They were of different professions one of them being the military one. Some of them were people who had been to hot spots as soldiers. It’s amazing but in Israel who is constantly at the condition of war, those people were not in demand notwithstanding their great war experience.
In 2000, war operations in the Holy Land renewed and then the vets decided to get in.
It was in 2002 that the name of the battalion Alia appeared in the press when first hundred former officers managed to get drafted for reservist volunteers’ camps. Soon after that, sturdily built and not talking much men appeared in the settlements of Judea and Samaria. They guarded the borders, made up traps and trained guard dogs.
In 2003 Israel army encountered mass firing by snipers in Gasa. And again the Alia battalion came to help. The vets formed a small anti-sniper group who destroyed enemy’s riflemen. Within a short period the intensity of sniper’s fire was reduced for 70%. The “Chechens”, as they were called by the soldiers of regular army, got very popular.
The group acted in Gasa almost a year. But in the spring 2004 due to the rotation of officer’s staff in the regular army new commanders came who were sure that army was able to manage without “aliens” help. In addition to that, the commander of the unit was wounded.
As a result, the unit was dissolved.
Two years later the “Chechens” reminded of themselves and formed a sniper’s group for the second time. The group acted in Gasa initially, and then it was transferred to Lebanon after the war there had begun.
The chief of the group Roman Ratner tells about similar and distinguishing features between this war in Lebanon and the war in Chechnya.
Interviewer: Does it hurt you that they call your group “Chechens”?
Ratner: This nickname got stuck to us in the Israel Defense Army. Well, we accepted it. Actually, the Chechens are brave and skillful soldiers if you don’t consider the fanaticism of some thugs.
Interviewer: Your unit was dissolved after operations in Gasa. The regular army hasn’t remembered you all this time or has there been any attempts to use you as instructors?
Ratner: In 2005 I returned to the army as instructor at the snipers’ school. And the staff of our group changed. New people had come. Part of them we had to dismiss after Lebanon for some reasons. Several guys remained who used to serve in the special police units. One of them used to fight in Yugoslavia, the others fought in Chechnya.
We were supposed to operate in Gasa. The decision had been taken and the draft had begun. But when the war began we thought we would be more useful in the North. We managed to get permission to operate in Lebanon through the agency of defense minister. It took 18 days for bureaucratic machine to turn and then we started to operate.
Interviewer: As far as I know, the command of the brigade didn’t want you to take part. As soon as the Alia arrived at the north, reporters got to know about it. Was it a leak or you didn’t conceal the fact you had come to operate?
Ratner: It was a leak by the army, to put it exactly by the command of the brigade we were attached to. We were against that. But the reporters appeared suddenly at the point of our entering Lebanon.
Interviewer: Is there much difference between Gasa and Lebanon? Have the gunmen changed their tactics?
Ratner: The gunmen use the tactics of small groups, just like it was in Chechnya. They act in accordance with a plan and they have a big stock of antitank means. Mobile units counter-acted us riding the racing motorbikes and armed with controlled rockets. They appeared quickly and disappeared just after the shot made. Our command didn’t allow us to approach them having fear that we might be straddled by our artillery. We had to quit some kind of weapons. That enabled us to do long marches and to be always ready for the action. I used the Dragunov’s sniper’s rifle. It’s more reliable than others for those conditions.
Interviewer: The information often appears in the Internet that Hezbollah gunmen are trained by former soviet officers. Could you notice that?
Ratner: I’ve had this feeling all the time. I know that at the end of 90s former soviet officers instructed Hezbollah soldiers. Some of the officers were very good professionals. Our army has lost a number of soldiers and officers due to sniper firing. Exact figures are hushed up. On the whole, our unit’s progress was no more than that of the whole army. That’s a pity.
Interviewer: Casualties in your unit?
Ratner: Not in the unit exactly. We lost two our friends and fellow soldiers in former taking the fields. They are Andrei Zelinsky and Igor Rotstein.
Interviewer: It’s well recognized that the army discredited itself in this war. Many blunders were caused by indecision of political leaders. But there were some absurd cases when the soldiers were left without water and food while the ammunition was delivered to the territory controlled by the Hezbollah. Not long ago everything seemed to work like a clock. What happened?
Ratner: The army wasn’t prepared for the war. Infantry, tank units and aviation were uncoordinated. There was a lack of units able to fight against partisans. It’s not the number of troops that mattered in this war. The main thing was to block the districts and let the special units in who can fight such an enemy. This wasn’t done. The attempt to win using the massive troops failed. In addition, north military district got corrupted during six years. Lack of helmets, flak jackets, ammunition and food - all that is just a consequence of the system’s corruption.
Interviewer: Many reservists who came back from Lebanon say they were not allowed to win. There were clear plans for occasion of war at the north border, but the politicians threw all into confusion. Is that so?
Ratner: The plans existed and the war was conducted in accordance with them. But that was the problem. The plans were meant for fighting against the regular army, not the partisans.
Interviewer: How do you estimate the outcomes of the finished war?
Ratner: It looked like a snorter received by a professional boxer from a novice. But the boxer just gave himself airs and that’s why he got it. If he stops being fickle the novice will in knockout in the next round.
Interviewer: So new conflict is just a question of time?
Ratner: I think we have half a year before the serious war begins. I’ll be forming a regular unit. Though, the time will show…
Interview was done by
Art of War magazine, specially for the Novaya