Israel begins its biggest civil defense drill

Israel began the biggest civil defense drill in its history on Sunday, training soldiers, emergency crews and civilians for the possibility of war at a time of rising tensions with Iran.

The five-day drill, code-named Turning Point III, will include simulated rocket attacks on Israeli cities. Air-raid sirens are to sound across the country on Tuesday and for the first time all Israeli civilians will simultaneously be required to practice taking cover when the sirens go off.

Israel believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons and has not ruled out a military strike. Iran says its nuclear program is only for energy production.

Israeli leaders have played down any connection between those tensions and this week’s exercise, and officials have been at pains to allay fears among Arab neighbors, such as Lebanon and Syria, that the exercise could be a cover for a military strike.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio the drill “was not created as a response to the events of recent weeks and months.”

Defense officials said the Turning Point series of exercises was designed to implement lessons learned from Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, when the Lebanese militia fired nearly 4,000 Katyusha rockets across the border at Israel.
Similar drills were conducted in 2007 and 2008, but the military said this year’s exercise would be “the largest and most comprehensive yet.” In last year’s drill, sirens failed to function in parts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel inaugurated a state of the art national civil defense control and command center this year.
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