Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of armored vehicles dealt with simulated antitank missiles, rockets and mortar shells – as well as motorcycle-riding Hezbollah operatives. The deep mud caused by last weekend's rain storm made the drill even more challenging.
"These are two brigades that fight shoulder to shoulder," a senior officer told Ynet. "The training facilitated a simulation of an operational environment, which requires the commanders to talk among themselves, for example to coordinate fire… These are the things that we expect to happen during combat."
Considering Lebanon's recent report that its military experts have dismantled alleged Israeli spy equipment, IDF officials emphasized that the escalated army activity was for training purposes only.
The senior officer said the intensive exercise and the IDF's new technology will boost troops' capabilities on the battlefield. "It is now possible to shoot a larger number of targets over a shorter period of time," he said.
Snow in the Golan Heights this week. Photo: Avihu Shapira
Soldiers stayed in tanks for 14-15 hours
Each of the two brigades, which belong to the 162nd Division, has been designated a role for a possible confrontation with Hezbollah. The drill was the closing event in a training process that has lasted for 13 weeks. As part of the event, 401st Brigade tanks have driven across no less than 8,000 km (4,970 miles), mostly in mountainous terrain.
"In some cases, the soldiers didn't leave the tank for 14 or 15 hours, you do what you have to do inside," the 401st Regiment commander Enav Shalev said. "Lebanon's story is the mountainous terrain, the antitank missile. We learn from it, we come there humbly. I respect my enemy, I know he trains and studies, and makes my people sweat despite the severe cold."
Various new technologies were tested during the drill, among them a digital communications system which allows for quick transfer of assignments from one unit to another through a computer screen. IDF sources say that the system greatly improves operational efficiency.
"The ability to activate the air force has been made easier, considering the significant preparation that has been taking place, with emphasis on collaborative learning," the senior officer explained.
The active protection system dubbed Windbreaker has also been put into use, allowing tanks to perform assignments previously deemed too dangerous.
Various scenarios were tested as part of the drill, at the end of which the two brigades fought each other. IDF officials note that this exercise has taken military training to the next level.
"We conducted a battlefield simulation, in the most advanced way possible for the army," Shalev said. "Each exercise had targets that rose and fell at particular times, and each target had cameras that allowed us to examine what really happened.
"The bottom line is, we faced everything that could happen on the Lebanon side," he added.
Supposed Israeli spy equipment dismantled in Lebanon. (Photo: AP)
'Next war, we'll do better'
Under normal circumstances, the 401st Regiment secures all the problematic zones, especially the Gaza Strip. In case of combat, according to Shalev, the troops are primarily preparing for a confrontation with Hezbollah.
"I don't belittle what is going on in Gaza, we have many challenges that must be dealt with there, but Lebanon is a different story," he said. "The (commander) who trains for Lebanon properly, and challenges his people in preparation for Lebanon, will be ready (for Gaza) as well."
When it comes to the intelligence that reaches the strategic forces – an area that turned out to be problematic during the Second Lebanon War – Shalev said that he certain that he gets all the information he can possibly get. "I don’t think there's one person today at the level of second lieutenant level or even lower, who wouldn't know what to expect in Lebanon if he is sent there tomorrow."
A senior officer noted that the drill has made the combat forces confident in their abilities.
"When it comes to being qualified, we are in the best place that a commander can aim for," he said. "I have no doubt that in the next war, the results will be better."
- Follow Ynetnews on Facebook