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IDF launches surprise air exercise, as it reportedly strikes sites in Syria

Military says drill is meant to improve preparedness for war in northern Israel, warns residents of the area that explosions will be heard, aircraft will be seen overhead

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative -- An Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter flies during an aerial show at a graduation ceremony for soldiers who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 29, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative -- An Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter flies during an aerial show at a graduation ceremony for soldiers who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 29, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Israeli military launched a surprise air force exercise simulating war in the north late Sunday night, as Israeli jets reportedly struck Iran-linked sites in Syria.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the exercise — called “Galilee Rose” — will include a variety of scenarios that would be involved in fighting a war against the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group and its allies in Syria.

That includes defending Israeli airspace from incursions, offensive strikes, intelligence collection and ensuring aerial superiority by neutralizing enemy air defenses.

“During the exercise, there will be thorough tests of planning, command and execution processes, as well as logistical and technological capabilities, with an emphasis on preserving aerial freedom of operation and maintaining full operational continuity,” the IDF said, using a term referring to the military’s ability to function continually.

All of the Air Force’s aircraft and other systems will be used during the exercise. Beginning Monday afternoon, residents of northern Israel can expect to see a larger than normal amount of planes, helicopters and drones flying overhead “and explosions will be heard in the area,” the military said.

The drill was scheduled to end on Wednesday.

The exercise was announced hours after Syrian state media reported that the Israeli Air Force had launched a series of airstrikes on sites around Damascus, killing at least nine pro-regime militia fighters, according to the Britain-based pro-opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory has regularly been accused by Syrian war analysts of inflating casualty numbers, as well as inventing them wholesale.

The attacks hit facilities in the area of the Damascus International Airport, through which Iran has reportedly been trying to transport advanced munitions, as well as military sites around the Damascus suburb of el-Kisweh, a long-time base of Iranian operations.

The IDF refused to comment on the late-night strikes, in accordance with its policy to neither confirm nor deny its operations in Syria, save for those launched in retaliation for an attack from Israel’s northern neighbor.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

The reported attacks came 10 days after Israel was accused of hitting targets on the Syrian Golan Heights and at the Damascus International Airport.

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