IDF launches surprise drill simulating West Bank kidnapping

IDF launches surprise drill simulating West Bank kidnapping

In fourth unannounced exercise by military chief Kohavi, residents told to expect additional troop and vehicle movement in coming days

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

Israeli soldiers guard at a bus stop near the settlement of Kokhav HaShahar, in the West Bank, on January 6, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers guard at a bus stop near the settlement of Kokhav HaShahar, in the West Bank, on January 6, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces launched a surprise exercise with the West Bank’s Judea and Samaria Division, simulating the military’s response to a kidnapping, the IDF said Tuesday.

The drill was the fourth in a series of surprise inspections by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

“During the exercise, the division’s ability to handle a kidnapping situation, while cooperating between organizations and between branches [of the military], will be tested,” the IDF said.

The military said residents of the West Bank can expect to see additional troop movements and vehicular activity due to the drill.

The decision to simulate a kidnapping has its basis in reality. Indeed, tow of Israel’s most recent large-scale conflicts — the 2014 Gaza war, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, and the 2006 Second Lebanon War — were both sparked by kidnappings.

Last December, the military launched a surprise cyber defense exercise simulating an attack that shuts down critical computer systems.

“During the exercise, hundreds of command and control computer stations were disabled in IDF units,” the military said at the time. The IDF said the exercise was meant to test “the functioning of the military during a cyber attack and the disabling of vital information systems.”

Though a specific enemy was not identified, Israeli officials have warned that Iran and its proxies are working to develop advanced cyber attack capabilities.

The month before, Kohavi held a surprise exercise in northern Israel, with thousands of conscripted soldiers and reservists taking part.

“The troops simulated the rapid turnover from everyday to emergency, from defense to attack; the processes of gathering troops and weapons; taking out equipment; and the movement of forces through the region,” the IDF said at the time.

It was meant to test the military’s readiness for the sudden outbreak of war in the north, specifically against the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group and other Iranian proxies in the region.

In September, Kohavi ordered his first surprise inspection of military preparedness, testing the navy’s ability to react quickly to a maritime threat along the country’s northern coast.

Those drills took place in and around the navy’s Haifa Base, which is home to a wide variety of naval vessels, including small patrol boats, warships and submarines, all of which took part in the exercise.

The navy is expected to play a key role in any future war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, as the organization has identified Israel’s offshore natural gas platforms and other maritime locations as key targets.

The military has come under fire in recent years with allegations that it is not prepared for a full-scale war.

These concerns were first raised publicly in 2018 by the former military ombudsman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, who accused the IDF of failing to abide by its own standards and of covering up its inadequacies.

The IDF initially denied Brick’s allegations outright, maintaining that it is at its highest level of preparedness for war in decades, but later acknowledged some shortcomings and said it was taking steps to improve its readiness.

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