An Israeli Defense Force Alpine Unit? Seriously!

Israeli soldiers in their ski trooper forces during exercises on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights as they practice in fresh snow. (Photo: Haim Azulay/Flash 90)

In the 3rd century B.C.E., General Hannibal surprised the Romans by taking elephants across the Alps. Almost as incongruous a concept is the existence of an Israeli Defense Force Alpine Unit.

Specializing in mountain and snow warfare on difficult terrain and located mostly on the snowy slopes of Israel’s highest mountain, Hermon, the elite unit was established in 1983 due to military failings during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when ill-equipped and under-trained soldiers suffered loss in the area.

With recent cold and snowy weather the soldiers of the Alpine Unit are currently relishing the opportunity to practice their skills, including shooting while skiing and using snow-cats customized for their specific requirements. Also important is their role in electronic intelligence gathering from heavily fortified military posts – the ‘eyes and ears’ of Israel. Their secondary role is search and rescue.

Mount Hermon, in Israel’s north on the Golan Heights, currently shares a 55-mile border with Syria and Lebanon and is thus strategically crucial, although in the past few weeks relatively quiet. However, Lebanon’s new president, Michel Aoun, has warned that the territory in the area is disputed and trouble abounds across the border in Syria, where a civil war has been ongoing for years. Mount Hermon is within striking distance from Damascus.

Biblically Mount Hermon lies well within the original borders God promised as an inheritance to the people of Israel:

“Because I swore with uplifted hand to give it to your ancestors, this land will become your inheritance. This is to be the boundary of the land: On the north side it will run from the Mediterranean Sea by the Hethlon road past Lebo Hamath to Zedad,  Berothah and Sibraim (which lies on the border between Damascus and Hamath), as far as Hazer Hattikon, which is on the border of Hauran. The boundary will extend from the sea to Hazar Enan, along the northern border of Damascus, with the border of Hamath to the north. This will be the northern boundary.” Ezekiel 47:14-17

The Alpine Unit scours the area for signs of potential terrorist activity, but is only operational in the winter months. According to the IDF the soldiers are “volunteer reservists” with a service record in elite units. Most of the year they work civilian jobs, but in the winter they are called away from their jobs and families for short stints of military service. Most are in their 30s and and some, immigrants from countries with cold climates, bring their own unique extreme weather military experience to the unit.

When winter is over, other units take responsibility for Mount Hermon.

“The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth;
you founded the world and all that is in it.
You created the north and the south;
Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name.
Your arm is endowed with power;
your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.”
Psalm 89:11-13