Israel's army will be commencing its largest drill in 20 years in the north of the country on Tuesday, one that will encompass all forces: ground, air, sea and intelligence. The drill, which will be overseen by Israel Defense Forces' Northern Command, is expected to last about 10 days.
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It will include a scenario of instant escalation, in which the army has to defend Israel against multiple terrorist infiltrations in the north.
For instance, one scenario has “terrorists” entering moshav Shavei Tzion, 15 kilometers from the Lebanese border, from the sea, while "Hezbollah" forces stage an attack by Gesher Benot Yaakov in the Golan Heights (and a famous prehistoric archaeological site). The army will also be practicing an attack on Lebanon and the evacuation of Israeli towns by the border in preparation for the eventuality of heavy missile attacks.
All the IDF's capabilities will be exercised during this drill, a top officer said. Dozens of divisions will be participating and thousands of reserve soldiers will be called up.
The officer also said that the army has observed Hezbollah keeping a watchful eye on drill preparations and noted that the organization seems to be in some state of alert.
The last time the Israeli army held a drill this wide was in 1998. The exercise at the time was commanded by Maj. Gen. Meir Dagan, who went on to serve as the director of the Mossad, and it included a scenario of war with Syria. The upcoming drill will be held in memory of Dagan, who died in March 2016.
“The purpose of the drill is to test the fitness of the Northern Command and the relevant battalions during an emergency,” said a top IDF officer. In the drill scenario, the cabinet tells the armed forces to vanquish Hezbollah – “as I understand it, the state in which Hezbollah either has no ability or desire to attack anymore,” explained the officer.
He said this drill will not be conducted only to test a plan designed to deter Hezbollah or hit it hard enough to buy Israel some years of quiet – the idea is to vanquish it.
According to another senior army officer, the chief of staff says that “vanquish” means to “badly hurt the infrastructure of that enemy and to reduce rocket fire,” although that might not stop the fighting.
The goals of war as the cabinet defines them for the top army brass are generally contentious. In both the Second Lebanon War and the 2014 Gaza campaign known as Operation Protective Edge, the extent of the goals was arguably not entirely clear.
The character of Israel’s northern border has been changing due to factors that include Russian and American involvement in the Middle East. Intelligence sources believe that the superpowers are jockeying for influence in shaping the Middle East for “the day after” the Islamic State falls. As far as American and Israeli interests are concerned, this means keeping Iran from establishing a power base in Syria – military as well as economic.
While there are thousands of Shi'ite militia fighters in Syria, including men Afghanistan and Pakistan, information in Israel’s possession says that Iran has not yet established itself in Syria. So far it has been trying to wield influence remotely, such as through the initiative to operate a joint Russian-Iranian port in the Syrian city of Tartus.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has been building its arsenal of rockets and missiles, relying on Iranian know-how and technology to do so. The organization also has a plan to manufacture rockets in Lebanon – including in subterranean factories. That said, Israel has no information showing any rocket being manufactured in Lebanon yet. According to Israeli estimates, it is so far only a plan, alongside another one to convert rockets into guided missiles using kits, apparently like the Israeli army’s Joint Direct Attack Munition guidance systems.