’ low-tech ‘human wave’ attacks easily penetrated Israel’s ‘hi-tech’ security fence and overwhelmed remote controlled weapon stations. The Ukraine war has also taught western militaries that investment in larger armies with more tanks and artillery will be necessary for future wars. Israel is now investing in more traditional armaments and will likely expand some armored and infantry units in the future.

While a primary challenge in Gaza is urban warfare in itself, the mountainous terrain at Israel’s northern border with Lebanon is also difficult to navigate. The new brigade will apparently be territorial, focused on defending Mount Hermon and Mount Dov, two mountainous areas that abut the Golan and northern Israel and form a triangle between Israel, Lebanon and Syria. “The establishment of the brigade will provide a high-quality operational response and enable preparation for both defensive and offensive measures in a variety of scenarios that correspond to the terrain and the enemy in the region, on both fronts simultaneously—Lebanon and Syria,’ the Commanding Officer of the IDF’s 210th Division Brig. Gen. Zion Ratzon said.

After October 7, the IDF called up 300,000 reserve soldiers and sent many of them to its border with either Gaza or Lebanon. In early October, it was believed Hezbollah might join the Hamas attack, leading to a multi-front war. Instead, Hezbollah has fired thousands of rockets and ATGMs at Israel. There have been some infiltration attempts but nothing major. In January, Israel redeployed the 36th armored division to northern Israel, moving Golani infantry and the 188th armored brigade to the north. These units are often based in Israel’s north, and the Golani has trained for many years alongside the 7th armored for potential operations in Lebanon.

Since October 7, the Alexandroni infantry and 8th armored, both reserve units, have also been training for such scenarios. A new brigade that can anchor the northern front at Mount Dov and Mount Hermon adds depth to Israel’s bench on its northern frontier. It will also be able to tie-in with existing units that specialize in mountain warfare, including Israel’s small number of “alpine” troops, a unit created in 1983. The IDF also has the Egoz unit, originally an elite unit within the Golani infantry that focused on the northern frontier before being moved to the Commando brigade. Egoz has now been operating in Khan Younis in Gaza for three months.

The new commander was named as Col. Liron Appleman, and the IDF says the brigade will operate under the 210th Division to “defend the Mount Hermon and Mount Dov sectors in place of the 810th Hermon Brigade.” The new brigade will begin its activity in the coming weeks, and “will specialize in combat in difficult terrain and warfare in mountainous areas, including Mount Hermon and Mount Dov,” the IDF noted. Israel announced several other promotions within the IDF, offering a glimpse into how Israel looks ahead at the war after five months in Gaza.

Reporting from Israel, Seth J. Frantzman is an adjunct fellow at FDD and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal. He is the acting news editor and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post. 


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