With tensions running high, IDF to hold drill near border with Lebanon

Military says exercise in Mount Dov region was planned in advance; sounds of explosions to be heard Thursday morning in Galilee panhandle towns

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

File: Israeli soldiers hold an artillery drill in the Golan Heights, on March 28, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
File: Israeli soldiers hold an artillery drill in the Golan Heights, on March 28, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces said it would conduct a military drill in the Galilee panhandle in northern Israel on Thursday morning, which will include artillery fire toward the Mount Dov area on the border with Lebanon.

The IDF said the exercise will end in the afternoon hours of Thursday. Explosions are expected to be heard in nearby towns, it added.

The military said the drill was planned in advance, indicating that it did not stem from a new assessment.

Mount Dov, also known as the Sheba Farms, is a contested area claimed by Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war and the border area is the site of sporadic incidents.

Last August, 19 rockets fired by the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon were aimed at Mount Dov. The IDF said 10 projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and six landed in open areas around the hill. Another three rockets failed to clear the border and landed in Lebanese territory, according to the military.

In July 2020, a Hezbollah cell attempted an assault on a military base on Mount Dov. It was foiled by the IDF, and proof of the attempted attack was presented to the United Nations. Hezbollah still officially denies the incident occurred.

Tensions with Lebanon have been high recently, after Hezbollah’s leader threatened Israel over plans to extract gas from a contested offshore reserve, saying that his organization is capable of preventing such action, including by force.

Energean working in the Karish oil field, offshore Israel, in 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Israel and Lebanon are currently at odds over rights to the Karish gas field, which the Israeli government claims is in its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone, while Lebanon asserts that the waters are disputed.

Talks over the field have been frozen since last year, after Lebanon tried to move its claim further into the zone Israel claims as its own. But Beirut requested the return of US energy envoy Amos Hochstein earlier this month after Israel moved a natural gas rig into its Karish offshore field.

The arrival of the vessel, operated by London-based Energean, provoked anger from Lebanon.

Israel has said it is “prepared to defend” the facility. The IDF has also deployed naval forces to the area, including a sea-borne Iron Dome anti-missile battery, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

An Iron Dome missile defense system fires an interceptor from a Sa’ar-6 corvette, at a target during an exercise in early 2022. (Defense Ministry)

Earlier this month, the IDF held a major military exercise in Cyprus, simulating a ground offensive deep inside Lebanon in a potential war against the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

The terror group has long been the IDF’s most significant adversary, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.

The exercise’s main goal was to simulate halting Hezbollah rocket fire on Israel amid a major escalation, through a ground offensive in Lebanon. According to military officials, the only way to achieve such a goal was to be “significantly present” in the areas where attacks are being launched from, keeping the enemy far from the border.

A week before that, the IDF’s Home Front Command practiced a simulation in which Israeli cities could be bombarded with 1,500 rockets a day, resulting in 80 sites being heavily damaged with some 300 casualties, during a several-day flare-up with Hezbollah.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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