In first test of army chief’s new strategy, IDF simulates war with Hezbollah
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In first test of army chief’s new strategy, IDF simulates war with Hezbollah

Military says the 5-day drill, known as ‘First Harvest,’ is the largest since a 2017 exercise that also mimicked fight against terror group in southern Lebanon

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

  • A military dog, part of the IDF's Oketz Unit, participates in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
    A military dog, part of the IDF's Oketz Unit, participates in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli soldiers participate in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli soldiers participate in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • An Israeli fighter jet takes part in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
    An Israeli fighter jet takes part in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli soldiers participate in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli soldiers participate in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • The head of the IDF Teleprocessing Corps Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Turjeman speaks to officers during a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
    The head of the IDF Teleprocessing Corps Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Turjeman speaks to officers during a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli military this week conducted a massive exercise simulating war against the Hezbollah terror group — its largest drill in two years — in a first test of army chief Aviv Kohavi’s new strategy for the Israel Defense Forces.

The five-day drill, dubbed “First Harvest,” began on Sunday, with ground troops, the air force and navy taking part in the exercise, which included fighting on multiple fronts simultaneously.

“The exercise trained the troops for combat involving multiple branches of the military in an urban battlefield, against an enemy that disappears, who is dug into underground [infrastructure] and is equipped with advanced weaponry,” the army said in a statement.

The military said this was its largest exercise since the 2017 “Light of the Grain” exercise, which was itself the IDF’s largest exercise in nearly 20 years.

In addition to offensive maneuvers, the military said it also simulated “large-scale rocket fire” that air defense units “would have to spot and intercept.” Hezbollah is believed to possess an arsenal of over 100,000 rockets and mortar shells, as well as a small number of advanced precision-guided missiles.

The Israeli military believes that thousands of these projectiles of various ranges and explosive capabilities would rain down on the country during a future war. Most of these inaccurate rockets would land in open fields, but the overwhelming number of them would cause significant amounts of damage, injuries and deaths throughout Israel, including potentially in key strategic sites.

The drill came in addition to a large-scale exercise held by the air force this week simulating war on several fronts.

Israeli and Western intelligence officials this week warned that Hezbollah, acting on behalf of Iran, might seek to attack Israel in an effort to put additional pressure on the United States as part of the Islamic Republic’s ongoing struggle with the White House over the crippling economic sanctions put in place following the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year.

The military said this exercise was part of its regularly scheduled annual training plan.

Thousands of infantry soldiers participated in the drill, along with armored units and other ground forces.

Israeli soldiers participate in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The exercise presented an opportunity for IDF troops to gain experience and professional ability in a multi-faceted way, while practicing modern fighting styles and simulating a variety of scenarios. The goal is bringing out the greatest amount of strength from these troops, while incorporating the other branches [of the military] and thus to continue to improve the IDF’s preparedness for war,” said Brig. Gen. Nadav Lotan, the head of the army’s ground forces training base.

In addition to the ground forces, hundreds of drones, helicopters and fighter jets conducted both night and day flights during the exercise.

“The drill was meant to raise the fitness and preparedness of the [air force] troops for intense fighting scenarios, significant and numerous strikes in short periods of time and improving the connection between the air force and the ground forces,” the army said.

A number of naval vessels and units also took part in the exercise, including submarines, missile ships and patrol boats, which simulated the type of fighting they’re likely to face in a war in Lebanon.

An Israeli naval ship takes part in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

To facilitate cooperation between the ground troops, air force and navy, the military also tested a number of new communication tools, the army said.

Israel has fought two wars in Lebanon, one in 1982 against Palestinian terrorist groups and the second in 2006 against Hezbollah. The Second Lebanon War is seen in the IDF as having suffered a large number of failures and poor management, brought on by communication issues and insufficient preparation for war.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi visits a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

These deficiencies have served as benchmarks for improvement over the interim 13 years.

Hezbollah, with its rocket arsenal larger than that of many national armies and its thousands of fighter well-trained from fighting in Syria, is seen by the IDF as its central threat in the region. The Iran-backed terrorist group is therefore the standard by which the army measures its preparedness.

While military officers often discuss a future conflict with Hezbollah as a matter of “when, not if,” recent assessments by the IDF is that the terror group is not currently interested in renewed warfare with Israel.

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