Drill has seen IAF simulating strikes deep in enemy territory

At drill for war with Iran and others, PM says IDF ‘can handle any threat on our own’

Security cabinet meets in underground command center for mock assessment, during military’s ‘Firm Hand’ multi-front war exercise focusing on northern frontier, Iran

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Members of Israel's security cabinet convene for a mock assessment at the IDF's main underground command center in Tel Aviv, amid a major drill, June 4, 2023. (Hain Zach/GPO)
Members of Israel's security cabinet convene for a mock assessment at the IDF's main underground command center in Tel Aviv, amid a major drill, June 4, 2023. (Hain Zach/GPO)

Israel’s high-level security cabinet convened Sunday night at the military’s main operational command bunker in Tel Aviv to simulate decision-making by the political echelon during a potential multi-front war.

On May 29, the Israel Defense Forces launched the large-scale two-week drill across the country — dubbed Firm Hand — involving troops from the standing and reserve army, from nearly all units.

The drill has included the Air Force conducting simulated “strategic” strikes deep in enemy territory in an all-out war scenario, and the Navy carrying out mock offensive and defensive actions, according to a military source.

On Sunday, members of the security cabinet met at the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv to participate in a mock assessment and the drill.

In remarks at the beginning of the meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We are confident we can handle any threat on our own,” in an apparent reference to the United States’ efforts to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran with regard to its nuclear program.

“The reality in our region is changing rapidly. We are not stagnating. We are adjusting our war doctrine and our options of action in accordance with these changes, in accordance with our goals which do not change,” Netanyahu said.

IDF Artillery Corps and an Iron Dome air defense system are seen near the border with Lebanon, in northern Israel, April 6, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

While the drill and the cabinet meeting were pre-planned, they came during escalated tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and Israeli warnings that a broad conflict could break out over the issue.

Tehran has been ramping up nuclear development since 2018, when the US unilaterally withdrew from a landmark pact, capping enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.

Talks to revive the deal fell apart last year, but recent reports have indicated steps to possibly renew the diplomatic initiative, sparking Israeli concerns that a new deal could legitimize Iran’s nuclear activity and erase international support for potential military action.

Israel continued to warn against such an agreement last week, with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi adding to fevered saber-rattling already taking place between the countries.

At Sunday’s meeting, Netanyahu said Israel was “committed to acting against the Iranian nuclear program, against missile attacks on the State of Israel and against the possibility of the convergence of the arenas, what we call a multi-front campaign.”

“This requires us to consider, if it is possible to consider in advance, some of the key decisions the cabinet and the government of Israel will have to make together with the defense establishment… this is the purpose of the exercise,” he said.

“We are sure and confident that we can deal with any threat on our own, and also with other means,” he added.

FILE – This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in Natanz uranium enrichment facility near Natanz, Iran (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

At the meeting, IDF officials briefed the members of the security cabinet on the mock war scenario, which is mostly focused on Israel’s northern frontiers with Lebanon and Syria, as well as Iran.

The IDF said that during the drill, troops would “practice handling challenges and sudden events on multiple fronts simultaneously.”

The IDF warned that there would be a noted increase in security forces and aircraft across the country during the drill.

An F-35 fighter jet takes off during a surprise exercise, ‘Galilee Rose,’ in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Last year, the IDF held its largest drill in decades. The four-week-long exercise — called Chariots of Fire — also focused on sudden events erupting in multiple theaters at the same time, while mostly dealing with fighting the Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In light of the lack of progress regarding a return by Iran to a 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, the IDF has ramped up efforts over the past two years to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.

During the Chariots of Fire drill last year, dozens of Air Force fighter jets conducted air maneuvers over the Mediterranean Sea, simulating striking Iranian nuclear facilities.

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