JERUSALEM – As high-ranking American military commanders arrived in Israel this week in advance of the forthcoming Austere Challenge 12 drill with IDF units, Israel’s military resolve was tested by Iranian proxy militias in Gaza and Lebanon during the recent Sukkot and Simchat Torah holidays.
Hizbullah’s UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) espionage mission earlier this week was discovered by an Israeli Air Force (IAF) radar unit as the unarmed Iranian-built drone flew along the Mediterranean coastline before being shot down by an IAF F-16 over the Yatir Forest near Beersheba. This prompted the Israel Defense Forces to move an American-built Patriot anti-aircraft/anti-missile unit to the Mt. Carmel plateau just outside Haifa. According to Israel’s Channel 10 News, Iran has supplied Hizbullah with dozens of UAVs, some of which can be armed with an explosive weapon.
While several Israel military TV and newspaper correspondents reported that the Iranian drones were nearly 20 years behind Israel’s advanced UAV technology, they also acknowledged that the Iranian UAVs had the operational capability of filming and launching an attack against sensitive installations such as the Dimona nuclear reactor and IAF bases. The upgraded Patriot batteries are meant to complement Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system and are capable of toppling drones, as well as missiles.
At least one Iron Dome system was repositioned near Sderot on Wednesday, after several kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip and the southern town of Netivot experienced a heavy barrage of mortar, Kassam and Grad rocket fire from terror groups inside Gaza over the past few days. While no one was seriously injured during the attacks, an IDF Southern Command officer told Channel 10 News that Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists were in possession of sophisticated multiple rocket launchers that can be remotely operated. This makes it more difficult for IDF units to identify the location of the launchers and their terrorist commanders.
During the past few weeks, the IDF has beefed up its contingent of Nagmash (Leopard) armored carriers along the Gaza border. The state-of-the-art Leopard, which is mounted on a Merkava-4 tank chassis and can transport at least 12 troops deep into enemy territory at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour while firing mortars and machine guns, would be used in any lightning incursion into Gaza or Southern Lebanon. That scenario’s goal is to wipe out terrorist missile squads.
The Austere Challenge 12 drill will feature contingents of American and Israeli soldiers from both offshore naval units and land-based air defense units. They will integrate their anti-missile systems to defend Israel against a variety of simulated enemy missile salvos. The Israeli systems will be highlighted by Iron Dome, Arrow and Magic Wand, the latter offering a new defense against mid-range missiles within 18 months.
The drill comes on the heels of a report in the latest edition of Foreign Policy magazine, whereby a former Clinton administration official said that the U.S. and Israel are working on a plan that would involve a joint U.S.-Israel surgical air force and missile strike team to potentially be used against key Iranian nuclear and military installations. The objective would be to set back the Iranian nuclear program by several years – without igniting a full-scale regional war. The Iranian regime has threatened to launch ballistic missiles against Israeli cities and American bases in the Middle East in the event of an attack against its nuclear sites.