IDF launches surprise drill along Gaza border

Military says three-day drill was planned in advance as part of annual training exercises.

An IDF helicopter and soldiers during a training exercise for the 401th Brigade (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
An IDF helicopter and soldiers during a training exercise for the 401th Brigade
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
The army launched a surprise three-day drill along the Gaza Strip border simulating various scenarios, including war with terrorist groups in the coastal enclave, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced Sunday.
The drill, which will examine the operational readiness of troops for various combat scenarios “especially in the Gaza Strip,” will include ground troops, artillery and aircraft, the IDF said in a statement.
The exercise will also include moving large numbers of troops to different regions, amassing forces in designated locations, live-fire exercises and aerial maneuvers, the army added.
While it was a surprise, the drill had been planned as part of the army’s training schedule.
“We emphasize that the exercise was planned as part of the training program and is intended to maintain the readiness and readiness of the forces,” the IDF statement said.
Nevertheless, the drill comes amid heightened tensions along the Gaza border, and on the heels of an Intelligence Directorate warning about a high probability of military escalation this year in both Gaza and the West Bank.
As one of his first acts as chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi went to the Southern Command and met with senior officers. Kochavi approved operational plans in the event of war, including setting up a centralized administrative unit to prepare a list of potential targets in Gaza.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the second largest terrorist group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas, was also assessed as a factor in increasing the risk of escalation, since it is not under the direct control of Hamas and acts independently for its own interests.
The IDF has warned that both Hamas and PIJ have restored their military capabilities to their pre-2014 strength. It expects that in the next war, southern communities bordering the Strip will be incessantly pounded with rocket and mortar attacks. Due to that threat, Kochavi has ordered an increase of two Iron Dome anti-missile batteries, which will see Israel have a total of 10 Iron Dome batteries: eight manned by conscript soldiers and two by reservists.
In January, former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gadi Eisenkot said the military had thwarted the smuggling of 15,000-20,000 rockets into the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Despite that, 2018 saw the most serious violence between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza since the end of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, with more than 1,000 rockets fired.
The drill also comes as the IDF faces criticism and allegations by former military ombudsman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, that the military, especially the Ground Forces, was not ready for a large-scale war.