Police, army practice responses to Hamas terror infiltration in southern region

Public Security Minister Erdan warns: Palestinian terror group and Gaza Strip will ‘pay a heavy price’ in a future conflict with Israel

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Police and army units on Sunday practiced dealing with a range of terror threats during exercises in the southern region and the port city of Ashkelon, including the mock storming of a vacation resort.

Units from both services rehearsed setting up roadblocks, sealing off towns, manning lookout points along the coast, and deploying special forces against a terrorist infiltration — with a particular focus on potential threats from the Hamas terror group that is the de facto ruler in the adjacent Gaza Strip.

Along with regular police officers, the training included elite units from the IDF and the Israel Police.

“The exercise reviewed the operational ability to provide an initial response to a large-scale terrorist incident, a threat against which the Israel Police prepares throughout the year, and was designed according to the annual training schedule of the Israel Police units,” the force said in a statement.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Israel Police southern district commander Deputy Commissioner Motti Cohen, and head of the IDF Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir observed the counterterror exercises along with other senior police and army officials.

Among the scenarios imagined were a terrorist incursion from the sea and a rescue raid against a terrorist attack on the Ashkelon Recreation Village.

The drill came amid high tensions with Gaza and Israeli jitters that a worsening humanitarian situation in the Strip could spark a fresh war.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan with senior police officials, during counter-terror exercises in the southern district, February 4, 2018. (Israel Police)

“Hamas is solely responsible for the situation in Gaza,” Erdan said according to a statement from the Public Security Ministry. “Instead of investing money in the population, it is investing in building terror infrastructures and practicing intrusions into the areas of communities in Israel.”

Ashkelon, a major city and sea port, lies just 11 kilometers (7 miles) from the northern border of the Gaza Strip.

“We are prepared for every scenario: infiltration from tunnels, on land, in the air and in the sea, and for each such scenario, Hamas terrorists will meet determined and trained police forces. Hamas and the residents of the Gaza Strip will pay a very heavy price in the next confrontation, and we will protect Israel’s citizens in every way.”

Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in developing its military infrastructure and capabilities, including digging attack tunnels under the border with Israel, as well as training for sea-borne assaults.

The last major clash between the Israel and Hamas was in 2014, during IDF Operation Protective Edge when the Israeli army battled against Hamas-led Palestinian groups in Gaza. During the 50-day conflict, Hamas terrorists succeeded in carrying out deadly attacks inside Israel, close to Gaza, after infiltrating through attack tunnels. On one occasion, five Hamas terrorists entered Israeli territory from the sea, but were quickly engaged by IDF forces and killed.

Since the conflict, Israel has been working to thwart tunnels dug under the Gaza border. The country has been building a large barrier that extends dozens of meters underground to block the tunnels, and has also worked to discover and destroy them using bombs and other unspecified means.

In November, Israel destroyed a tunnel, killing several members of the Islamic Jihad terror group inside, and sparking renewed rocket fire.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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