Israel has just completed a major military exercise in which tanks and other ground forces were trained to be sent across rivers and other challenging bodies of water, in order to be able to neutralize missile threats deep in enemy territory, the tank brigade commander who led the drill said Thursday.
Tanks, combat engineers and various elite commando units participated in the day and night exercise — reportedly the largest of its kind in 20 years — at the Jordan River last week, Col. Enav Shalev told an Army Radio security program.
The radio report added that other training programs in the IDF have been widened recently, including more extensive exercises for Israel’s elite paratroopers. Further major exercises are planned, it said.
The latest exercise was held against a background of escalating friction in the region. Iran threatened on Wednesday that foreign military intervention against its ally President Bashar Assad in Syria would prompt missile strikes at Israel. Tehran has also repeatedly warned that any attempt to strike at its nuclear facilities would prompt missile attacks on the Jewish state.
Furthermore, Iran and Syria have for years been supplying Lebanon’s Hezbollah forces with missiles, and Iran supplies missiles and training to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel fought Hezbollah in a month-long conflict in 2006, and confronted Hamas in a major military operation in the winter of 2008-9.
Shalev said the latest exercise was focused on the kinds of operations the IDF might have to carry out in combating missile threats in enemy territory. He said Israel had an array of defensive systems, including the Iron Dome missile defense system that is deployed to protect southern Israel from missile fire from Gaza. But thwarting enemy missile threats ultimately required sending ground forces deep into the enemy territory from which missiles were launched, he said.
Asked if such major ground force exercises were still really necessary in an era where Israel has been grappling with missile threats to the homefront, Shalev replied, “Absolutely.” Asked why the exercise had been carried out now, he referred to the current “complex security environment” in which Israel finds itself and said that “anyone with eyes in their head… can see why it was necessary.” Threats against Israel, he said, “are not decreasing. They are increasing.”
Protecting the home front, he said, could not solely be achieved through defensive means. There was no “magic” formula, he said. “To neutralize the threat to the home front,” he said, “you have to maneuver deep inside enemy territory… You have to reach the places from which missiles are launched at Tel Aviv and anywhere else (in Israel).”
“Think how many rivers and streams there in the countries where we are supposed to prepare on the operational level,” Shalev said. “My brigade, like others, is supposed to be able to go very far, very deep, to carry out its activities.”