IDF practices protecting convoys from riots during war, attack on army HQ

Spooked by events of last May, military trains for securing highways so troops and equipment can reach front; 42 local authorities practice handling damage to infrastructure

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

A military convoy carrying APCs near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, on July 19, 2014. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
A military convoy carrying APCs near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, on July 19, 2014. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

A year ago, as Israel went to war against Hamas in Gaza, troops made their way to the front through towns and on roads where fiery sectarian violence had erupted.

As convoys made their way south, military officials worried that the rioting could impede soldiers and equipment heading into battle.

The riots did not end up hampering troop movements, but fears that a similar flare-up in the future could harm Israeli military planning have lingered.

To address that concern, the Israel Defense Forces is now holding exercises to drill for securing the nation’s highways against rioters during a war, and ensuring military convoys reach their destination safely, The Times of Israel has learned.

“[We] have learned and drawn conclusions from the past year from Operation The Guardian of the Walls, which are now reflected in the exercise,” IDF Homefront Command head Uri Gordin said on Thursday.

During the drill taking place this month — part of a widescale exercise dubbed “Chariots of Fire” — three battalions — two Homefront Command and one Military Police — are to be deployed to Route 35 near Kiryat Gat, and Route 77 in northern Israel.

The troops — who will be armed with riot dispersal means — will practice keeping the highway clear and updating army headquarters on various incidents.

The teams were also practicing coordinating their efforts with Israel Police.

May saw massive riots break out in many Arab towns and mixed Israeli cities, home to large numbers of both Arabs and Jews, during an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

In November, the outgoing Chief of the Technological and Logistics Directorate said he was “really concerned” that the rioting had “significant potential to delay the ability to maneuver IDF troops.”

An IDF tank is brought to the border with the Gaza Strip on May 13, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In addition to the highway-clearing drill, Homefront Command search and rescue teams were training for a scenario of heavy damage to multiple sites from a rocket barrage on northern Israel.

The army was also training for the possibility of an attack causing damage to IDF headquarters and how to keep the top command functioning.

The drills were being conducted with local authorities. In total 42 municipalities and local authorities are to participate in the various exercises, including drills simulating heavy damage to critical infrastructure.

In Sderot, teams will drill a mass casualty incident and rescue operations, and in Haifa, the soldiers will hold a major exercise simulating a hazardous materials leak at the Bazan refinery in the northern city.

Military officials said the drills were aimed at raising the competence and readiness of troops and top brass for war on multiple fronts, as well as coordination with other emergency organizations, local authorities, and government ministries.

“The IDF in general and the Homefront Command, in particular, will continue to work in coordination with the civilian authorities, to maintain the security of the residents, both on the frontier and at the homefront,” Gordin said.

Illustrative: Israeli Home Front Command soldiers take part in a defense drill simulating a building collapse in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, September 7, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

On Thursday the IDF wrapped up the second week of the Chariots of Fire exercise, which focused on sudden events erupting in multiple theaters at the same time, while focusing on the northern front.

“This week’s training included plans to strengthen and defend the homefront, large logistical exercises, preparations for the deployment of forces and effective air defense — while strengthening the defense on the northern and southern borders amid various emergency scenarios in the homefront,” the IDF said in a statement.

The navy also practiced multiple sudden events, including infiltration attempts and air defense, according to the IDF.

The Chariots of Fire drill — scheduled to last through June 3 — is the military’s largest exercise in decades. It was postponed last May ahead of the war with terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

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