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Israel Holds Civil Defense Drill Amid Regional Tension

  • Robert Berger

Some officials in Lebanon have expressed concern that Israel may use the civil defense exercise as a cover for a military strike

Amid simmering regional tensions, Israel is holding a dress rehearsal for disaster.

Israel is holding a big five-day civil-defense drill across the country aimed at preparing for the possibility of war. Soldiers, emergency crews and civilians are taking part in the exercise, which deals with the threat of massive rocket and missile attacks with conventional and non-conventional warheads.

The fourth annual drill is being conducted amid growing Israeli concerns about the re-armament of Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Iran's nuclear program.

The exercise has raised concern among Israel's enemies that the Jewish state is preparing for war, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denies that is the case.

Mr. Netanyahu told the Cabinet it is a routine exercise and that Israel seeks quiet, stability and peace. But, he said, it is also "no secret that we live in a region that is under the threat of missiles and rockets."

Israel began the annual exercises after the Lebanon War in 2006, when Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets across the border from Lebanon. The country was not prepared: bomb shelters and air raid sirens were in disrepair and civil-defense authorities were poorly trained.

In recent weeks, regional tensions have risen after Israel accused Syria of smuggling Scuds and other improved missiles to Hezbollah. And Israel is convinced that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Both Syria and Iran deny it, but Mr. Netanyahu said Israel remains on the alert.

The prime minister said the best defense against these threats is the strength of the Israeli army, which can deter Israel's enemies and win on the battlefield. But he said it is also important for the civilian population to be prepared.