Israel Holds Largest Defense Drill in its History Amid Regional Tension


air-force-drillIsrael held a dress rehearsal for disaster today, beginning a defense drill to test the response of soldiers, emergency crews and civilians to simulated missile barrages, terrorist attacks and chemical strikes.

Israel embarked on its fourth annual home front drill at a time when Iranian-backed militants are rearming to Israel’s north and south, and Iran itself is suspected of developing nuclear arms, despite its denials.

The five-day exercise, the biggest in Israel’s history, has raised allegations by the country’s enemies that it is preparing for war – a concern Israel has sought to allay.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said the drill is a “routine exercise that was scheduled long ago.”

“I want to emphasize that this is not a result of any abnormal security development,” he told his Cabinet on Sunday. “On the contrary, Israel wants quiet, stability and peace, but it is no secret that we live in a region that is under threat of missiles and rockets.”

Israel began carrying out the annual exercise, code-named Turning Point, after its 2006 war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon showed the country’s bomb shelters, air raid sirens and civil defense authorities were unprepared. The exercise also incorporates lessons from Israel’s 2009 war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks after Israel accused Syria of smuggling Scuds and other missiles to Hezbollah. Syria denied the charge.

Israeli media reported that Hezbollah heightened its alert status ahead of what it branded Israel’s “war game.” And they quoted Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as saying the Israeli exercise defies peacemaking efforts.

Israel has tried to allay regional concerns with assurances through diplomatic channels that the drill is not a cover for a military strike, defense officials said.

{AP/Yair Israel}