A massive underground bomb shelter that is being constructed near the new government compound in Jerusalem will be used by top government officials as a war room in case of a conventional or non-conventional attack, officials said Thursday.
The construction of the underground bunker was approved last decade when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert served as mayor of Jerusalem.
Olmert, who was briefed about the plan to build the bunker in his role as mayor, provided the planners the necessary city permits needed to carry out the work, officials said.
The sprawling underground complex, which has been under construction for a couple of years and is due to be completed in the next year or two, is not specifically connected to recent Iranian nuclear threats against Israel as some foreign press reports have suggested.
The bunker, which is estimated to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars, will run from the government compound, and will include a 2 kilometer escape route to emerge on the outskirts of Jerusalem, at Emek Ha'Arazim outside Mevaseret Zion near the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road, according to a report in the Jerusalem weekly Yerushalayim, which took pictures of the bunker.
The escape route will enable the prime minister and colleagues to vacate the government compound in case of emergencies, and get to Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, where a similar underground bunker has been in existence for years.
Earlier this week, both The Sunday Times and CNN reported about the construction of the underground shelter in the context of today's Iranian nuclear threats against Israel.
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told The Sunday Times that the underground bunker would serve as a command and control center that would be able to run the state during a war, even after a nuclear strike.
The Times' Uzi Mahnaimi reported that amid mounting fears that Iran is planning to obliterate Israel, hundreds of wealthy Israelis - including Shari Arison - "are shelling out on underground nuclear shelters in the gardens of their luxury homes."
The shelters are built to withstand radioactive fallout; reportedly fortified walls and doors and generate their own electricity and decontaminated air.
Many of the shelters are fitted with all modern conveniences such as bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms, and demand is soaring, the paper said.
Seeking to allay public fears, the government insisted that the population had little to fear, the Times said.
"We are aware of all these panicky people building atomic shelters. They're wasting their money," one security source told the paper. "Israel will not allow Iran to build an atomic bomb, and even if it did, the Iranians know very well that we'll bomb them back to the Stone Age, before they've launched a single missile."