Russian efforts to reach a truce between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the various rebel groups in Syria appear to be progressing, so Israel is already preparing for the day after, when it is safe to expect that Jihadists will turn their attention to the “Zionist enemy.”
According to Israeli media reports, the Golani Brigade ran a series of exercises last week in the Golan Heights and near the Lebanese border, in preparation for war with the Islamic State (ISIS) and Hezbollah — two sworn enemies in the civil war.
Despite a string of minor breaches, the IDF views the Syrian border as stable, although it makes certain to retaliate for every violation of Israeli sovereignty, no matter how minor. Over the past two years, each time an errant shell landed in an open field on Israel’s side of the border, it was followed by a barrage of Israeli artillery or an aerial bombing of the source.
So far, neither the Islamist militias nor certainly the Syrian army have been interested in provoking the IDF.
But Northern Command Chief Gen. Aviv Kochavi is directing his troops’ training programs to prepare for Jihadist attacks using machine guns, anti-tank rockets, and mortars, as well as attempts to penetrate the border. Last week’s training exercise in Golani dealt with just such scenarios, involving coordinated invasion attempts by the Jihadist groups in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. One entire battalion, according to reports, took on the role of the local civilian Arab population, in an attempt to isolate them from the fighting.
The maneuver emphasized profuse use of megaphones by IDF commanders who speak Arabic, to warn Arab civilians about IDF activity against the rebel groups, encouraging them to keep away from those groups. In most cases, the IDF does not regard local Arab villagers in south Syria and Lebanon as necessarily hostile.
Many local civilians who had been injured during the civil war were evacuated to Israeli hospitals to receive treatment, which, hopefully, established a positive rapport between the villagers and Israel.
Still, the IDF has no illusions about the Hezbollah being able to divert its forces from the Syrian campaign to the Israeli border following a possible truce, which is why last week’s training maneuvers also included a refresher course on fighting in dense, urban populations, including vertical fighting inside high rise buildings, resembling the conditions in the Hezbollah dominated coastal Lebanese cities.
Part of the IDF new thinking about the post-Syrian truce reality focuses on logistics, with the assumption the should a war break out with Lebanon and possibly with Syria, the IDF is likely to penetrate much deeper into enemy territory than it did during Second Lebanon War. Effective distribution of food, ammunition, equipment and fuel, as well as rescue operations, will necessarily have to reach as far into the same territory as the fighting forces, which will require a high level of cooperation among land and air troops.