The Israel Defense Forces has been on a training spree over the past month, holding several large exercises for its Ground Forces in the Northern Command, with plans to continue doing so into next year, following two years of relative stagnation due to a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of a national budget.
The month-long series of drills, which wrapped up on Thursday, simulated a war on Israel’s northern front against Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group that has long represented the IDF’s most significant military threat, with a massive arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles. According to Israeli estimates, Hezbollah could fire some 4,000 projectiles at Israel every day in a future conflict.
Such a conflict would require an Israeli ground invasion of southern Lebanon, which would play a critical role in any future war in Lebanon, Brig. Gen. Dan Noyman, head of the Northern Command’s 36th Division, told reporters earlier this year.
And yet the soldiers who would be conducting such a ground maneuver, particularly the reservists, have not trained sufficiently for such an operation in recent years, drawing criticism from within and outside the military.
The IDF sought to address that issue this year and next year, investing over a billion shekels ($324 million) in more and higher quality exercises for the Ground Forces.
In 2022, the IDF plans to hold 50 percent more exercises than it did in 2020 and 30% more than it did this year — the largest amount of training in five years — a senior Ground Forces officer told reporters this week, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the coming year, 91,000 reservists will go through individual training exercises, double the number that did this year, the officer said.
The exercises over the past month — known collectively as “Hewn Stone” or, in Hebrew, Even Gazit — have focused in large part on preparing troops and commanders to use new equipment and tactics and to work better with different branches of the military in order to carry out strikes on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, while also defending Israeli territory.
Noyman’s 36th Division, which includes the Golani Brigade and the 7th and 188th Armored Brigades, took part in the drill over the past week. The 146th Reserve Division conducted exercises the week before — its first division-wide exercise in seven years.
Worrying prospects for Lebanon
The uptick in training does not necessarily signify that war with Hezbollah is due to break out imminently, though the military is closely monitoring the deteriorating situation in neighboring Lebanon, which is in the midst of a near-unparalleled financial and societal crisis.
This cataclysm in Lebanon has been years in the making and has continued to reach new depths in recent months as the country has increasingly struggled with fuel and food shortages, alongside lingering fury over last year’s deadly Beirut Port blast, which killed hundreds of people and injured thousands.
The IDF believes that these pressing issues make Hezbollah less interested in launching an all-out war against Israel, as it must focus on shoring up its domestic status as it faces criticism even from its natural base in Lebanon, the country’s Shiite population, as it is increasingly seen as being one of the main factors behind the country’s corruption and dysfunction.
However, the military is also concerned that Hezbollah may seek to ramp up tensions with Israel as a way to shift the focus away from it and toward an external foe.
As conditions spiral out of control in Lebanon, the IDF is now working to shore up its physical defenses along the northern border, out of concern that the country’s crises may prompt large numbers of refugees to seek asylum in the far more stable Israel. Over the past two years, a number of migrants, most of them from African countries and Turkey, have crossed into Israel from Lebanon, in search of better job prospects.
The military has for years been looking to replace the mostly chain-link fences that are in place along the border with a more substantial concrete barrier, but these plans have stalled in recent years due to the lack of a national budget.
However, with the passing of the budget earlier this month, the IDF has been able to begin work on some sections of the concrete wall, in the areas most likely to see infiltration attempts, which is expected to take roughly two years to complete.