“Despite the rigorous planning and preparation efforts taken in advance, the necessary steps for protecting the environment during the exercise were not taken,” Gamliel wrote to Gantz.


IDF soldiers take part in the "Lethal Arrow" drill (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF soldiers take part in the “Lethal Arrow” drill (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

Environmental Minister Gila Gamliel criticized the IDF and its conduct during a northern operation simulating war with Hezbollah that caused several fires in northern Israel last week. In a letter sent to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Gamliel wrote that “despite the rigorous planning and preparation efforts taken in advance, the necessary steps for protecting the environment during the exercise were not taken.”

Gamliel pointed to severe damage caused to the environment due to the exercise, including three fires that broke out at the Hermon Nature Reserve as a result of IDF troops training nearby. The fires, according to Gamliel, burnt nearly 150 hectares (370 acres) of the reserve’s lands. She added that the damaged areas were “ecologically sensitive areas where rare species of oak trees grow,” and that “it will take decades to rehabilitate the flora and fauna in this area.”

Gamliel then noted an agreement that was signed between the IDF and the Nature and Parks Authority in 2019 and determined that the military is required to update the authority in advance on any planned exercises and to fully cooperate with it in an effort to avoid damaging the environment.

“It’s important to mention that the exercise took place during extreme weather conditions,” and that “the authority objected to the use of live ammunition during this time of year in that area,” Gamliel wrote. Nevertheless, the exercise took place as planned, with the authority only being notified one day prior.

“This severe and unfortunate incident expresses the disrespect and contempt that the IDF holds in regard to the environment and is contradictory to the IDF spirit, which includes patriotism and love for our homeland,” the letter read.  

“The issues mentioned in this letter require your personal intervention,” Gamliel concluded in her letter to Gantz.

On Thursday the IDF completed its “Lethal Arrow” drill that spanned over several days and included thousands of troops from various branches of the military, with the purpose of simulating war with Hezbollah and proxy groups operating far away from Israel’s borders.

The exercise took place after the military completed several offensive plans for the northern front and was aimed to improve the IDF’s offensive capabilities at all echelons from chief of staff down to troops in the field.

During a visit to the site, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the exercise demonstrates “great improvement in the IDF’s offensive capabilities” adding that “those who attack us will meet fire and a steel fist that will destroy any enemy.”


Israeli Army Training Sparks Destructive Fire in Golan Heights Nature Reserve

The drill was conducted in violation of regulations and despite parks authority’s opposition. ‘The damage is enormous,’ one official saidSend in e-mailSend in e-mail

Fires in the Hermon nature reserve, October 2020.
Fires in the Hermon nature reserve, October 2020. Credit: Ami Dorfman / Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Yaniv Kubovich Published on 30.10.2020

The Israeli military conducted training in violation of regulations and against the advice of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority this week, causing fires that consumed 1,500 dunams (around 400 acres) of groves unique to the region.

It will take 40 years to rehabilitate the affected area, Nature authority officials say.

The fire caused by the “Lethal Arrow” military drill in the Hermon reserve, in the Golan Heights near the border with Lebanon, also harmed the habitats of wild animals like crocodiles, foxes, boars, wolves and rare reptiles like the Hermon viper. Nature authority officials said it would take 40 years to rehabilitate the affected area. “The damage is enormous,” one official said.

The army is obliged to ask the authority three months in advance before any exercise using live fire in a nature reserve. Nature authority officials say the request made by the military a few months ago did not include the Hermon reserve. Army liaisons contacted them 10 days ago, they said, seeking to add a training exercise for the commando brigade in the area. The authority declined the request because the fire and rescue commissioner had issued an order forbidding the lighting of fires in open areas. This includes army exercises employing live fire outside of existing shooting zones.

The army decided to hold the training there despite the lack of permission. Shooting caused a fire at the beginning of the exercise, and firefighting crews were called to the area to try and control it.

The army commented that it “trains in areas that simulate reality, among them mountainous and tangled areas that simulate Lebanese territory, like the Hermon region.” The army added: “The exercise in question was approved according to the regulations and at every required level. Actions were taken to ensure quick extinguishment as a preventative measure for possible fires.”

The National Fire and Rescue Authority also criticized the army’s conduct. A senior official in the rescue authority said the military has been ignoring its guidelines for some time, causing huge fires that are very costly to taxpayers. “Despite issuing them warning and trying to appeal to them in various ways, the army simply ignores the situation and causes large areas to be burned,” said the official. “We all understand the need for training, and for live fire too, but you can do it in coordination or in partnership with others to prevent the damage and costs these fires cause for the state.”

The army responded, “The military will review its activities to minimalize future damage from training in these areas.”