News / Middle East

Israel Practices Biological Attack Response

Scott Bobb

The Israeli government has carried out a two-day exercise it says is aimed at boosting preparedness for any terrorist attack aimed at sparking an outbreak of a highly contagious disease. Israeli officials emphasize the biological weapons drill is routine, but it comes amid rising tensions in the region, particularly from Iran.

Ha-Emek Hospital in Afula, 100 kilometers north of Tel Aviv. Personnel are responding to a simulated biological weapons attack.

In this exercise no one knows what contagious agent has been used, anthrax, botulism or another deadly organism. The staff must identify the agent and within hours begin vaccinating the local population against it.

Israeli Assistant Defense Minister Ze'ev Snir is in charge of the program. He says the drill is held each year in a different part of Israel.

"This is a general preparedness that we are trying to work on," said Snir.  "I believe that our Ministry of Health is at a good level of preparedness. And this kind of drill will make us even better prepared."

The exercise comes amid rising tensions in the region. Western governments last week tightened sanctions against Iran after the United Nations nuclear agency (IAEA) said it had evidence that Iran was trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for even tougher measures.

"Iran is developing nuclear weapons. It is important to impose sanctions, tough sanctions, on this regime - even tougher than those that have been imposed over the past few days," said Netanyahu.

Israel's defense minister said the country does not want to take military action against Iran over its nuclear program, but at some point may have no other option. Iran says it would retaliate if attacked. And so would its allies in neighboring Lebanon and Gaza.

Several rockets fired from Lebanon landed Tuesday 50 kilometers north of Afula, without causing casualties.

Shlomo Brom, an analyst with the Institute of National Security Studies, says he believes a military strike against Iran is only a distant possibility.

"Certainly there are discussions in the Israeli government on the option of an Israeli attack against the Iranian nuclear program as a last resort. But I do not think that it is imminent," Brom explained.

In January, security forces will hold another drill, this one responding to a simulated radiological attack such as from a uranium-laced weapon or "dirty bomb."

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