Israel sends message to Iran and Hezbollah in first-ever US Army drill

    WORLD  08 June 2023 - 22:02

    The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has sent a message to Iran and its regional partners, including Lebanon's Hezbollah, with the first-ever joint training between the Israeli and U.S. armies.

    The drill was part of a massive two-week IDF series of exercises known as "Firm Hand" that wrapped up on June 7, which simulated an all-out conflict. It came amid heightened tensions with Iran, which recently previewed a new hypersonic missile, and Hezbollah, which possesses its own stockpile of precision-guided munitions, Newsweek reports.

    "Israel has always been under a lot of threats from all around," Israeli Major Dov Lang, commander of the IDF's 7th Armored Brigade that took part in the exercises, told Newsweek, "and Israel is always ready for anything that's coming."

    "And I think the U.S. has seen the strength and the capability of the [Israeli] army," he added, "and I think the fact that the U.S. Army came here just strengthens our alliance and our trust in the U.S. Army."

    In fact, Lang said that "the main goal of this drill," which involved U.S. Army Central Command (ARCENT) and its Task Force Spartan, was "to demonstrate the power of the alliance to the world."

    But perhaps even more importantly, Lang said the two armies got the opportunity to learn from one another and identify challenges in crossing technological, doctrinal and even language gaps between the longtime allies. Among the key training elements he identified was urban warfare tactics.

    "The most important thing that I got was the trust and the knowledge that, if needed, then we can fight together," Lang said.

    Newsweek has reached out to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Army Central Command for comment.

    The broader "Firm Hand" exercises also encompass units of Israel's air force, navy and cyber units as part of a multi-front war scenario.

    "The exercise will test the IDF's readiness for an intense, prolonged campaign in a multitude of arenas," an IDF statement read. "Active duty and reserve troops from all commands, branches and directorates will participate in the exercise. They will train in handling challenges and developing events in a number of arenas simultaneously."

    Special attention is being paid to Israel's northern borders with Lebanon and Syria, two countries with which Israel is technically at war, both of whom host militias friendly with Iran. Among the most powerful and influential of these groups is Hezbollah, which held a large-scale exercise of its own near the Israeli border late last month.

    Israel has fought two major wars against Hezbollah and a number of border skirmishes over the decades. During a visit to the Northern Command amid the "Firm Hand" drills, Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant threatened to "send Lebanon back to the stone age" in the event that If Hezbollah makes a mistake and starts a war against Israel," according to local media.

    Just as the IDF asserts its always ready for action, so does Hezbollah.

    "There are no feelings of anxiety among Hezbollah's leadership and its members," a Hezbollah spokesperson told Newsweek, "but they are always prepared for any hostility committed against the sovereignty of Lebanon."

    The Hezbollah spokesperson pointed to the group's recent exercises as "evidence" of just a "small part of its preparations and strength, whether moral or even physical, and the enormous capabilities of the soldiers of Hezbollah."

    Meanwhile, frictions have worsened between Israel and Iran as the two nations continued to exchange threats.

    With the U.S. having abandoned a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran and other powers in 2018 and efforts to restore the deal unraveling last year, Tehran has pressed forward with nuclear developments in the face of Washington's ongoing sanctions campaign.

    The Islamic Republic has always denied seeking a nuclear bomb, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has increasingly sounded the alarm. On Sunday, the Israeli premier reiterated his threat to strike Iran unilaterally if it meant stopping the nation from developing a weapon of mass destruction, a capability Israel itself is widely believed to possess, or pursuing other means of threatening his country's security.

    "We are committed to acting against the Iranian nuclear program, against missile attacks on the State of Israel and against the possibility of the fronts becoming linked, what we call a multi-front campaign," Netanyahu told an Israeli Security Cabinet meeting ⁶in in the midst of the "Firm Hand" exercise.

    The following day, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that President Joe Biden's administration also reserved the right to use force against Iran.

    "We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to verifiably, effectively, and sustainably prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," Blinken said during an annual summit of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "In parallel, economic pressure and deterrence reinforce our diplomacy."

    "If Iran rejects the path of diplomacy," he added, "then—as President Biden has repeatedly made clear—all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon."

    Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani hit back on Wednesday, calling Blinken's comments "in line with his country's all-out support for the apartheid Zionist regime," and argued that Iran would remain supportive of Palestinians locked in a decades-long territorial feud with Israel that has turned especially violent over the past year.

    "The threat of resorting to force by the U.S. against other governments is against international law," Kanaani said, "especially the provisions of the United Nations Charter, and accordingly, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not hesitate to strengthen its deterrent power and protect its rights and security."

    The remarks came after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unveiled a new hypersonic missile called Fattah, with banners in Tehran claiming the weapon could reach Tel Aviv in 400 seconds, or under seven minutes. The weapon was said to be capable of maneuvering above and below the Earth's atmosphere at speeds between Mach 13 and 15 with a range of 1,400 kilometers, or 870 miles.

    And while IRGC personnel lauded the weapon's role in shoring up Iran's deterrence, officials do not believe a war is imminent, despite comments being voiced by foes and the recent joint military exercises.

    "Our assessment is that we are far from a military conflict right now, so we aren't worried about hostile rhetoric that turns into action," the Iranian Mission to the U.N. told Newsweek. "Hostile rhetoric like this is mostly for domestic policy consumption."

    As the IDF touts its own deterrence with the recent war games involving U.S. forces, however, the message from Israel is more than one of conflict.

    IDF Lieutenant Colonel Eliran Ben Shetrit, the head organizer of the maneuvers, told Newsweek that Israel's foes "will see two strong armies that can decide to exercise together," but that there was more to what he called a "great exercise" that achieved its goal of bringing the Israeli and U.S. armies closer together.

    The drills came as IDF and U.S. personnel participated together in another exercise, the U.S.-led African Lion drills, hosted by Morocco, one of four Arab nations alongside Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan to have established ties with Israel in the series of U.S.-brokered agreements that began in 2019 known as the Abraham Accords.

    Israel has also sought to court other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, however, the Kingdom would go on to forge a China-mediated deal to reestablish relations with Iran in March. Still, Israel has held out hope for more peaceful movement in the region, something Shetrit hoped the latest Israel-U.S. exercise could help accomplish.

    Citing his commander, Shetrit said that "when great armies come together, they can make peace, not only war."

    "So, I believe that when all our neighbors watch us train together," Shetrit said, "it opens the opportunity to come together and be stronger in our neighborhood in the Middle East."


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