In north, IDF drills for urban warfare as health system preps for attack scenarios

As Northern Command increases readiness for possibility of war with Hezbollah, wide-scale Health Ministry exercise gets ministries, hospitals, HMOs, Home Front Command up to speed

Troops of the 226th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade carry out a drill in northern Israel, in a handout image published January 27, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops of the 226th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade carry out a drill in northern Israel, in a handout image published January 27, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF said Saturday it was further increasing its preparedness on the northern border, publishing footage from recent “intensive” training exercises carried out by the 226th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade, as Hezbollah-led forces in Lebanon continue to launch attacks on Israeli communities and military posts along the border.

With fears of a wider conflict growing, the health system in the country’s north was also practicing for potential major security incidents in a broad drill.

In a statement, the IDF said, “As part of the process of increasing readiness on the northern border, the Northern Command held intensive training sessions last week to strengthen competence and readiness for the moment of decision.”

The 226th Brigade, under the 146th Division, with combat engineers, tanks, artillery and other infantry forces, carried out drills simulating fighting in urban areas that are applicable to Lebanon, amid winter weather, according to the IDF.

Since the beginning of the war in the Gaza Strip, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacre, the IDF said it has carried out more than 100 days’ worth of drills, including 40 battalion-level exercises.

Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza after October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 250 hostages, mostly civilians.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

Israel has warned it can no longer tolerate Hezbollah’s presence along its border following the October 7 atrocities, and has warned that should a diplomatic solution not be reached, it will turn to military action to push Hezbollah northward, as demanded by 2006’s United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which Hezbollah has flouted for years.

Smoke billows over the southern Lebanese village of Shihine on the border with Israel during an Israeli airstrike on January 22, 2024. (Kawnat Haju/AFP)

The drill by the health system this week dealt with a variety of potential scenarios involving the operation of hospitals, health maintenance organizations’ community clinics, medical evacuations, and the provision of support to chronically ill people in need of immediate assistance.

“We are in a very challenging period that includes treating thousands of physically and emotionally wounded patients, as well as the rehabilitation of thousands,” Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov said on Thursday. “In parallel to dealing with these challenges that began on October 7, we are preparing for the [potential] expansion of the [military] operation in the north and throughout Israel.”

“The security reality in Israel has changed, so the healthcare system must change too. Therefore, we are preparing the system as a whole and every part of it in this drill. The change that could happen in the north would affect the hospitals and community in a much broader way than we have experienced thus far,” he said.

According to Health Ministry deputy director general Sefi Mendelovich, planning for the drill had been underway in recent months, with the aim of challenging existing assumptions, filling gaps, implementing new technologies, and improving coordination and communication to ensure the best possible care in case of emergency.

Led by the Health Ministry, the comprehensive exercise involved other ministries, hospitals, HMOs, local authorities, the IDF’s Home Front Command, and other branches of the national security apparatus.

The continued violence on the border with Lebanon comes amid diplomatic efforts to avert a full-scale war with Hezbollah. Israel has been warning that it would be forced to move against Hezbollah with force if talks fail and there is no other way to allow residents evacuated from northern border communities to return.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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