In large northern drill, paratroopers practice war with Hezbollah
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In large northern drill, paratroopers practice war with Hezbollah

Military boasts of its fourth big exercise in a month amid criticism it is ill-prepared for battle

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

The Israeli military simulated a war with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group this week, with paratroopers, fighter jets, attack helicopters, tanks and artillery taking part.

The Israel Defense Forces, which has been the focus of criticism that it is ill-prepared for a war, said it was its fourth large-scale exercise in the past month.

This week’s exercise was led by the Paratroopers Brigade, capping off 17 weeks of training by the unit, “which included commander-level exercises, team drills and four battalion exercises, while improving the cooperation with the air force,” the army said.

In addition to the air force, the paratroopers were joined in the simulated war against Hezbollah by the Armored Corps and Artillery Corps.

Paratroopers take part in an exercise simulating war with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group in September 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The week-long exercise included urban combat training, fighting in bushy areas like those in southern Lebanon, and rapid evacuations with helicopters, the army said.

Col. Yaki Dolef, commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, oversaw the exercise, which was visited and assessed by the head of the brigade’s division, Brig. Gen. Yaron Finkleman; and the head of the Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan. On Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also stopped by the drill.

“My impression is that we have an operational ground force at the highest level of preparedness, ready for any mission,” Liberman said at the time.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and senior IDF officers visit an exercise simulating war with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group on September 4, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“This is the strongest force that exists in the entire Middle East. No enemy can stand up to it, and I greatly hope that we will not need to test that,” he said.

The military sees the Iran-backed Hezbollah as its primary threat in the region, often using the terrorist army as the standard by which the IDF measures its preparedness.

The Lebanon-based group is believed to have a massive arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 mortar shells, rockets and missiles — most of them of poor quality, but also many advanced and precise models capable of targeting Israeli strategic sites like military bases and key infrastructure.

Paratroopers take part in an exercise simulating war with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group in September 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel fought a war with Hezbollah in 2006 in which its performance was seen to have been hobbled by unpreparedness and mismanagement by Israel’s military and its political leadership. Since then, the military has worked to address the areas found to have been particularly problematic during the Second Lebanon War, focusing on better training, intelligence sharing and logistics.

Some of the army’s recent efforts to streamline and improve — under a multi-year program known as the Gideon Plan — have been met with criticism and allegations that they are in fact making the IDF less prepared for war.

Paratroopers take part in an exercise simulating war with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group in September 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

For instance, military ombudsman Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, formally known as the chief complaints officer in the Defense Ministry, sent a letter to lawmakers earlier this summer warning that cuts to the IDF’s manpower were damaging the army’s ability to wage war.

Under the Gideon Plan, the number of career soldiers was significantly scaled back, with officers being reviewed when they reach the ages of 28, 35 and 42. At those times, if the officer does not appear to be heading for promotion, he or she is drummed out of the military.

According to Brick, that “up or out” policy is having a negative impact on the army’s ability to function. “The army’s decisions will be based on compromise, and military service will become service by mediocre officers,” he wrote.

In an apparent response to Brick’s claims, IDF chief Eisenkot this week sent a classified report, along with a declassified letter, to senior lawmakers on the military’s preparedness.

Senior IDF officers visit an exercise simulating war with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group on September 4, 2018 (Israel Defense Forces)

“The IDF is at a high level of preparedness and readiness for war with regard to any threat scenario,” Eisenkot wrote in the letter to members of the security cabinet and the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“As the person responsible for the army’s readiness for war, I declare that IDF is prepared for any mission required of it,” he added in the letter, which was attached to a classified report.

Eisenkot went on to hail the military’s “intelligence and aerial superiority, ground capabilities and abundant operational experience, which is tested daily at all the theaters of war.”

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