JERUSALEM, Israel –The Israel Defense Forces completed a major drill Tuesday simulating a future war in the Gaza Strip.
The military said the soldiers spent three days rehearsing urban warfare, combined air-ground fighting, and other drills at the Tzeelim training base in southern Israel.
While this was just a simulation, it could quickly become reality.
That's the message Strategic Affairs Ministry official Dr. Kobi Michael told reporters during a phone briefing Wednesday morning.
"The Gaza Strip is a very, very sensitive arena," Dr. Michael explained. However, he said the biggest threat in Gaza isn't Hamas – it's Iran.
"The problem is not only Hamas. The problem is mainly Iran and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is the proxy of Iran. Iran has, I would say, the high motivation to escalate the situation in the Gaza Strip because they want to keep the Gaza Strip as an active hub against Israel because they believe as long as the IDF are occupied in the Gaza Strip, they will be less capable in Syria."
Iran has entrenched itself in war-torn Syria along with Russia and Turkey. All of these countries are vying for valuable territory. Iran could use Syria to create a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean, which poses a major security threat to the Jewish State.
"I think the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as an Iranian proxy is challenging Hamas, and I think they might escalate the situation even though Hamas doesn't want to escalate the situation, at least not to the level - not to the degree - that the Iranians and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad want to," he added.
When asked if Israel's upcoming elections in April plays a role in Hamas' provocations on the Gaza border, Dr. Michael said: "There's no doubt about it."
"The government of Israel does not want to escalate the situation before the elections," he explained, noting that if Hamas crosses a line, "Israel's response will be very aggressive."
The West Bank also poses a security threat to Israel. Just last week an IDF soldier was wounded during a riot that broke out there. Israeli police arrested five Palestinians suspected of terrorism against Jewish communities in Gush Etzion.
But out of all the threats facing Israel in Gaza and the West Bank, Dr. Michael believes Jerusalem is most likely the next location for a major escalation. The Temple Mount has been the site of tension and clashes between Israeli police and Muslim worshippers in recent days.
An escalation on the Temple Mount, which is considered a holy site in Islam, would attract the attention of the Muslim World, Dr. Michael explained.
Last week, PA President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of "waging a war against Islam" following a riot over a closed section on the Temple Mount.
"Now regards to the Temple Mount, I think Israel understands the sensitivity," Dr. Michael advised, adding that Israel, the PA, and Jordan work together to keep the peace there.
But the PA, Israel, and Jordan "are not the sole players," he warned. Turkey and Hamas also have an interest in conflict at this holy site.
"Hamas has an interest in escalating the situation in Jerusalem and Turkey supports Hamas," Dr. Michael explained.
He said Turkey's interest in escalation "are driven from their bold interests in the broader Middle East."
"They are the biggest providers and supporters of the political Islam, which is the Muslim Brotherhood, which in our context is Hamas," he said. "They do not like the idea that Jordan has special status and a special role in the Temple Mount...therefore, Turkey likes, generally speaking, undermining the Jordanian and Palestinian Authority's status and stability in the Temple Mount."
However, Dr. Michael underlined Israel's ability to keep the peace by working closely with Jordan and the PA.