Israel launches major defence drill; PM says war no intention

Israel began a major civil defence drill to test the response of its soldiers.

Updated: May 23, 2010, 18:23 PM IST

Jerusalem: Israel Sunday began a major
civil defence drill to test the response of its soldiers and
emergency crews to stimulated attacks but sought to allay
regional concerns that the country was preparing for war.

The fourth annual home front drill comes at a time of
high tensions in the region with Iran threatening to decimate
the Jewish state if its nuclear facilities come under attack
and suspicions in the region that Israel could be preparing
for a war.

Israel has relayed messages to Arab states about the
drill, stressing that it has no plans to launch an attack.

Allaying concerns over its intentions, Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu today said that the Home Front drill was an
"annual and routine occurrence" which was set up months in

The exercise had not been scheduled in reaction to
any "irregular security development" in the North or
elsewhere, he told the cabinet.

"Quite the contrary... Israel wants peace, quiet and
stability - but it is no secret that we live in a region that
is subject to threats of rocket and missile (attacks)", he
said in an apparent reference to recent reports of a delivery
of Scud missiles to Hizbullah by Syria.

The drill, the biggest in Israel`s history will this
year focus on the ability of municipalities to respond to the
launching of thousands of missiles and rockets on the country.

Israel`s Defence Minister Ehud Barak, said that Israel
"has no intention to declare war," but rather "strives for
calm and peace.

Barak, however, stressed that "a country like Israel
must be prepared" to defend itself, "and we are indeed

The five-day event would test the response of
soldiers, emergency crews and civilians to simulated missile
barrages, terrorist attacks and chemical strikes.

Israel began to test its home front preparedness
conducting annual drills following the war against Hizbullah
in 2006 where severe lapses were exposed in Israel`s

During the first three days the drill will involve the
Israel Defense Forces` (IDF) various command centres, the
police, emergency services, ministries and other government

It will get broadened on Wednesday to include
civilians, with a siren sounding at 11 am throughout the
country signalling they seek cover in shelters or other secure

Hundreds of police officers taking part in the
exercise will practice how to react in the event of missile
attacks- routine security, guiding traffic and maintaining

The police will also be tested on how they respond to
local emergencies while the force is spread out all over the

The main scenario for the police will be a strike on
Be`er Sheva by missiles fitted with chemical warheads. Another
aspect of the drill will be surprise strikes at home front

Israel will also test its response to a blow to its
computer and electronic communications infrastructure after a
cyber attack, the first such drill in the last four years.

The authorities will also examine their ability to
evacuate hundreds of thousands of civilians from areas hit by
missile barrages or strikes by unconventional weapons.

The distribution of gas masks, already underway over
the past three months, will also be expedited by authorities
during the drill to include other parts of the country.

Hizbollah`s deputy head, Nabil Qaouk, said Friday that
the Shi`ite organisation had stepped up its alert status ahead
of the "war games" being conducted by Israel.

The exercise, "Turning Point 4," will last for five
days and be carried out in all parts of the country.