Israel to simulate war with Hezbollah in Cyprus

Part of Chariots of Fire, troops from IAF, Navy and elite commando units will simulate war deep inside Lebanon.

IDF soldiers prepare for a drill with Cyprus as part of the month-long Chariots of Fire exercise.

Hundreds of IDF soldiers and reservists from units across various military corps will be heading to Cyprus this week for a joint drill simulating war against Hezbollah deep inside enemy territory.

The exercise in Cyprus, called Agapinor-2022 or Beyond the Horizon, is part of the IDF’s month-long Chariot of Fire drill, which aims to improve the military’s capabilities in an intense, multi-front and prolonged war on all of Israel’s borders. The drill, beginning on Sunday, will last until June 2.

Forces from the Cypriot National Guard will join the IDF troops as well as several Israel Air Force platforms. Israeli naval units, including the elite Shayetet 13, as well as forces from the Yahalom special combat engineering unit, Oketz canine unit, intelligence forces and troops from the C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate, will also take part in the drill.

The drill will simulate extensive combat based on multi-branch cooperation from the General Staff to tactical level.

“The exercise enables the IDF to improve the readiness of its forces participating in the exercise while strengthening the cooperation and abilities at the tactical level,” the Israeli military said.

IDF soldiers preparing to take part in a drill with Cyprus, as part of the Chariots of Fire exercise. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)IDF soldiers preparing to take part in a drill with Cyprus, as part of the Chariots of Fire exercise. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)

Troops are expected to train on varying types of terrain, including wilderness, urban, rural and high-altitude mountainous areas on the island, which will act as a substitute for intense fighting against Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

According to the IDF, it is “unique and the first of its kind” that presents an opportunity for troops to quickly adapt to unfamiliar territory while dealing with emergency scenarios and to train distant logistic abilities that the military might face when dealing with emergency and unfamiliar scenarios.

Troops are expected to train on varying types of terrain, including high-altitude, mountainous as well as in urban and open areas on the island, which will act as a substitute for intense fighting against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

According to the IDF, it is “unique and the first of its kind” that presents an opportunity for troops to quickly adapt to unfamiliar territory while dealing with emergency scenarios and other ways that “simulates reality as much as possible.”

While the two countries have carried out several drills in recent years, according to local Cypriot news website Philenews, the exercise is the country’s largest joint military exercise with Israel.

The IDF said in a statement that the goal of the drill was to improve the readiness of troops and their abilities to conduct missions “deep in enemy territory while combining and maximizing multi-disciplinary capabilities.”

The exercise will see combat helicopters assisting ground forces, evacuating the wounded by assault helicopters, directing and accompanying ground forces as well as dropping off logistical equipment by IAF transport planes.

The drill “is an important component in maintaining the capabilities of the forces for a variety of emergencies,” the IDF said in a statement. “Cooperation between armies helps increase regional stability and the ability to face common challenges.”

The exercise will see combat helicopters assisting ground forces, performing emergency evacuations with IAF transport helicopters, directing and escorting forces using visual intelligence and facilitating the movement of logistics equipment through the heavy transport squadrons. 

The drill “constitutes an important component in maintaining the readiness of the IDF for a variety of operational scenarios,” the military said in a statement, adding that “‘military cooperation between the two nations increases joint regional stability and reinforces the ability to face shared security challenges.”

Ahead of the drill that he is expected to visit later in the week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke with his Cypriot counterpart, Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides, on Sunday.

The two men “discussed its relevance to our operational readiness,” Gantz wrote on Twitter, adding that he “emphasized the strategic bond between our countries, which contributes to regional stability.”

“[The drill] highlights the excellent relations between the two countries in recent years in the field of defense and security.”

Cyprus

Shared regional interests

Israel, Cyprus and neighboring Greece are close allies and share a number of strategic interests. While all three have shared economic interests, such as the ambitious project to build an undersea gas pipeline from Israel to Cyprus to Crete to mainland Greece, the countries also hope to keep the Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis from growing.

In light of new rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reportedly sought an explanation for the drill during his recent visit to Israel. According to KAN public broadcaster, Jerusalem informed Ankara that the massive training exercise in Cyprus was related solely to military training.

Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern part of Cyprus in 1974 and tensions between Larnaca and Ankara remain tense.

In March, Cypriot military chief Lt.-Gen. Demokritos Zervakis visited Israel for the first time and met with senior IDF officials, including Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, and held “strategic-operational meetings” that focused on “opportunities to expand cooperation between the two militaries,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said at the time.

Thousands of soldiers and reservists are taking part in the drill dubbed Chariots of Fire, which will see all commands including the Israel Air Force, Israel Navy and regular and reserve forces taking part.

The goal of the three-week drill is to improve the readiness of the entire military and examine the ability of troops to carry out a powerful and prolonged campaign against enemy forces on various fronts simultaneously. According to the IDF, the drill is unique and unprecedented in scope and will enable the army to maintain a high level of readiness in an ever-changing region.

During the drill, the IAF will also practice striking targets far from Israel while troops continue to contend with a multi-front war on the country’s borders.