IN DEPTH: Five World Military Drills, One After the Other

YERUSHALAYIM -
A view of the IDF military drill in northern Israel, last week. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The IDF completed its massive, 10-day drill in the north this week. But Israel wasn’t the only one holding a military drill this week. The Russian and Egyptian militaries have also been drilling on large scale. In “Feisel 11,” the Egyptians and Saudis held joint air maneuvers in Egypt.

In addition, the Egyptians are scheduled to hold joint exercises with the U.S. in the coming days. Dubbed “Bright Star,” it will include planes, tanks, ships and submarines.

This is “the season” for intelligence agencies around the world to monitor such military operations, in order to ascertain the level of proficiency of the armies, and what surprises they may have been developing.

This week, vacations were cancelled for intel officials in western countries, and NATO in particular, and all eyes were on the big Russian drill, called Zapad 2017, with Belorussian units, air, ground and naval forces.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “we know from experience that Russia conceals more than it divulges in these operations. For example, they said they would have 12,000 soldiers taking part, but we know that the figure is actual over 100,000. Therefore, we are watching it very carefully.”

NATO, which has been conducting its own exercises in Europe this summer, has stationed four battalions — including U.S. troops — in the Baltic states and Poland, and was on alert during the Zapad operation. Thousands of troops were stationed on the eastern borders just in case.

The scenario Russian and Belarusian forces are playing out involves a “Western Coalition” of imaginary states: Lubenia, Vesbaria and Veishnoria, in which Russian and Western observers see similarities to NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. In the war game scenario, the three enemies are attempting to change the regime in Minsk, turn Belarus against Russia, and annex parts of Belarus to Veishnoria.

The first phase of the drills pits Russian and Belarusan forces against “illegal armed formations” and “saboteur groups” of the Western Coalition that have infiltrated Belarus.

The Russian announcement Thursday was accompanied by a reassurance — repeated by Moscow for weeks — that the current exercise is “of an entirely defensive nature and is not aimed at any other states.”

But Western officials were not reassured. In the Baltics last week they said they saw the games as a rehearsal of the capability to seal off Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and deny access to the Baltic Sea to NATO forces attempting to come to their rescue. They also see a larger strategic goal: to demonstrate to U.S. and NATO leaders the high cost of defending the Baltics, and thus bringing into question the viability of the alliance.

Furthermore, in the past, large military drills like this have preceded actual Russian invasions (of Georgia in 2008, and Crimea in 2014).

Earlier in the year, Egypt and Russia held joint naval exercises. Next month, the two countries have scheduled exercises for paratroop units in Russia.

This week, senior Egyptian army officials who visited the drill in Russia and had discussions with their counterparts there in preparation for the drill, returned to Cairo. At the same time it was reported that the Egyptian delegation signed an extensive agreement with the Russians to hold ongoing military exercises between the armies, both in Egypt, on Russian soil, as well as in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean.

Egypt, of course, has no real enemies that threaten it, thus it is interesting to follow the “scenario of the exercise” and against whom exactly it was undertaken. It is unlikely that it is against the Libyans, who are disassociated from any military capability, nor against the Sudanese, so only one option remains: the planning is being carried out against the state bordering them from east – Israel.

Although the clandestine military ties between the two countries are good, the Egyptian army continues to prepare for the next major war, buying helicopters and advanced aircraft, equipping themselves with hundreds of new tanks and Russian combat helicopters that have just left the production line, while ordering new submarines from the Germans.

This week, Vladimir Kogin, a senior Russian arms manufacturer, revealed that Russia had begun to supply Egyptian Air Force the latest MiG-29 fighter jets. Five such fighter jets have already been delivered to the Egyptian army and all the rest will arrive later this year, according to the agreement.

All this equipping and preparing, which of course requires close monitoring of the Egyptians, despite all the seemingly good relations that Israel has with them.

Meanwhile, in Israel, tens of thousands of soldiers completed Thursday the Ohr Hadagan military exercise, held over the last 12 days in northern Israel. Its initiators are satisfied with what they have just learned, and will learn what lessons are to be learned, and what will be corrected from what they have undergone over the past days.

The Northern Corps exercise is a unique and unprecedented exercise, in the scope that it is possible to maintain a high level of professionalism in the IDF as a whole, while practicing training in unexpected and changing combat situations.

Alongside the military exercise, it was a drill for defending the borders of Israel, as well as maintaining the current stability in the northern region, which is of the highest concern to the IDF.

The Northern Corps, which conducted the drill, is a corps subordinate to the Northern Command. The corps is activated during emergency situations, chas v’shalom, and will participate in the various combat scenarios on the northern border. The corps functions as a unit at the operational level. Its purpose is to enable the Command to deal with planning, strategy and missions in the command area.

The commander of the corps is Maj. Gen. Tamir Heiman, who took up this position two years ago and served concurrently as the commander of the National Security College.

The IDF and the defense establishment have no doubt that in the course of the major drill that was held this past fortnight, all the neighboring countries and even more distant countries have made great efforts to follow the Israeli exercise, its trends and its conduct and its achievements. To thwart these efforts, any and every means was undertaken to withhold leaks or details from the exercise.