When reading the news, many of us have become familiar with various units in the Israel Defense Forces. We read about missions carried out by the Israeli Air Force and Ground Forces (i.e., Combat Engineering Corps, Armored Corps, etc.). We hear about the heroic battles of the various Brigades (Golani, Givati, Nahal, Paratroopers, Kfir, Search-and-Rescue) and Commando Brigades (Duvdevan, Maglan, and Egoz). Although there is some overlap, each unit fills its distinct role. Even if we don’t look at photos or watch videos of their fighting, we can imagine what their battles look like.  Other units contribute to the IDF in unique ways.

The Alpinist Unit is an infantry reserve unit in the IDF, specializing in training and combat in snow and low temperatures. Their soldiers shoot and attack while skiing and riding in custom-made Snowcats. They spend much time on Mount Hermon, the mountain known as the “eyes of the country,” in northern Israel. The Alpinists aim to protect the country from attacks from Syria and Lebanon. The soldiers are trained to develop resilience to nature. They learn to cope with extreme situations and gain knowledge of the terrain during hot and cold weather. The Alpinists engage in secret operations, ski warfare, commando-style raids, gathering of intelligence, medical evacuation, and tracking targets on snowy mountains.

The IDF’s Combat Photography Company


Most of the reservists in this unit served in elite units during their mandatory service, after which they trained for several winters on Mount Hermon. Some Alpinists are over 50 years old but continue serving in the reserves. The unit received an award of honor from the President of Israel.

Oketz (meaning “Sting”) is the IDF’s Canine Unit. It uses attack or sniffing dogs specially trained for counterterrorism and search-and-rescue missions. The unit participated in thousands of operations and arrests. In an operation in Lebanon in 1986, such a dog was used in the failed attempt to assassinate Ahmed Jibril, the founder and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The unit operated in secrecy for many years until 1988, when the unit was made public. The unit often cooperates with commando units. Each soldier in this unit is assigned a dog that he trains, and thus develops a strong connection with his dog. This connection is critical during military operations. If a dog is killed, the soldier is discharged until he completes training with a new dog.

Each dog is trained in a particular specialty. They are used for attack, search-and-rescue, locating weapons, detecting hidden explosives, and detecting breaches at the Israeli border. Two soldiers and their dogs are assigned to each fighting unit in the army. Before soldiers enter hostile territory or a building, a dog is sent in to check for and attack terrorists. They alert the soldiers to the presence of the enemy. Israel’s Military Canine Unit has rescued hundreds of people during the current war.

Ro’im Rachok (Looking Ahead) is an innovative program designed to train adults on the autism spectrum in professions required by the Israel Defense Forces and the civilian market. Young adults who qualify and want to volunteer in the IDF, or who want to integrate into the job market, are taught professions for which they have a comparative advantage. People on the autistic spectrum are often very visually oriented.  Many of them are patient and have the ability to focus on details.

Ro’im Rachok was launched in 2013, offering a training course for deciphering aerial and satellite photography. Since then, it has expanded to training in other areas needed by the IDF, such as software quality assurance, information sorting, and electro-optics.

For the first three months of the program, participants learn a profession and essential work skills in the framework of Ono Academic College. For the following three-to-four months, they are temporarily assigned to an IDF unit where they work as civilians and gain work experience. If, after the trial period, they are accepted by the IDF, they can join the IDF as volunteers. They can contribute to the IDF while gaining professional experience. Throughout the program, participants receive various therapies and educational and emotional support. When they are discharged from the IDF, they can continue to work in the same field, or they can choose to work in other areas. Some graduates of Ro’im Rachok are successfully working at Intel, a high-ranking technology company.

Oketz, the IDF’s canine unit


The Combat Photography Company is a photographic unit of the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit that was deployed for the first time in 2014, during Operation “Protective Edge.” Their mission is to provide documentation from the field to assist with publicizing positive Israeli messaging. It does this by exposing incriminating evidence of enemy activities (e.g., documenting terrorists in action or showing the use of civilian buildings for terrorist purposes) and showing the legitimacy of IDF operations. Combat photographers are authorized to enter combat zones to acquire and then send documentation from the battlefield to the news systems in Israel. The photographers carry rifles along with their cameras.

We look forward to the day when Alpinists will ski only for pleasure, dogs will only be used as pets, those on the autistic spectrum will work in the job market and will have no need to serve in the army, and photographers will use their talents only to document “smachot.”

Please continue to daven for the recovery of the wounded, the release of the remaining hostages, and the success and safe return of all chayalim and security personnel.

Suzie Steinberg, (nee Schapiro), CSW, is a native of Kew Gardens Hills and resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh who publishes articles regularly in various newspapers and magazines about life in general, and about life in Israel in particular. Her recently published children’s book titled Hashem is Always With Me can be purchased in local Judaica stores as well as online. Suzie can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and would love to hear from you.