(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)
The Israeli military’s Commando Brigade launched a large-scale exercise this week to practice fighting the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip and the Hezbollah terrorist militia in Lebanon simultaneously, the army said Saturday. The drill is continuing into this week.
In the past, Israeli defense analysts have speculated that concerns over the prospect of a two-front war prevented the military from launching a major campaign in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the coastal enclave.
The exercise, and the Israel Defense Forces’ publicity of it, appeared to serve as a message to the two terrorist groups that Israel was prepared for such an eventuality.
According to the military, the commando exercise began earlier this week and was expected to last 10 days. Soldiers from the Maglan, Egoz, and Duvdevan units took part in the drill.
It included significant cooperation with the Israeli Air Force, which both transported the commandos and carried out airstrikes alongside them.
“During the exercise, the brigade practiced fighting between different landscapes and arenas, combat in open fields and urban combat,” the army said.
The military said the purpose of the exercise was to improve the commando brigade’s preparedness for war. It was the unit’s sixth brigade-wide exercise since it was created in December 2015.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot observed the exercise earlier this week.
During his visit, the head of the Commando Brigade Col. Kobi Heller told Eisenkot that his unit was “ready and prepared for any scenario in which it is needed and will stand up to any enemy in any arena.”
The Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, is believed to possess an arsenal of some 10,000 rockets and mortar shells. Israel has fought three wars with the terror group in the past decade, and has repeatedly been on the verge of a fourth over the past eight months as Hamas has led a campaign of border violence and occasional rocket and mortar fire at southern Israel.
Earlier this month, the terror group, partnering with the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, launched some 500 rockets and mortar shells at Israel, killing one person and injuring dozens more.
In response, the Israeli military launched strikes against some 160 targets in the Gaza Strip connected to the two terror groups, killing seven people, most of whom were later identified as members of terrorist organizations, including some who were in the process of launching projectiles at Israel at the time they were killed.
The battle ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, which has largely held since November 13, but with considerable criticism within Israel, including by former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, who resigned in protest of it, calling it “capitulation to terror.”
However, the IDF does not see Hamas as a serious military threat. Rather, the terror group is effectively allowed to remain in power as the Israeli government fears an even more extremist organization could take its place were it to be defeated.
The Iran-backed, Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist army, however, is considered by the military to be a significant strategic threat. With over 100,000 rockets and missiles in its arsenal, Hezbollah is seen by some defense analysts as more powerful than some Western militaries.
Israel fought a 34-day war with the terror group in Lebanon in 2006. Since then, the Lebanese border has been quieter than in the years preceding the conflict. However, Hezbollah has used the time to build up its arsenals considerably, with more precise and dangerous munitions, and has gained considerable experience and training by fighting alongside the Russian and Syrian militaries in the Syrian civil war in support of dictator Bashar Assad.