Israel conducts largest evacuation exercise ever. The question is, why?

Published September 15th, 2016 - 06:20 GMT
The IDF patrols near Lebanese territory in the Shebaa farms region (AFP/Atef Safadi)
The IDF patrols near Lebanese territory in the Shebaa farms region (AFP/Atef Safadi)

On Tuesday, the Israeli army practiced its largest evacuation exercise ever, simulating the clearance of dozens of Israeli towns near the border with Lebanon.

The exercise was carried out to test the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) preparedness “for an irregular, large-scale emergency,” said a post on the IDF’s blog.

The IDF cited Hezbollah’s “stockpiling” of missiles as well as its activity in southern Syria, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, as justification for its evacuation exercise.  

The IDF is also installing concrete barriers and clearing cliffs along the Lebanese border in anticipation of a possible Hezbollah infiltration, according to the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz.

Israel and Hezbollah have not been at war for a decade, so in some ways the IDF’s evacuation exercises and other activities seem like the products of paranoia. However, last week, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that Hezbollah forces were preparing to move into Quneitra province in southern Syria, which borders northeast Israel.

The Fars report said that the objective of Hezbollah’s advance into Quneitra was to battle the Salafist groups that currently hold sway there—not to attempt any kind of attack against Israel, which has remained mostly insulated from the Syrian civil war over the past five years.

But the Jewish state may have other reasons to fear Hezbollah: in February, for example, the Shia militant group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened to launch missiles at the Ammonia plant in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, which he claimed would “equal the same amount of death as an atomic bomb.”

Israel and Hezbollah have also clashed in Syria recently. In April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted that the Israeli Air Force had carried out dozens of airstrikes in recent years against Hezbollah targets in Syria.

In May, when Mustafa Badreddine, Hezbollah’s top commander in Syria, was killed near Damascus, Lebanese TV claimed he’d been taken out by an Israeli airstrike. In reality, it’s still not clear who killed Badreddine.

All told, relations between Israel and Hezbollah have been unprecedently calm over the past ten years, so it may turn out the IDF’s theoretical evacuation is just that: theoretical.  

HS

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