In the event of a new conflict with Hezbollah, the IDF would seek to evacuate more than a million civilians in south Lebanon within 24 hours before proceeding to strike thousands of Hezbollah targets in some 240 villages and built-up regions, a senior military source said on Wednesday.
Large-scale Hezbollah rocket and missile fire would be met with civilian evacuations, massive Israeli aerial strikes, followed by a ground offensive, he said.
Discussing a new strategy for dealing with Hezbollah’s battle doctrine of using civilian built-up areas as military bases to rain death and destruction upon Israel, the source spoke as the IDF approached the conclusion of a weeklong drill simulating conflict on multiple fronts, including the Israel Air Force practicing striking of large numbers of targets and simulating conflict in northern combat arenas.
Although the Home Front Command’s role in that drill, which focused on civilian defenses, dominated media coverage of the exercise, the source stressed that the IDF had spent recent days quietly rehearsing large-scale offensive capabilities.
The IDF is training for the eventuality of war even though Hezbollah is unlikely to open a front against Israel at this time given the Shi’ite terrorist organization’s entanglement in Syria where 5,000 to 7,000 of its fighters currently are engaging Sunni rebel groups.
“If we have no choice, we have to evacuate 1 million, 1.5 million residents in Lebanon, and act,” the source said. “Hezbollah should not plan to fire on us and try to kill our civilians, and expect that we would respond by acting according to standards it seems to think only exist here.”
Failure to evacuate the civilian population would result in many thousands of non-combatant deaths, according to IDF assessments.
Air force readiness is a central priority for the IDF, the source said, and its ability to up offensive strike capabilities is a central theme of recent force-building activities.
Hezbollah is “in distress” in Syria and is in strategic trouble despite attempts by its leader Hassan Nasrallah to deliver morale-boosting speeches recently, the source continued.
An initial Hezbollah offensive in the Qalamoun-Arsal regions of western Syria has stalled, and it is trying to hide its losses and boost the confidence of Lebanese Shi’ites with a media blitz.
In recent days, the IAF held a series of drills, the aim of which was to improve its ability to fire large numbers of precision-guided munitions at targets hidden in built up areas in a short period of time. The exercise also tested the IAF’s ability to maintain operations despite its bases being targeted by guided Hezbollah missile attacks.
A new operational air force control center set up in August also was tested in the series of exercises.
“We strengthened our readiness for the northern arena,” an IAF senior officer said.
Among the drills carried out, the source said, was one designed to improve cooperation with ground forces and a second to improve combat integration with the navy. Separately, the IAF held its own drill to test attack capabilities in response to northern threats, including in the Syrian arena where advanced air defenses, like the SA-17 surface-to-air missile system, are in place.