The largest war simulation in the history of the State of Israel is set to take place across the country next week, beginning with a "battle in Gaza" on Sunday.
The five-day drill, to be coordinated by the Defense Ministry together with the Home Front Command, is intended to test Israel's preparedness at all levels, from the government down to the citizen in the street. It is also meant to check the coordination between local authorities and the various military and other organizations involved.
Despite concerns expressed by neighboring Arab governments, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made an effort Sunday to stress that the exercise "is a routine drill that was planned several months ago and is held annually. Its objective is to test coordination between the civilian and military networks that would operate on several fronts in time of emergency. Government operations will also be tested, especially local councils' preparedness for various scenarios."
The Israel Air Force also conducted a three-day exercise last week that included multi-level challenges faced by the IAF. Pilots were put through their paces on various combat maneuvers, and the force was briefed on Iran's launch of its newest missile, the 2,000 km range Seji-2.
Setting the Scene
The five-day simulation involves scenarios in which Israel is attacked by first by the Hamas terrorist organization, followed by an escalation which leads to an attack by the Lebanon-based Hizbullah guerrilla group from the north, joined by Syria.
The scenario includes rioting and terror attacks from within by Palestinian Authority Arabs, as well as Israel's own Arab citizens.
Missile attacks on Israel's civilian population, a 60-day ground war in Gaza and a conflict in the north are all part of the plan, which begins at the end of a three month-long escalation in tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The various scenarios will include a natural disaster, an operational malfunction at a hazardous materials (HazMat) facility and/or an epidemic, in addition to the war and major terror attack.
Exercise Begins in the Cabinet
The exercise will begin Sunday at the weekly Cabinet meeting, with ministers expected to respond to the alert.
On Monday, local authorities will be included in the exercise, as will government ministries, Israel Police, the IDF, the National Emergency Authority and Home Front Command.
On Tuesday, an air raid siren will bring the rest of Israel into the drill, sounding the alert at precisely 11:00 a.m. in every community across the country. School teachers and staff members will guide their students into the bomb shelters, while citizens in offices and homes will be told to enter safe rooms. Roads will be blocked as well, as they might be during a real crisis.
On Wednesday, the National Security Cabinet will be drilled, and the national information and data management system will be tested.
The final day of the exercise will be held Thursday, when IDF units will carry out field exercises. The Home Front Command will continue drills at its headquarters as well.
'A Very Real Scenario'
According to Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, the exercise, set to begin Sunday, May 31, represents a very real scenario the ministry believes could occur in wartime.
Vilnai also told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday the Defense Ministry would begin to redistribute gas masks to citizens starting in November 2009.
MK Aryeh Eldad, who was present at the meeting, said that only after a war would Israel know whether the simulation had been helpful.