UK & World News
Israel Disaster Drills Prepare Nation For War
Israel is conducting mass casualty drills to train the nation for a national disaster which focuses on responding to an earthquake but which military officials admitted was also a rehearsal for how to respond to war.
Mired in conflict since before its birth in 1948, Israel's first ever national disaster drill envisages 7,000 dead, 70,000 casualties and 170,000 made homeless as a consequence of an earthquake along the Rift Valley fault.
However, Brigadier General Mickey Tessler of Israel's military Home Front Command told Army Radio: "It is very important to emphasise that whoever is ready for earthquakes perforce increases his readiness level for various events, including wartime events."
A conflict with Iran looms largest in the Israeli mind at the moment. It may be triggered by a unilateral strike against Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons programme. It would be certain to provoke a counter-attack from Iran directly using long-range ballistic missiles and through its Lebanese surrogate, Hizbollah.
The latter is believed to have a new arsenal of missiles capable of reaching every major population centre in the Jewish state.
The quake drill also coincides with the largest ever joint US-Israeli military exercise, Austere Challenge 2012, which has seen 3,500 US troops arrive in the country.
On Sunday, Israel's public was asked to evacuate buildings and schools at 11am local time and similar drills ordered by text message, on TV announcements and with sirens are part of the exercise's night-time programme.
Children across the country also participate, carrying out enactments of the drills in schools.
While many Israeli buildings have safe shelters built into them, the advice during the current exercise is for people to find open outdoor spaces due to a recent assessment by the Home Front Command that around 70% of buildings in the coastal areas - which house just under half of Israel's population - do not meet the earthquake resistance standards set in 1980.
Meanwhile, the joint US-Israeli Austere 12 exercise will see soldiers from both countries deployed in numerous locations, including near civilian areas.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Force has warned that the public may notice increased military activity and some roads may be closed for short periods of time.
Much of the operation will focus on testing the defences against attacks from the air.
Missile protection systems such as the David's Sling and the Iron Dome batteries will be tested as well as Israel's medium range Patriot and Arrow2 missiles.
However, it is thought only a small amount of live fire will be used, with the majority of scenarios using computer simulation.
The timing of the joint operation follows a slight diminishing of the war rhetoric emanating from the Israeli Prime Minister's office.
Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Benjamin Netanyahu indicated the window in which to prevent Iran progressing its nuclear programme towards a weapon stretched into next year - a timescale widely perceived as an extension on previous comments by Mr Netanyahu.
The Austere 12 operation was originally due to take place two months ago, but was postponed. Both Israel and US spokesmen deny this was due to the prospect of an imminent strike on Iran.