Israel’s security forces are being tested rigorously in the upcoming days as they take part in two major drills aimed to test their ability to face both natural disasters and war.
The largest-ever joint Israeli and American military drill began on Sunday at the same time that the country’s emergency services were participating in their first earthquake preparedness drill.
At 11 a.m. on Sunday, radio and television reported on a moderate temblor in the Eilat region, kicking off the drill. Radio reports, though, were barely heard — a first hiccup, with many listeners not registering the instruction to head for an open or protected space.
The drill, codenamed Turning Point 6, is aimed at raising the preparedness of citizens, local authorities, and emergency services for dealing with natural disasters.
According to the script, an earthquake of moderate magnitude (measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale) was “felt” Sunday at 11 a.m. in southern Israel, near Eilat. Thirty minutes later, a stronger earthquake — 7.1 on the Richter scale — “hit” the Upper Galilee. At noon, shortly after a tsunami warning, citizens were required to imagine a giant wave crashing against the shores of Israel, causing heavy destruction in Tel Aviv.
The drill includes television and radio broadcasts interrupting scheduled programming to urge citizens to rush to open spaces wherever possible. Alternatives include finding sheltered rooms and standing under door frames.
The drill was to continue in the Hula Valley area, where a tremor measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale was to be enacted at 7 p.m.
Schoolchildren across the country were participating in enactments in their schools.
According to Home Front estimations, a real-life occurrence of the above scenario would lead to 7,000 deaths, 8,600 people injured in serious condition, 37,000 injured lightly, 9,500 trapped under rubble and about 170,000 displaced and homeless. In addition, 28,000 buildings are expected to be heavily damaged, with hundreds of thousands of buildings expected to incur light damage.
The prognosis is grimmer yet for the coastal Dan region in central Israel, where some 95,000 buildings — including 300 schools — could collapse in the event of an earthquake of a magnitude of 7 or higher on the Richter scale. According to the Home Front Command, 70 percent of buildings in the area — which houses about 42 percent of Israel’s population — do not meet the earthquake resistance standards set in 1980, as they were constructed prior to that year.
Meanwhile, the army is preparing for a disaster of a different kind which would see the country defending its skies from an enemy onslaught.
Billed as the largest joint exercise ever between the countries, Austere Challenge 12 will see a total of 3,500 American and Israeli troops taking part in a month-long air defense simulation.
The drill will run until after the US presidential elections on November 6 and will simulate many of the aerial threats that Israel faces: a multi-front attack with mortars, rockets, drones, and short- and long-range ballistic missiles.
The David’s Sling short-range missile protection system will be tested along with multiple Iron Dome batteries, advanced Patriot batteries and Arrow 2, Israel’s medium range missile defense system. Most of the action will be simulated with only a small component of live fire.
The drill will cost some $30 million per side.
The drill starts amid a cooling of talk of a possible military strike on Iran, after several months of saber-rattling.
Generals from both armies stressed that the exercise is meant to reflect reality in the Middle East and is “not related to any specific world events.”
The drill, originally slated to take place months ago, was postponed at Israel’s behest.
Despite reports that the drill had been cut back by thousands of troops, Third Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin said last week that the “scale of the exercise and the number of forces participating has remained unchanged.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.