The IDF has canceled a segment of its Chariots of Fire exercise that was set to take place in Umm el-Fahm next week.
The decision to move the drill away from the country’s third-largest Arab city came after the city’s mayor, Samir Sobhi Mahamed, requested that Defense Minister Benny Gantz cancel the segment.
In the letter to defense officials sent by Mahamed and shared with The Jerusalem Post, the mayor said that such an exercise in the city “has a dramatic effect” on its residents and would not help in the promoting of co-existence between Jews and Arabs.
“I, the city council, and the residents of Umm el-Fahm are strongly opposed to conducting the military drill inside the city, and we have made our position known to the relevant military officials,” the mayor wrote. “Needless to say, moving armored personnel carriers inside the city that simulates a battle against Hezbollah has a dramatic effect on the feelings of the residents. As mayor of the city, I do everything within my power to promote co-existence and improve the image of the city as well as the quality of life within it. And I am afraid these kinds of military exercises are harmful to those goals.”
A statement provided by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that “in accordance with the request of my municipality, the necessary adjustments were made in the layout of the exercise, including bypassing the city and practicing in the mountainous and rural areas” away from the city.
The drill will continue to take place in the region of Lower Galilee, Wadi Ara region and near Yokne’am.
“There was no change in the goals of the exercise, as they were set and planned in advance,” the statement said.
During the month-long drill, the military plans to implement all the lessons learned from Operation Guardian of the Walls, the 11 days of fighting between the IDF and terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
During the 11-day war last May, there was heavy rioting in those areas as well as in mixed Israeli-Arab cities such as Lod and Jaffa. Two people were killed and several civilians were injured.
The drill will simulate scenarios where there is twice the level of violence and even heavier rioting than seen last year.
The military wants to be able to send troops before violence breaks out, instead of in response to the violence. They will work to keep roads open in areas in the Negev and in the Wadi Ara area of northern Israel.
Thousands of soldiers and reservists are taking part in the drill dubbed “Chariots of Fire,” which will see all commands – including the Air Force, Navy, and regular and reserve forces – taking part.
The goal of the three-week drill is to improve the readiness of the entire military. It will examine the troops’ ability to carry out a prolonged campaign against enemy forces on various fronts simultaneously.