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In threat to Hezbollah, IDF holds drill practicing massive attacks on group

Exercise simulates overwhelming response to Lebanese terror group damaging an Israeli drone, as it tried to do earlier this month

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

  • An Israeli Air Force soldier directs an F-35 fighter jets during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
    An Israeli Air Force soldier directs an F-35 fighter jets during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • An F-35 fighter jet takes off during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
    An F-35 fighter jet takes off during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • An Israeli Air Force air traffic controller takes part in a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
    An Israeli Air Force air traffic controller takes part in a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • An F-35 fighter jets comes in for a landing during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
    An F-35 fighter jets comes in for a landing during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • An F-15 fighter jet comes in for a landing during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
    An F-15 fighter jet comes in for a landing during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • An Israeli Air Force soldier checks an F-35 fighter jets during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
    An Israeli Air Force soldier checks an F-35 fighter jets during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • A C-130J cargo plane comes in for a landing during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
    A C-130J cargo plane comes in for a landing during a surprise exercise, 'Galilee Rose,' in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Air Force completed a three-day surprise exercise simulating a large-scale war against Hezbollah this week, including mock strikes on some 3,000 targets in one day, the military said, in a clear threat to the Lebanese terror group.

The hypothetical incident that kicked off this fictional conflict was Hezbollah shooting and damaging an Israeli aircraft — something the terrorist militia tried to do earlier this month when it fired anti-aircraft missiles at an IAF Heron unmanned aerial vehicle.

“This was a very broad exercise. The scenario that started this drill was a surface-to-air missile attack by Hezbollah against an Israeli UAV. The air force prepared for a retaliation, during which additional attacks were launched against another aircraft,” said an air force officer who took part in the drill, who can only be identified by his rank and first Hebrew initial, Col. “Yud.”

“In this exercise, we simulated the actions that the entire air force would take, going from peacetime to wartime, in order to deal with these threats, these attacks against our aircraft,” he said.

A Heron drone comes in for a landing during a surprise exercise, ‘Galilee Rose,’ in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the Israel Defense Forces, dozens of aircraft — fighter jets, cargo planes, helicopters and drones — took part in the exercise, called “Galilee Rose.”  They were operated and assisted by conscripted and reservist forces, who were called up on short notice after the drill was announced on Sunday.

“During [the exercise], intense fighting was simulated, along with offensive operations, scenarios involving defending the country’s airspace, command and control operations, precise planning and wide-scale, powerful strikes. In addition, strikes on thousands of targets and the launching of many weapons were practiced to simulate war on the northern front,” the military said.

A senior air force official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the level of intensity shown in the exercise was unprecedented. To wit, the drill simulated the bombing of some 3,000 targets over the course of 24 hours, whereas in the more than month-long 2006 Second Lebanon War, roughly 5,000 targets were struck in total.

The exercise also simulated Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel, including the firing of cruise missiles and other advanced munitions, as well as standard, albeit massive rocket launches at both military and civilian targets in the Jewish state, the senior air force officer told reporters.

“Our goal was to inspect the mechanisms in irregular ways in order to see what works, what needs improvement and to carry out the air force’s missions during war,” the senior official said.

This included not only ensuring air squadrons had the ability to carry out the strikes, but more quotidian aspects of war — that logistics units could provide the munitions needed for them and that command centers could be staffed 24 hours a day.

The surprise exercise came amid lingering tension in the region between Israel and Hezbollah over the death of one of the terror group’s operatives in Syria last summer, in an airstrike widely attributed to the IDF. The Israeli military believes Hezbollah still intends to exact revenge for the death of its fighter in order to deter Israel from future strikes.

After years of being relatively cautious, the IDF believes that the terror group has grown increasingly emboldened, though it still does not want to enter into a full-blown war with Israel. This was on display on February 3, when Hezbollah fired on the Israeli drone as it was flying over southern Lebanon.

In that case, the military refrained from retaliating. This week’s exercise, simulating a massive retaliation to such an attack, was seemingly meant to signal to the terror group what would happen if it again fired upon an Israeli drone.

“This exercise improve the air force’s readiness to fight on the northern front, by effectively and intensively training over the past three days. We will continue to provide security to the country’s skies and will preserve the air force’s superiority in the region,” IAF Commander Amikam Norkin said.

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