TEL AVIV, Israel ― The Israeli military wrapped up late Wednesday night its largest drill in nearly two decades, with more than 25,000 active-duty and reserve forces from all service branches, combat disciplines and command echelons taking part in an “extreme scenario” for war beyond its northern border.
The two-week drill of the Israel Defense Forces’ Northern Corps ― nearly a year in the making ― involved some 20 brigades, air power from all Israeli Air Force bases, the bulk of the Israeli Navy surface and submarine force as well as intelligence arms, Home Front Command, and the C4I and Logistics directorates of the IDF General Staff.
Designed to simulate war against Iran-armed and -trained Hezbollah forces ― which have become battle-hardened from years of fighting in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad’s government ― the drill assumed enemy infiltration of communities along the border that required civilian evacuation.
“It was an extreme scenario, but possible,” Brig. Gen. Saar Tzur, deputy commander of the drill and commander of the IDF‘s largest Urban Warfare Training Center, told Defense News. “There were a few hundred [enemy forces] that managed to penetrate our borders.”
Tzur noted that a red team, or adversarial unit, from his training base operated as enemy infiltrators, equipped with weaponry and combat gear that simulated the capabilities IDF forces were likely to meet in battle, including Kornet anti-tank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and 120mm rockets.
Anti-tunnel capabilities were also put to the test during the drill: subterranean technologies, tactics and procedures that are exercised regularly at his base and others around the country. “Today, our units are more trained than ever for this threat. Today, we understand that if the enemy doesn't come out to fight us face-to-face, we will meet him in the tunnels and defeat him.”
According to Tzur, light reserve and active-duty infantry forces honed skills needed to defend civilian “points of vulnerability” while another front-line combat brigade operated to cleanse the area of enemy infiltrators.
“From the moment the drill started, we began to deal with the civilian population along the border. As an army, its much easier to operate in empty areas,” Tzur said.
“The challenge we gave these units was to understand and distinguish defensive missions from different events that could occur, which would require different combat skills. ... In this case, another brigade was brought in to deal with such events,” he added.
In parallel, offensive IDF air power, sea power and large ground-maneuvering forces were trained in joint operations, using the most advanced C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) capabilities and cyber-proof command and control networks to manage the battle, minimize civilian casualties and reduce the risk of friendly fire.
During the entire two-week drill, the scenario posited that the Israeli homefront would continue to be pounded by rockets and missiles ― a scenario that demanded full operational activity of Israel’s air-defense force and the IDF Home Front Command.
“We know our enemy. He’ll take advantage of launching against us up until the last day and the last minute of the war in order to serve his narrative,” Tzur said. “But we‘re not excited about this. We will create our own narrative by facts on the ground. Next time around, we expect our victory picture to be very clear to all.”
Maj. Gen. Yoel Strik, commander of IDF’s Northern Command, released a summary statement on Thursday that highlighted improved readiness and performance. “Over the past two weeks, the Northern Command trained, including its various units, both to defend and attack in the northern front. We improved our readiness for future challenges, by using the concept of joint cooperation, as well as by enhancing our capabilities in intelligence, fire and maneuver.”
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.