Israeli reserve soldiers refuse to fight in Gaza

Half a brigade was released from duty after complaining of poor training and lack of weapons before deployment to Gaza

About half the soldiers of an Israeli reserve battalion refused to fight in the Gaza Strip and were released from duty by their commander, Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed reported on 17 January.

The Qatari outlet cited Israel’s Kan Reshet Bet radio as reporting that reserve soldiers were called up to form a new brigade in the Israeli army to carry out protection tasks in the areas surrounding Gaza and the occupied West Bank. However, the soldiers received permission to leave the battalion after the army tried to send them to fight and carry out combat missions within Gaza for which they were not qualified or adequately equipped.

The soldiers were called up in late December, but the new brigade was poorly organized, did not have a deputy brigade commander, and was short on weapons and officers.

During the training period, soldiers complained of serious gaps in equipment, professionalism, and a lack of human resources.

The soldiers were then further angered to learn their mission had changed, and they would be sent to Gaza for combat missions.

The radio quoted one soldier as saying: “We received the conscription order, and we responded to that. They told us that our specialty would be to protect the towns, and after about a week of training that took place in a horrific manner, without ammunition, and without officers, we were suddenly told that there was an order that the Israeli army needed us to enter the Gaza Strip to clear homes.”

The soldier added, “We were shocked. We are all combat soldiers. I personally was in the Nahal Brigade, and the rest of the soldiers are from former infantry brigades, but we had not carried out reserve missions for years. We were given an M16 weapon, which fell apart in our hands, and there was no ammunition for training. We collected bullets off the ground so that we have something we can fire.”

The radio station quoted another soldier as saying, “There are people who trained without military uniforms. There are soldiers who were not given shirts or slippers at first. The means that were available were not suitable for training. The brigade, which was supposed to include four battalions, barely reached one and a half battalions. It is not understandable how they wanted to introduce such a completely unqualified force into the Gaza Strip.”

The report comes amid the announcement that the 36th division, which comprises armored, engineering, and infantry companies, withdrew from the Gaza Strip after 80 days of fighting.

The Israeli government says this is part of a planned transition away from the “intensive manoeuvring stage” of its Gaza military campaign to a more targeted phase to last until the end of this year.

At the same time, some speculate that Israel has been forced to withdraw some of its forces due to heavy losses inflicted by fighters from Hamas’ military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Israel is also facing economic difficulties, with the government having to pay salaries for hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers called away from their civilian jobs.

Israel also has large numbers of soldiers on the northern border to support operations against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel’s army chief said Wednesday the likelihood of a full-scale war with the Lebanese resistance group has become “much higher.”

“I don’t know when the war in the north is, I can tell you that the likelihood of it happening in the coming months is much higher than it was in the past,” Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi said in a statement during a visit to northern Israel.

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