Holiday season is considered a tense time vis-a-vis security which is often expressed, among other things, in violent Arab disturbances in Judea and Samaria. For this reason, IDF forces remain constantly vigilant to maintain order in sensitive areas.
They repeatedly practice possible scenarios equipped with riot-control gear, but in recent years another significant tool has made coping with disturbances much easier.
"In 2011 an incident took place in the village of Majdal Shams in the north, an event that was a game-changer for us," says Warrant Officer Sgt. Shimon Zino, commander of the driving school at the Central Command's training base. "More than 8,000 Syrians reached the border and broke through the fence. IDF forces rushed their jeeps to the area of the break, but there were so many people there that our fighters found it difficult to disperse them."
After that challenging day, at the end of which the forces managed to push the crowd back through the border gates, Zino's commander ordered him to find a new solution that would soundly decide the next skirmish. "I went to a short training course at the IDF's Experimentation and Quality Assurance Unit," he remembered.
"We carried out an experiment there - we took a Rio truck, a large and fairly old army truck, and we put three tanks on it, each of which can hold about 2,200 liters of liquid that can be fired from the vehicle via a cannon protruding from its roof."
"In one of the experiments, we took an armored vehicle of the David type and shot at it with the Rio," recalls Zino. "The water jet was so forceful that it dented the armored vehicle's metal.We understood that this was a particularly powerful tool, so we also limited the allowed firing range to a distance of 100 meters."
To ensure that forces do not violate this rule, emphasizes Zino, a camera was installed above the cannon to document the cannon's use, thus ensuring it not be used in a life-threatening manner.
"We soon realized that if we only fired water hoses at rioters, it would cause them to flee, but they would soon return, and that would not deter them in the long term," he explains.Therefore, Sgt. Zino thought of a creative solution; special material was added to the water: "The smell is unbearable," he says, "Those who smell it are simply unable to stay there." Because of the horrendous smell, the car was even dubbed the "Skunk".
"The liquid we use does not endanger the rioters' health, but the smell it leaves in the air causes them nausea, dizziness, and vomiting, to the extent that they simply retreat on their own initiative and are unable to return to the place," explains Sgt. Zino.
"I remember that after we introduced the Skunk for operational use in 2011, we arrived at a major disturbance in Beit Omar, the rioters literally blocked the road, but 10 minutes from the time the tool went into operation, not a single rioter was left in the zone."
In the exercise, fighters showed Michael Oriya of the IDF website how they deal with disturbances: They threw teargas grenades, stun grenades, rubber bullets at cardboard targets, and then the vehicles entered the fray.
"Today in IDF service there are two vehicles that operate this water jet system," notes Zino.According to him, the first is the "Rio" truck, which contains 6,600 liters of liquid.The second is the Mechonit Hataza, or "Water Jet Vehicle", which came into use about two years ago. Although it contains a very small amount of liquid compared to the Rio, it has great agility and maneuverability, enabling it to disperse disturbances even in narrow alleyways and crowded streets.
"Both vehicles are capable of firing to up to 300 meters," continues Zino, who also states that the man who operates the cannon is a fighter seated next to the driver.
"It is important to note that the smell of the Skunk is also strongly discernable in the driver's cabin, so both soldiers operating the vehicle are equipped with special gear that includes impermeable clothing and custom made masks to prevent them from inhaling the terrible fumes."
Soldiers practiced driving the vehicles on difficult terrain, and devised complex scenarios such as navigating their way out of an Arab village under the cover of night, or traveling alongside rock throwing barrages and firebombs thrown from all sides - a common occurrence in Judea and Samaria.
"We are the only unit in the IDF that trains fighters from all sectors, especially Judea and Samaria, to use the water projectile vehicles, so we are aware that training is critical, especially before the holidays," says Major Zino."We will make sure that the fighters and the vehicles are at the peak of their operational readiness and prepared for every mission demanded of them."