Israel geared up for a massive military drill Monday to focus on coping with chemical weapons attacks. The nationwide exercise was to drill the civilian population as well as military and emergency services.
The exercise was originally scheduled to take place three weeks ago but was postponed due to tension with Syria.
“We are not heading toward war with Syria, but it is not only up to us,” Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan told Channel 2 Saturday.
“There is no change in Israel’s policy towards Syria,” said Erdan, echoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s statement from earlier in the week that Israel is not interested in interfering in the Syrian civil war, but would retaliate for Syrian attacks and do everything in its power to prevent Syrian weapons from reaching Hezbollah forces.
Asked about the possibility of Syria attacking Israel with chemical weapons, Erdan said that though there was a higher chance of that happening than in the past, it was still considered a “low-probability scenario.”
“Our enemies realize that the use of chemical or nonconventional weapons will draw a devastating response, and the IDF’s capabilities are well-known,” said Erdan.
Erdan noted that 52 percent of Tel Aviv residents did not have access to bomb shelters, a situation that forced his ministry to come up with creative solutions like using underground parking lots as shelters. He said that even though, in future wars, thousands of enemy rockets would be aimed at Israel’s population centers, the Israeli home front was better prepared than in the past.
The head of the IDF’s Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, said Tuesday that the outbreak of a war in which Israel would be hit with a “large volume of rocket fire” was a certainty. “Our opponents hold long-range missiles with large warheads and the capacity to carry hundreds of kilos,” he said.
The drill will include preparation for possible missile strikes against Israel, particularly in the greater Tel Aviv area. The first few days will center on protecting civilian populations at public institutions and private households. Two alarms will blare on Monday, at 12:30 p.m. and 7:05 p.m., and citizens will be requested to go to safe rooms or bomb shelters and to stay inside for 10 minutes.
The drill will mark the first time an entire network of early warning systems will be tested. In addition to sirens, civilians are to receive alerts from various sources, including from cellphones, social networks, and the television.
Israeli jets reportedly struck sites near Damascus twice earlier this month, aiming to stop the transfer of advanced Fateh-110 missiles to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. Although Israel never took official responsibility for the strikes, officials have said the military will continue to act to stop weapons transfers. Syria, for its part, has threatened to retaliate if it is hit again.
Last week, the UK’s Sunday Times reported that Damascus put a number of advanced weapons on standby to strike Israel, should Jerusalem hit targets inside Syria again. According to the report, satellite images show Syria has readied its stock of Tishreen missiles for use against Tel Aviv.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke recently to “strong evidence” that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons against its people. Kerry’s comments came the same day that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu cited tests on Syrian war casualties being treated in Turkey that indicated they had been attacked with chemical weapons.
Damascus’s large stockpile of chemical weapons, and President Bashar Assad’s refusal to sign international accords banning them, has become a major international concern as the civil war in Syria rages on.