TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel’s army has begun using Russian immigrant soldiers, veterans of fighting in Chechnya, as snipers to guard Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, Israeli security sources say.
The unit dubbed the “Immigrant Legion” was created recently by recruiting several dozen Russian-born men aged 40 and over who were too old to qualify for reserve duty but had volunteered to serve in semi-official security squads, the sources said on Monday.
An Israeli army spokesman played down the decision, saying the immigrants were informally absorbed into various reserve units, with sniping included among their operational roles.
Security sources said the volunteers included veterans of the Russian army’s fight against rebels in the Chechen region.
“These guys fought in Chechnya, but when they got to Israel they were considered too old for the draft,” a security source said. “Eventually the military found their sharpshooter training # and their dedication # too good to ignore.”
Snipers play a key role in Israel’s ground forces operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinian militants are spearheading a nearly three-year-old uprising for independence.
They have been used in track-and-kill operations against militants and to protect settlements and border areas. Palestinians have accused Israeli snipers at times of targeting unarmed protesters. Israel denies this.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said snipers in the Russian army undergo a year of training, giving those who eventually move to the Jewish state a qualitative edge over Israeli counterparts who have only five weeks of training.
Several members of the Immigrant Legion have also doubled as sniper trainers, security sources said.
They said as many as half of Israeli conscripts who become snipers in the regular army are also Russian-speaking immigrants despite having no prior military experience.
One source called it a “matter of mentality”, saying the new immigrants demonstrated greater patience # an important characteristic for sharpshooters # than native-born Israelis