The Israeli army has launched a three-day exercise in the coastal city of Ashkelon to simulate a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip. Some of the troops from the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division will represent Hamas.
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Chief of Staff Benny Gantz wanted the division to take part in a full-fledged exercise, a senior IDF officer said. “The exercise ... is not being held because of a concrete need that has suddenly arisen, “ the officer added. “It’s part of our work plan.”
The IDF occasionally conducts drills in populated areas in both Israel and the West Bank. A previous large-scale exercise was conducted by the Golani Brigade in the northern city of Safed.
“We’re very sensitive to the civilian infrastructure in which we’re operating, so the exercise is being conducted in full coordination with all the relevant authorities - not only the Ashkelon municipality and other local authorities, but also the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority,” the senior officer said.
He said the IDF was carrying out the exercise in a civilian area because of the limitations at firing ranges. Israeli troops need to drill for “the challenge that will arise in the next military confrontation: the deployment of forces in urban and rural areas. That’s why we’re not conducting these exercises in a firing range,” the officer said.
The drill, in which a number of brigades will take part, will take place in a rural district on Ashkelon’s eastern outskirts, as well as in the city itself and on its beaches.
“We’re mainly concerned here with training our forces to effectively use the weapons at our disposal – specifically military intelligence, firepower and the ability to maneuver deep inside [Gaza] and in a densely populated urban area,” the officer said.