Around two kibbutzim in southern Israel, about 13 miles from the Gazan border, the IDF rehearsed urban combat like that it would encounter during an incursion into the Palestinian self-governing territory.
“There were two parts to the drill,” Cpt. Noam Karavani from the 601st combat engineering battalion of the 40th armored brigade, told the Jerusalem Post Tuesday. “One near Kibbutz Ofakim, and one in Tze’elim.” Karavani said the drills aimed to prepare soldiers “to deal with the mental challenges of war, of how they think professionally in order to win, and test[ing] how troops will face the challenges of the battlefield.”
The drills reportedly drew heavily from the IDF’s 2014 attack on Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, which included a heavy air war on Gaza but also a ground invasion of the Shuja'iyya neighborhood aimed at destroying both rocket launch sites as well as underground tunnels.
“They don’t have any more surprises,” Karavani said. “We know everything, even what he is thinking we have an answer … drones, underground. There’s nothing we aren’t ready for.”
“Without a doubt we are ready to win the next war,” he said. The officer didn’t mention how large the drilling forces were.
They’ll have to step up their game, because Hamas, the militant group that has governed Gaza since 2006, has been drawing lessons from their past engagements, too.
Last Wednesday, Hamas conducted a massive drill that aimed to “test the readiness” of its forces "for a scenario of an extensive attempt to harm public order and stability in the Gaza Strip,” Hamas’ Interior Ministry said in a statement.
At the climax of the drill, which involved police, intelligence units and the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ paramilitary wing, Gazan forces rehearsed capturing an Israeli special forces team that had penetrated Gazan territory.
Haaretz noted the Gazan drill was based on a more recent engagement: the botched Khan Younis incursion last November, in which an IDF special forces team was discovered in the northern Gazan neighborhood and a shootout ensued in which seven Gazans and one IDF soldier were killed. The results of a probe into the soldier’s death were released last week, concluding he’d been felled by friendly fire, the Times of Israel reported.
Just a week before that, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was “preparing for a large-scale military operation, if necessary."
Also last week, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Israel “came close in recent weeks to the possibility of a military operation in Gaza, but it very much depends on what Hamas does in the coming weeks,” Haaretz reported.
A tentative ceasefire agreement has held since mid-May, although incidents such as the release of incendiary balloons into Israel by Hamas and the restriction of Palestinian fishermens’ access to the Mediterranean Sea by Israeli forces have threatened to undo that peace.
The IDF also concluded massive war games last month simulating a war with Hezbollah, a militant group that controls much of southern Lebanon and which fought off an IDF invasion in 2006.