Israeli Army Launches Largest Drill in Decades

Agence France Presse (AFP) Haaretz Photo: IDF07.09.2017 MENA
Israeli Army Launches Largest Drill in Decades

Israeli Army Launches Largest Drill in Decades

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The Israeli military began what it called its largest drills in 20 years on Tuesday, simulating an attack by Hezbollah.

The drill is taking place in northern Israel along the Lebanese border and is expected to run until September 14. It will involve thousands of land, sea and air forces and will include tests of Israel’s missile defense system.

While both Israel and Hezbollah remained focused militarily on Syria, bellicose rhetoric has been plentiful in recent months. Israel has claimed Iran is building missile factories inside Lebanon in support of Hezbollah and has criticized the United Nations for not doing enough to stop the group from amassing weapons in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border.

In May, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened that a conflict between the two sides could see the Shiite fighters conducting a ground invasion of Israel and said the militant group possessed missiles that could strike anywhere in Israel - including a nuclear reactor located in the southern city of Dimona. 

The last conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, in the summer of 2006, killed nearly 1,200 Lebanese civilians and crippled Lebanon's infrastructure.

More than 100 Israeli soldiers died in a ground invasion that was repelled by Hezbollah, which lost hundreds of fighters. Forty-four Israeli civilians were killed, largely by rockets fired by Hezbollah.

In the years since, the most significant engagements between the two sides have taken place in Syria. Since 2012, Israel has carried out several air strikes against what it has said were weapons being transferred from Syria to Lebanon, and also struck Iranian and Hezbollah personnel in the Golan Heights.

Last week, Israeli officials also claimed Iran is building missile bases in Syria in order to support the group.

Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri refuted Israeli assertions about the factories last week during an interview with the French daily Le Monde.

“The Israelis know well that there are no missile factories in Lebanon. They are accustomed to such disinformation campaigns. They say that Hezbollah controls Lebanon, it is not true. Hezbollah exists, it is in government, it enjoys support in the country, but that does not mean that all Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah,” Hariri said.

While claims about the missile factories in Lebanon may not be true, no one disputes that Hezbollah is a different organization than it was in 2006.

It has openly supported the Assad government in Syria’s civil war since 2013, gaining experience in conventional military tactics that it once lacked, and its numbers have grown. It has also trained proxy forces on behalf of the Syrian government, potentially further increasing its available fighting force.

Timur Goksel, former senior adviser of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and currently Turkish editor of Al Monitor website, said that despite the rhetoric, neither side was likely to strike.

Media affiliated with the Shiite militant group made note of the Israeli drills on Tuesday, but were more heavily focused on a different theatre of battle: gains being made by the Syrian army and Hezbollah near Deir Ezzor, one of ISIL’s last strongholds in eastern Syria. 

A spokesman for UNIFIL confirmed the Israeli exercises were under way on Tuesday, but said that there were no reports of anything out of the ordinary in the area.

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