Country begins biggest-ever drill

Nationwide siren, mock evacuation drills due on Tuesday; Barak: Northern front highly volatile.

ashekelon school drill  (photo credit: AP)
ashekelon school drill
(photo credit: AP)
In face of increased tensions with Syria and Iran's efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon, parts of the country will shut down later this week for what security officials say is the largest emergency exercise in Israel's history. The drill, which is being organized by the newly-established National Emergency Authority, will start on Sunday and last five days. Preparations for the exercise are being overseen by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i. The first two days of the drill include security cabinet meetings - led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - to simulate the effectiveness of the current decision-making process during an enemy attack. On Tuesday, sirens will sound briefly nationwide; the public is asked to use the time to locate the closest bomb shelter or protected room. Drawing from lessons of the Second Lebanon War and in preparation for Iranian nuclear bombs as well as possible chemical and biological attacks, the Israel Police, IDF Home Front Command, other military branches, all of the country's hospitals, the Fire and Rescue Service, Magen David Adom and other rescue services will participate in the five-day drill. Rescue services will simulate mass evacuations from "hit zones" - including chemical and biological attacks - and hospitals will drill their ability to treat thousands of injured. On Saturday, Hizbullah said it would "vigilantly follow" this week's IDF exercise. "Israel's military drill is not a testament to its strength but of its frustration and despair following its defeat in the Second Lebanon War," Nabil Kaouk, the group's commander in southern Lebanon, was quoted as saying Saturday. The Lebanese newspaper A-Safir quoted UNIFIL sources as saying that the IDF had asked the peacekeeping force to pass on reassuring messages of calm to Lebanon and its army ahead of the drill. A-Safir went on to say that Israel was making great efforts to clarify to Lebanon that the drill was a Home Front Command exercise and that there would not be any extraordinary maneuvers along the northern border. On Saturday night, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the northern front was "especially sensitive," but stressed that Israel had no interest in deterioration. "The other side knows this and according to our assessments they too have no interest in deterioration," he added. According to Barak, who spoke at a conference in honor of wounded soldiers from the Armored Corps, "Israel is vigilantly watching [the situation] and is prepared for any development." Israel Radio reported that Barak also discussed the Home Front Command drill, saying that "in our day and age, the preparedness of the home front is a critical component of military victory."