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Bracing for Gaza clash, IDF launches urban- and tunnel-warfare exercise

Infantry, engineering and armored forces simulate fighting conditions in Gaza’s densely populated ‎neighborhoods, sewer ‎systems and grid of Hamas terror tunnels • ‎GOC Homefront Command: In the next war, people in Tel Aviv won’t be sitting in cafes.

Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevy (center), the chief of the Israeli Southern Command, visits the scene where a building was hit by a rocket fired by Hamas in Gaza in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva on Oct. 17, 2018. Photo by Flash90.
Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevy (center), the chief of the Israeli Southern Command, visits the scene where a building was hit by a rocket fired by Hamas in Gaza in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva on Oct. 17, 2018. Photo by Flash90.

The Israeli military this week concluded a combined urban- and ‎tunnel-warfare exercise simulating fighting in the Gaza Strip. The ‎Israel Defense Forces’ Spokesperson’s Unit said the drill, the 11th of its kind to be held ‎this year, was part of the military’s routine wartime-readiness program. ‎

But according to official, the timing of the drill—just two ‎weeks after the worst flare-up on the Israel-Gaza Strip ‎border since 2014, as well as the fact that it included extreme case scenarios—was meant as a message to Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza. ‎

The drill, which concluded on Wednesday, was led by the Kfir ‎Brigade, the largest infantry brigade in the IDF. It included ‎Engineering and Armored corps’ forces, as well as the canine ‎special-forces unit, Oketz.‎

The troops simulated various offensive and defensive ‎scenarios in Gaza’s densely populated ‎neighborhoods, as well as underground, in the Strip’s sewer ‎system and Hamas’s extensive grid of terror tunnels. ‎

They also drilled combat capabilities such as shooting, sniping, ‎handling explosives, rushing fortified areas, dealing with enemies ‎using human shields, and evacuating the wounded under fire.‎

‎“The training strives to accurately simulate the combat reality and allow ‎the troops to improved their urban warfare and counterterrorism ‎skills,” said Kfir Brigade Commander Col. Zion Ratzon.‎

“This type of training greatly enhances the Kfir Brigade’s ability execute its ‎missions. I’m sure that after the intense ‎training of the last two months we, as a brigade, are better ‎prepared to face the enemy in the sectors in which we operate. The ‎brigade commanders spare no effort to prepare the troops for the ‎operational and ethical challenges they may face on the ground,” ‎he said. ‎

Also on Wednesday, GOC Homefront Command Maj. Gen. Tamir ‎Yadai warned that “in the next war, we won’t see a situation where ‎there’s fighting in Gaza or the northern border but people in Tel ‎Aviv are sitting in cafes, sipping coffee. That’s a thing of the past.”‎

Speaking at a briefing for newly elected mayors in southern Israel, ‎Yadai ‎noted that 2019 “will pose different and more complex threats ‎and challenges for Israel.” ‎

“There is no dispute over the fact that the Israeli ‎homefront will face challenging times in the next war, especially ‎with respect to the ability to ensure civilian access to municipal ‎services,” he said. “Israeli society’s resilience will be largely determined by ‎municipal resilience ‎in emergency situations.”

Yadai’s comment about the “coffee-sipping” residents of Tel Aviv drew widespread criticism, as he was accused of making them seem callous and uncaring in the face of the hardships endured by residents living along the Israeli border with Gaza.

The criticism prompted the IDF ‎Spokesperson’s Unit to issue a statement clarifying that “Maj. Gen. ‎Yadai sought to stress that in the next war, the residents of central ‎Israel, including Tel Aviv, would also come under fire and their ‎normal routine will likely be disrupted. He did not mean to criticize ‎Tel Avivians.”

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