Amid rising Gaza tensions, IDF to hold exercise simulating war in the Strip

Military says drill was planned in advance, not connected to current situation; quarantined army chief to manage exercise remotely

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

IDF tanks stationed near the Israel-Gaza border on March 27, 2019. (Dudi Modan/Flash90)
IDF tanks stationed near the Israel-Gaza border on March 27, 2019. (Dudi Modan/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday kicked off a four-day surprise exercise simulating war in the Gaza Strip, amid rising tensions in the restive enclave.

The military said the drill — though kept a secret from those taking part in it — was planned in advance and was not connected to recent events.

The exercise was the fifth in a series of surprise drills ordered by IDF commander Aviv Kohavi, known as “Chief of Staff Assessment” exercises. Previous drills of this type have tested the military’s ability to handle a kidnapping in the West Bank, a massive cyber attack, a war against Hezbollah in northern Israel, and, for the navy, to respond to maritime threats from the north.

“During the exercise, the [Gaza] Division’s abilities to handle a variety of developing events, while cooperating across branches and arms of the military, will be tested,” the military said in a statement.

According to the IDF, conscripted and reservist units will take part in the exercise. Residents of the area can expect to see additional troops, vehicles and aircraft operating near the Gaza border.

As IDF chief Kohavi was required to go into quarantine last week after coming into contact with a confirmed coronavirus carrier, the military said he would oversee the exercise remotely.

“The chief of staff will manage the assessment from afar using classified military communication equipment, while the assessment will be managed in the field by the deputy chief of staff,” the IDF said.

The military said the exercise would conform to coronavirus regulations.

The drill came amid heightened tensions in the region, following two cases of rocket fire from Gaza in under a week.

On Saturday night, terrorists in the Strip launched a rocket at southern Israel, striking an empty warehouse in the city of Ashkelon and causing damage but no injuries.

In response, the IDF conducted a series of airstrikes on Hamas positions in the Strip.

Last Sunday, two rockets were fired at central Israel from the Gaza Strip. The two projectiles struck open areas, causing neither injury nor damage. The Hamas terror group sent messages to Israel that claimed those rockets were fired accidentally, set off by lightning during a thunderstorm, an explanation that the IDF has apparently accepted.

Though Israel is involved in ongoing talks with the Hamas terror group regarding a long-term ceasefire agreement, recent weeks have seen an uptick in violence emanating from Gaza.

Two weeks ago, a drone was flown from the Strip into Israeli airspace before it was brought down by the Israeli military. The week before saw a rocket attack from the Strip, aimed at the Israeli city of Ashkelon. One projectile was intercepted, the other landed in an open field.

Last month, the IDF also uncovered what it said was a Hamas attack tunnel dug from Gaza into Israel.

Israel has fought three large campaigns against terror groups in the Strip since Hamas took control of the area in 2007, along with dozens of smaller exchanges of fire.

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