Israel and ‘Hizbullah’ waged war this week. Columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers surrounded positions on a ‘southern Lebanon’ battlefield, simulated in the northern Golan Heights.
The exercise, one of the largest the IDF has held over the past decade, included the Infantry Corps’ Nahal Brigade and the Armored Corps’ 401st Brigade, which with its advanced Merkava tanks, some equipped with Trophy active-protection systems to intercept enemy missiles, is being dubbed “Israel’s gatekeeper to Lebanon.”
What made the exercise unique was its size. Held in a plateau just under Mount Shifon with the snowcapped Hermon in the background, thousands of soldiers practiced war alongside one another, then against one another.
Some of the scenarios were conventional, to sharpen skills for a
possible confrontation with Syria, but most were a combination of
guerrilla and urban warfare with terrain similar to Lebanon’s open
forests and densely populated villages.
Exercises like this
clearly demonstrate the change that has overtaken the military in the
four years since the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead in the
Gaza Strip in 2009.
There to watch was Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who explained his seemingly simplistic perspective.
military is either preparing for war or is fighting a war,” he said,
pointing out that since he took over in 2007, the IDF has held more than
100 brigadelevel exercises. This makes one thing sure: The next
post-war commission of inquiry will not be able to say that the IDF did
not train enough.
WITH ARTILLERY shells exploding below,
Brig.-Gen. Agai Yehezkel, the new commander of Division 162, the organic
home of both the Nahal and 401st Brigades, briefed his officers on
their objectives and missions.
One of the IDF’s superior
mobilized divisions, 162 participated in the Second Lebanon War and was
harshly criticized for not being prepared and for hesitating and moving
slowly when maneuvering in southern Lebanon.
One of the
deficiencies that was made plain by the post-war inquiries was the lack
of coordination between the division’s two main brigades – Nahal and
401. The exercise this week was aimed at correcting that.
always been weaker than us,” Yehezkel said during an interview on the sidelines
of the exercise on Wednesday.
“Today, four years after the last war, we
are better prepared and have better plans, better technology and there is no
question about what the results of the next war will be.”
It is that
clear to you? “Yes,” Yehezkel answers without blinking an eye, “Hizbullah will
be in major trouble.”
According to intelligence assessments in Northern
Command, Hizbullah is already in trouble – Iran has slashed its annual aid to
the group by 40 percent and tension between a senior Iranian operative
parachuted into its hierarchy and some of the veteran Hizbullah operatives has
led to a strain in ties.
At the same time, there is no question that
Hizbullah has been preparing for the next conflict.
Recent reports of the
transfer of Scud D ballistic missiles from Syria to Lebanon, hundreds of
accurate M600s and more than 40,000 rockets and missiles make Hizbullah a force
to reckon with.
HOW THE next war will erupt was a key question on the
minds of all the participants in the exercise, particularly Ashkenazi and OC
Northern Command Maj.- Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.
Ashkenazi will be leaving the
IDF in February after his four-year term comes to an end; he will be replaced by
Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant. Eizenkot will also likely retire after turning down an
offer to serve as Galant’s deputy. What they take pride in is that they will be
leaving behind a military ready to fight the war whenever it occurs.
scenarios perceived as most likely include a Hizbullah decision to attack
without direct prior provocation in retaliation for a strike against Iran’s
nuclear installations, or to attack in an effort to divert attention away from
indictments the UN is expected to submit against top Hizbullah operatives over
their involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister
Still, the prevailing assessment within Northern Command is
that Hizbullah will not attack after the findings are published but will be more
likely to topple the Lebanese government and steer the country toward a
political deadlock. Either way, the outcome would be detrimental for Israel,
which will find itself with a neighbor in complete disarray and
Part of the IDF’s strategy for a future war was apparent in the
way it conducted the exercise. First was the emphasis commanders put on the
“combined battle,” the interoperability and coordination between the infantry,
armored units and air force and the integration of new unmanned aerial vehicles
to assist battalion commanders.
Then, OC Nahal Col. Amir Abulafia made
his soldiers hike some 60 kilometers during the exercise carrying loads the
equivalent of about half their weight on their backs.
Behind such a
requirement is the understanding that in the next war, the IDF will need to be
capable of moving fast if it wants to be able to suppress Hizbullah rocket and
missile fire. It will not have time to rely on the air force to bomb enemy
targets, but will need to conquer territory. The way to do this is with boots on
the ground – and lots of them.
At the Nahal forward base, a number of
tents were pitched next to armored personnel carriers. Inside, the brigade had
established its various war rooms with large screens projecting the exact
location of friendly and enemy forces. Officers from Military Intelligence, the
air force, the navy and other branches of the IDF sat around tables to discuss
planned strikes and attack modes.
Like the division commander, Abulafia
is also confident that the outcome of the next war will bring a decisive
“I do not want to sound like I am underestimating Hizbullah,” he
said. “But in face of the masses and strength that we will be bringing with us,
we will know how to smash them. It will be a challenge, but with our
capabilities the victory will be decisive.”