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Israel Begins 5-day Civil Defense Drill Amid War Fears


Israel has launched a major civil defense exercise amid fears of war. Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau.

Israel is conducting a five-day home-front security drill to prepare for the possibility of a major terrorist attack, war or natural disaster. Schools, hospitals and government offices are involved in the drill, which includes preparation for a missile attack with nuclear, chemical or biological warheads.

The drill has raised fears in neighboring Lebanon and Syria that Israel might be planning an attack, and those countries have raised the level of alert in their armed forces. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sought to ease tensions.

It is a routine drill, Mr. Olmert said at the weekly Cabinet meeting, adding that Israel does not want a war.

The exercise underscores concerns about a non-conventional war with Iran, which Israel believes is developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but its president has threatened to wipe Israel "off the map."

Coby Vinsburg of Israel's National Emergency Management Authority says the Middle East is a bad neighborhood that is becoming more dangerous.

"Israel has to be ready all the time in a very high alert and very high level," said Vinsburg.

The civil defense exercise is the biggest in years, and in a sign of growing regional tensions, from now on it will be conducted annually.