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Drones, F-35s feature in Israel’s largest military drill in years as Iran tensions rise

Drones, F-35s feature in Israel’s largest military drill in years as Iran tensions rise
Israel has held its largest military drill in years, simulating war with an unnamed “challenging and responsive” enemy amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran, a conflict it has long cheered from the sidelines.

The massive four-day drill included thousands of army, navy, and air force troops, a large drone contingent and a missile defense system designed with the “Iranian threat” in mind. Israel’s F-35A stealth fighter also made its debut, adding “lethality and multi-role capabilities” the exercises previously lacked, an Israeli Air Force official told reporters. Its 14-strong fleet of F-35s features outer wings designed to minimize their radar profiles.

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The adversary was not named, though an Israeli Defense Force report described it as “a thinking, challenging and responsive enemy with technologies and capabilities beyond today’s arena.” The IDF denied the drill had anything to do with current tensions between its US allies and Iran, insisting the exercises had been planned long in advance and focused on threats coming from the north - i.e. Hezbollah.

The IDF ran through offensive and defensive exercises simulating conflict with Hezbollah and fighting in Gaza and Syria, both of which have been frequent bombing targets in recent months. They also ran simulations of heavy missile and rocket bombardment of Israel, as well as scenarios in which the enemy was equipped with Russian-built S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems. The drills, which “involved full cooperation between the air force and the ground forces,” were called “unique” in an IDF report, which boasted the military had “reached the highest level of cooperation in the last decade.”

We are not happy to go to war,” President Reuven Rivlin said on Tuesday, “but the military is fully prepared to respond to any threat and any scenario.” He specifically called out Hezbollah, warning the group “not to subordinate Lebanon to Iran’s agenda” or use Lebanon “as a launching pad for attacks against Israel.”

Israel many not be “happy” for its own military to go to war, but until very recently, it was one of the loudest cheerleaders backing the Trump administration’s hawkish policy toward Iran. PM Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted in February about Israel’s “common interest of war with Iran” with other Arab countries, hastily deleting the English translation of the tweet to replace it with “combating Iran” - though his original comments in Hebrew remained.

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While Israeli intelligence is believed to be the source of the ultra-vague tip the Pentagon used as its rationale to send the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf, the usual bellicose rhetoric has been largely absent from the PM’s office. Netanyahu broke his silence to weigh in on the drill, however.

"I hear our neighbors from the north, south and east threatening our destruction,” he said. “I say to our enemies: The IDF has very great destructive power. Don't test us.”

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