Today's Civil Defense Exercise Largest Since 1948

Emergency services, police and Prison Service simulated Syrian missile attack on Tel Aviv, and terror attacks on train station and school.

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Gil Ronen and Hillel Fendel,

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The IDF Home Front Command is holding the largest civil defense drill in Israel's history today and tomorrow (Tuesday and Wednesday). Simulating a combined attack on Israel on all fronts, the drill was suspended for over an hour because of intelligence warnings of a genuine attack.

The exercise was preceded by this Home Front Command announcement, repeated on radio broadcasts throughout the morning: "Sirens will be heard at 2 PM Tuesday in many parts of central and southern Israel and heightened activity of IDF, police and rescue forces will be noticeable during the exercise. Traffic disruptions may be felt and blast sounds may be heard across the country."

The wail of sirens were heard in most of Israel, from Hadera to the Negev desert, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Be'er Sheva, Raanana, Ashkelon, and Dimona. In case of a real emergency, the public was told it would be notified through the mass media.

Preparations for the drill were suspended for over an hour in the forenoon hours in light of warnings of a genuine terrorist alert.  The Coastal Highway was closed to traffic until a taxi carrying two suspects - as well as several innocent passengers - was located and stopped.  A month ago, a large suicide attack was thwarted when security services learned that a terrorist had infiltrated pre-'67 Israel and was on his way to blow himself up in a crowded area.  Large areas of central Israel were practically closed down as the security forces pursued the would-be murderer, finally locating him in a hideout-apartment in Bat Yam.

Magen David Adom, Israel's emergency rescue service, says today's was the largest nationwide drill ever held since Israel's declaration of independence in 1948. Nine MDA districts participated simultaneously, practicing to deal with an unprecedented number of simultaneous events and a very large number of simulated victims.

MDA crews in the southern parts of Israel (Lachish and Negev regions) simulated a joint Kassam and Katyusha rocket attack from Gaza, together with a terror attack using unconventional weapons in the Be'er Sheva train station, with a large number of simulated casualties. In central Israel, MDA drilled for a chemical terror attack on a school in Ramat Gan and a missile attack with conventional warheads.

Some emergency forces said an unclear division of labor could become dangerous in the event of a real emergency.  "If a rocket falls in Netanya and causes damage," Fire Commissioner Shimon Romach told NRG-Maariv while drilling with his forces in Ramat Gan, "the Home Front Command is responsible. But if a terrorist attack happens in the same building, the police are responsible. This is confusing."

Tomorrow, on the second day of exercises, MDA will simulate a mega-terror attack with 400 casualties in two locations – the community of Neurim and in the coastal city of Netanya. The Police and the Home Front Command will simulate a Syrian rocket attack on Tel Aviv, supposedly knocking the Reading power station out of service, as well as a chase after a suicide terrorist in central Israel and a mass terror attack on a school.

Thousands of people will participate in the drill. The Prisons Service will rehearse mass rioting by Arab terror prisoners, hostage taking and attempted escapes. 

“The aim of the exercise is to prepare the different services and bodies operating in the civilian environment for various emergency scenarios, while implementing the lessons learned during the conflict in Lebanon in the summer of 2006,” a Home Front Command statement reads.