Israeli Communities Evacuated in Drill Simulating Hezbollah Infiltration

Residents will not be forced to evacuate in emergency, but 'people will listen to the army,' Home Front official says.

A military vehicle during a drill in northern Israel, 2007.
Hagai Aharon

Two communities along Israel's northern border with Lebanon have been evacuated on Tuesday in a military drill simulating an attack by Hezbollah.

The drill was part of a wider military exercise in preparation for a possible infiltration by Hezbollah militants, among other threats. The exercise began on Saturday.

Evacuation plans for residential communities within four kilometers of an Israeli border have been drawn up over the past two year. Many Israelis living near the respective borders evacuated their homes – either independently or with the help of local authorities and the Kibbutz Movement – during the 2006 Second Lebanon War and the 2014 war in Gaza.

The Israel Defense Forces is installing obstacles along the northern border, clearing cliffs in order to help identify fence breaches and installing concrete barriers in various sites. Cross-border tunnels are not a major concern along the northern front, due to the topographic conditions, though the situation is closely monitored by the IDF.

According to the plan, residents of border towns are to be evacuated to previously determined areas further south when an emergency is declared. The residents of Ya’ara and Dishon were evacuated to Kibbutz Gan Shmuel during Tuesday’s drill.

A Home Front Command official said that the military won’t force residents to evacuate. “Scenes from the [Gaza] disengagement won’t take place here,” he said. “These are not civilians who can be told to get up and go. But people will listen to the army, and if there’s a decision from the IDF and the state, they will leave willingly.”

A similar drill was conducted several months ago at Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch, which is also close to the Lebanese border. Regional defense officer Lt. Col. Yaniv Krief described evacuation as "a tactical response to address the threat that the enemy poses for us. Our challenge is to deprive the enemy of a symbolic victory and a public-relations achievement."

He said the plan called for removing "anyone who is not necessary from the area of danger."

Soldiers posed as civilians during the exercise, rehearsing specific situations such as the evacuation of people in wheelchairs and those who are not mobile.

Each community is the subject of a specific plan, which includes advance knowledge of the residents' intentions, such as which farmers intend to remain in the community during the emergency.

“The planning is a joint civilian and military effort," said Col. Itzik Bar, head of the northern district of the Home Front Command. "We do broadly based planning that gets into the details, and we will know how to act in the best possible manner.”

The current preparations are very different from the situation during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when there was no policy providing for evacuations, said Ma’aleh Yosef regional council head Shimon Guetta, who participated in the drill together with other council officials.

“We have emergency teams that have rehearsed and during a time of emergency, we will be prepared,” he said.

However, Dotan Razili, who is responsible for security for the kibbutz movement, pointed out that there are differences between an exercise and the real thing.

“The program is good, but when the threat comes together with civilians for whom this is their home, and the state wants to evacuate them, there is a disparity on the civilian side. The state needs to understand that it involves more than evacuating,” he said.

Residents of Moshav Ya’ara were not affected by the drill. Albert Amar, one of the founders of the cooperative farm community and a resident since 1952, said he thought there was a real emergency.

“I didn’t know about this exercise,” he said. “But I am glad to see how everyone is running from place to place and if something does happen, we’re in good hands.” There are occasional drills on the moshav, he said.

“We are on the front lines, but thank God, we don’t live in fear,” Amar said. “There is nothing we can do about the fact that we live on the border. There are others who need to look after us and the moshav’s existence.

"During the Second Lebanon War, they took us to a hotel in Jerusalem. Katyusha rockets fell here. I think it’s okay to evacuate the older people from here. A Katyusha fell in my livestock pen and when I got back from the hotel, I saw that the whole roof had fallen in. I tried to fix the damage myself and got seriously hurt when I fell off a ladder from the roof. I was in the hospital for four months. I got pennies in compensation from the state.”

Amar said he would leave the moshav in the event of a war, though his son, who also lives in Ya’ara, would stay to take care of their chicken coops.