Israel prepares for potential escalation in north

IDF troops in Gaza on December 14, 2023. (IDF)

Israel has carried out an exercise in northern Israel dubbed “Valuable Time” as the IDF prepares for potential escalation in the north. The drill came on Friday, December 15 as Hezbollah continued to threaten Israel illustrating the need for the IDF to drill in the north. “Soldiers in mandatory and reserve duty have been conducting training exercises to increase readiness for various operational scenarios on the northern border,” the IDF said.

The announcement came as Israeli aircraft struck terrorist infrastructure in Lebanon and eliminated a terrorist who the IDF said was operating near Zarit, an Israeli community on the border. “Furthermore, IDF soldiers struck two armed terrorists operating near the area of Yaroun in Lebanon this morning,” the IDF added.

As part of the Valuable Time drill, IDF reservists are increasing their readiness for further operations. These reservists are some of the 350,000 reserves Israel called up after the Hamas attack from Gaza on October 7. Some of the reservists have been positioned along the northern border. For instance, the Alexandroni brigade and the 8th Armored brigade have been deployed to the north. I was able to join a training with these two units a week ago. They trained to use infantry and tanks, along with combat engineers, to take a mock village. The training took place in the Golan in a valley, with troops moving parallel to a dirt road and using live fire to shoot targets. This is just one example of the kind of training the IDF is conducting.

“The soldiers are training for a range of circumstances, including daytime and nighttime combat, as well as urban and rural warfare. They are undergoing operational artillery training and receiving certification to operate various types of weapons. The exercises are being conducted on a number of levels, from the platoon level to the battalion combat teams, in order to best simulate integrated joint combat,” the IDF said.

Meanwhile on the northern border, an Israel Air Force helicopter and aircraft were used to strike Hezbollah targets on December 15. The IDF said there had been rocket launches from Lebanon and that air defenses intercepted the threats.

The sense of possible escalation in the future is clear in Israel. While ground operations in Gaza have now stretched on for a month and a half, Israel’s head of the IDF’s military Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, held a situational assessment on December 14 with the head of Israel’s southern command and key commanders operating in Gaza. “This is a multi-arena campaign and there are many months ahead. And now the ability to destroy Hamas and to release hostages and missing to enable their return is very important,” Haliva said.

While the north is one arena, the battle in Gaza is the primary focus for Israel today. The IDF said its 162nd division in Gaza uncovered a Hamas ambush. Israeli forces destroyed the command and control center of the Hamas Shujaiya battalion, the IDF noted. Shujaiya is a dense urban battlefield, and the IDF has been struggling to take the area over the last week. The IDF said they are now using the new Maoz loitering munition in Gaza. This is a kind of small kamikaze drone, or “loitering munition,” also known as the FireFly. Along with the precision Iron Sting mortar, it is one of the new weapons the IDF is using in Gaza in this war.

The IDF also expanded operations in Gaza to carry out strikes on Hamas targets near the Egyptian border. “The sites that were struck in the Rafah area, where Hamas terrorists were operating, facilitated the smuggling efforts,” the IDF said. This is a sensitive area, because humanitarian aid comes through areas near the Egyptian border.

Casualties among hostages continued to mount in Gaza as well. “During an operation in Gaza, the bodies of the hostages Corporal Nik Beizer and Sergeant Ron Sherman were recovered by IDF soldiers and brought back to Israel,” the IDF said. The body of hostage Elie Toledano was also recovered. The IDF does not reveal when the hostages were killed, however the recovery of the bodies reduces the number of hostages believed to be held in Gaza. 132 hostages are held by Hamas and terrorist groups in Gaza. The IDF has now lost 450 soldiers since the October 7 attack, more than 115 killed since ground operations began on October 27 in Gaza.

Reporting from Israel, Seth J. Frantzman is an adjunct fellow at FDD and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal. He is the acting news editor and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post. 

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