Dramatic changes on the battlefield have influenced the IDF’s medical system, requiring commanders to rethink emergency care and evacuation during war.
After the Second Lebanon War, the IDF’s leadership understood that traditional warfare is a thing of the past. Rather than lining up to fight Israeli troops in head-to-head combat, terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah hole up in densely populated areas and use guerrilla tactics.
According to senior officers in the Northern Command, Hezbollah could apply these techniques to inflict significant damage against Israel in a future conflict. Other officers echoed these concerns at a conference earlier this week, warning that terrorist groups can launch massive attacks on Israel’s civilian areas.
“Having just one position to treat the wounded is no longer enough, nor is it possible to evacuate the wounded using APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers),” said Captain Sasha Satnovsky, a medical officer in the 7th Brigade. “We must adapt to combat in smaller groups and attach a medic to every combat unit.”
Every IDF battalion will soon receive two additional medical personnel as part of these changes, enabling medical teams to split into smaller groups in battle. As a substitute for APCs, units in the Infantry Corps will use advanced Ranger vehicles to evacuate wounded soldiers more quickly and effectively.
A more complex rescue
As the IDF learned during the Second Lebanon War, future conflicts will require soldiers to fight in areas that are difficult to reach, both aboveground and underground. In turn, rescuing and evacuating the wounded will prove a challenging task. “Lebanon is a mountainous and unruly territory, and in Gaza there are tunnels and urban terrain,” explained Captain Gilad Shpiegel, Golani Brigade’s chief medical officer.
Captain Shpiegel knows that IDF soldiers will need to fight in these areas while dealing with complex threats — a reality that increases the chances for injuries in battle. To meet this challenge, IDF combat medical teams have enhanced their rescue tactics. In addition to the new Ranger vehicles, the teams will soon use special stretchers that can be attached to helicopters. The stretchers will also be capable of evacuating wounded from terror tunnels in Gaza.
Cooperation is the key to success
“Today, the Armored Corps can no longer face battles alone,” said Capt. Satnovsky. “Medical personnel who are part of the Armored Corps know how to rescue wounded soldiers from Pumas (combat engineering corps vehicles), and APCs (infantry corps vehicles), and from any military vehicle they use in battle. This is a recent adaptation.”
In the next war, the line between the battlefield and the home front will become less clear, as will the distinction between combat soldiers and supporting soldiers such as medics. For this reason, combat medics are learning self defense while training to improve their physical fitness. “The challenge [of treating soldiers in battle] is quite different once you have to join the soldiers by foot instead of in a car,” said Captain Shpiegel. “Physically, it is a very big challenge.”
“The IDF, which in the past was preparing for traditional warfare, is now readying to face terrorist organizations operating in urban territory,” Maj. Gen. Har-Even said at this week’s IDF conference. “The military’s traditional methods of activating forces have encountered problems, such as locating enemy forces and the source of fire.”
In the face of these obstacles, IDF soldiers are learning to confront the reality of urban warfare — and medical teams are preparing to face the same threats. In light of the new challenges, Captain Satnovsky said he’s certain that “the medical treatment will be faster, better and more advanced.”