The Paratroopers Brigade carried out this week a full scale exercise that included the parachuting at night of over 1,000 soldiers and their equipment, a rapid gathering at the drop zone, a demanding 20 kilometre march on foot and the attack of a target with live fire. Despite the budgetary pressures affecting defence spending, the brigade’s commander, Colonel Amir Bar’am, managed to convince his superiors to carry out the exercise, first in many years, and rightly so.
The last time in which the IDF parachuted a large force to carry out a mission on enemy’s territory during a war was in 1956 in the battle of the Mitla Pass to which I referred in a previous article. The planned drop in the El-Arish area during the Six Days War was cancelled due to the rapid advance of IDF forces on the ground, and the paratroopers were diverted to liberate Jerusalem. Despite what the critics and doomsday seers say, the parachuting of a large force deep in enemy’s territory is not an obsolete tactic and is not comparable to the charge of the Polish cavalry against the German tanks. Special operations in which small forces are flown in by helicopters in order to achieve pinpointed results within a relatively short distance from Israel’s borders have always taken place and will continue to be carried out in the future. Landing heavy aircraft on unprepared ground is possible in some areas but is a risky proposition. When the discussion turns to a real and rapid vertical flanking manoeuvre by a large force that can unbalance the enemy’s stance deep inside his territory, there is no substitute to an air drop. The transport aircraft which parachuted the brigade this week have nearly double the speed and carrying capacity of the IAF’s heavy helicopters and their range, without aerial refuel, is many times greater. When necessary, they can also drop after the paratroopers much heavier equipment than that used in the exercise.
To those who thought for a moment about some imaginary scenarios, the brigade commander made it clear that nobody is talking about parachuting into a far away territory like Iran. The paratroopers will operate in areas close enough so that they will be joined within a couple of days by armoured ground forces streaming into the enemy’s territory. Those who examine a map of the Middle East and take into account the instability and uncertainty characterising it these days will identify potential drop zones during a future war not only in the vast plains of the Sinai Desert but also deep inside Jordan and Syria.