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In war games, 100 Israelis ‘killed’ as army preps for attacks on multiple fronts

IDF concludes exercises preparing home front for war, which included mock evacuations, rocket attacks

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

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday concluded two nationwide emergency preparedness exercises, which tested both the General Staff’s ability to manage a war, and the Home Front Command’s ability to protect the country’s civilian population.

The two annual exercises coincided with this month’s Juniper Cobra air defense drill that the IDF holds every other year with the US military.

A member of the IDF General Staff, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that the exercises were particularly challenging, as the army simulated a situation that was “more difficult than how we assess the reality to be today.”

In addition to simulating extreme scenarios, the effort to manage three separate exercise simultaneously was also challenging for the military, the officer said.

Defense Minister Avigdor LIberman, center, visits a national emergency preparedness exercise, alongside IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, and the head of the Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, in March 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

He stressed the importance of the Juniper Cobra exercise, noting that it sent a message to the region — implying Iran — that the “United States is not just a theoretical ally,” but is one that will fight alongside Israel if need be.

American, Israeli troops deploy a Patriot missile defense battery during the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The annual General Staff exercise, known as “Keystone 2018,” had the army’s top generals simulating a “variety of challenges and threats on a number of fronts,” a senior IDF officer told reporters, on condition of anonymity.

The generals were forced to deal with a number of scenarios, including the deaths of some 100 Israeli civilians in an attack, said the officer.

“We know the home front will be a target,” the senior official said.

In addition, they trained in how to respond if large-scale collateral damage is caused by an Israeli strike.

The General Staff exercise was conducted as tabletop simulations, not with real troops.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, and the head of the Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, run a large-scale emergency preparedness military exercise in March 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the official, the exercise focused on the Iran-led axis, which includes the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s forces, Shiite militias, and Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.

This included seeing how “Iran will use its positions in Syria,” the officer said.

Though the air force and navy took part in the exercise, the senior officer said much of the focus was put on ensuring the IDF Ground Forces were prepared for war.

This year, the Keystone drill also included multiple scenarios involving cyber attacks on both civilian and military targets, the senior officer said.

The exercise was led by former IDF deputy chief of staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, with visits by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

The Home Front Command exercise, “Solid Stand 2018,” included large-scale evacuations, responses to chemical spills, and mock search-and-rescue operations, the army said.

Soldiers from the IDF’s Home Front Command perform search and rescue exercises during a nationwide, week-long, emergency preparedness drill in March 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Local governments and civilian emergency response groups also took part in Solid Stand, alongside the military, in order to improve communication between the different organizations.

The IDF stressed that the drill is not connected to any specific security situation, nor is it directly related to the ongoing Juniper Cobra missile defense exercise that the army is currently conducting with the United States.

The home front exercise included a nation-wide test of emergency sirens on Tuesday morning and evening, during which time civilians were instructed to act as they would in an actual emergency and seek shelter.

Soldiers from the IDF’s Home Front Command perform search and rescue exercises during a nationwide, week-long, emergency preparedness drill in March 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

During the morning siren, teachers also ushered their students to bomb shelters.

The senior IDF officer said that with the completion of the exercises — save for Juniper Cobra, which will continue through the end of the month — the army will now shift focus to reviewing and learning from them.

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