The next war with terrorist groups in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will last shorter than Protective Edge and will see the Israeli army deal a massive blow to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The IDF has faced increasing criticism following allegations by former military ombudsman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick who warned that the military, especially the ground forces, are not prepared for a large-scale war.
But the military says it has learned the lessons from the over-50-day Operation Protective Edge in 2014 as well as the numerous rounds of violence over the past year. The IDF says it has the capabilities and intelligence to inflict severe damage to terrorist groups in a short amount of time, should a war break out.
The military has also increased the number of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas targets which will be struck in the next campaign.
As one of his first visits as chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi went to the Southern Command and met with senior officers and approved operational plans for war, including setting up a centralized administrative unit to prepare a list of possible targets in Gaza in case a war should break out.
When Kochavi took office as the top military officer in January, southern Israel and the Gaza Strip became the top priority for the IDF, which has led the military to increase its readiness in the area.
The readiness process involves the cooperation of all bodies in the IDF’s General Staff headed by the Southern Command and focuses on empowering intelligence, linking field units with real-time intelligence, increased training of troops, and an extensive logistical effort.
While there has not been a war since 2014, in the past year since the Great March of Return protests began along the border fence, there have been 10 rounds of violent conflict between the two sides. The first six months of 2019 alone saw close to 1,000 rockets – the last violent round in May saw the two terrorist groups fire 700 rockets and one rocket-propelled grenade. Five Israeli civilians were killed in that round.
With the understanding that the transition from routine to war in the area can occur at a moment’s notice, the Gaza Division’s engineering forces have also continued their work to improve the protection of the home front, including the upgraded barrier with the Strip, which is expected to be completed – both aboveground and underground – by next summer to remove the threat of cross-border attack tunnels.
IDF Chief of Staff speaks during a briefind in the South on July 31, 2019. (IDF)
Until then, the army is not too keen on another military operation inside the Hamas-controlled enclave.
Following the death of an Israeli civilian by a Kornet anti-tank missile fired at his car in May during the last round of violence, the military has also begun to construct large sand berms and planting trees to protect citizens from threats such as anti-tank fire emanating from the Strip.
But anti-tank fire and tunnels are not the only threats that the military is concerned about. The increased use of drones and other small quad-copters by groups to either gather intelligence on troop movements or attack troops is also of major concern.
In the six months since Kochavi entered office and placed Gaza at the top of the priority list, the Southern Command has built a dedicated training program under which unit training has been carried out on the basis of a southern scenario. The plan includes battalion fire drills which are run according to designated battalion combat criteria in the Gaza Strip.
On Wednesday the military completed the largest drill since the last conflict in the coastal enclave, Operation Protective Edge in 2014, which saw the participation of eight brigade commanders, hundreds of reservists and the participation of air and naval forces.
During the four-day drill, key scenarios which the IDF expects to encounter in any future war were practiced, including maritime attacks by terrorist groups in the Strip, evacuation of wounded soldiers, IDF incursions into northern Gaza as well as attacks on civilian communities and the evacuation of communities along the border.
The large-scale exercise was “another significant step in improving the IDF’s operational preparedness in the Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement, adding that the drill was “preplanned as part of the training schedule for 2019.”