Officials in north urge calm amid rising Iran tensions

Bomb shelters remain shuttered and residents urged to go about normal lives, despite fears Iran missile strike or infiltration may be in the works

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, second right, speaks at a press conference during a visit to the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona on February 13, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, second right, speaks at a press conference during a visit to the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona on February 13, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Local authorities in the north of Israel sought to calm residents Monday after defense officials warned a day earlier that Iran may be planning a revenge attack on Israel, including missile strikes on military targets.

No special safety instructions were given to residents of northern Israel, despite the looming threat, but the heads of local governments said they were always ready for any eventuality.

On Sunday, Israeli military officials said Iran may be planning a missile strike on military targets in the north as a revenge attack for reported Israeli bombing runs on Iranian sites in Syria.

On Monday, Channel 2 reported that authorities were also preparing for the possibility of an incursion into an army base or community in the north.

Kiryat Shmona Municipal CEO Eshkol Shukrun urged the residents to remain calm, Channel 10 reported.

“The army has asked us to send a message of calm,” he said, saying that any steps they took would be closely coordinated with the army.

“Our residents are curious, and they listen to media reports, and some of them also call and ask why we have not opened the bomb shelters or made plans to evacuate them,” he added. “We give responsible answers, mainly to calm them down. We tell them that municipal officials are in direct contact with the army.”

He also said that the municipality had invested in installing air conditioners in the bomb shelters and ensuring they were up to standard. “We are trained, we have run simulations, and the operations center is ready,” he said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said there was no need for panic.

“There are challenges and many threats, but we know how to deal with all the threats and to cope with all the challenges,” he said from the Knesset on Monday. “There is no room for euphoria or pride, but we are ready for any scenario.”

He also stressed that Israel is not interested in escalating the situation.

On Monday, Rambam Medical Center in Haifa inaugurated a reinforced command center to serve the hospital management in the event of a missile attack on the city. They were also prepared to transfer patients to a 2,000-bed fortified underground emergency hospital if necessary.

Haifa mayor Yona Yahav, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, for a court hearing about the closure of the ammonia tank in Haifa, April 4, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Haifa mayor Yona Yahav said the northern coastal city was preparing for a wartime scenario.

“We are prepared 365 days a year for a crazy person to do something irresponsible like launch missiles at Haifa,” said Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, according to the Walla news site.

He urged city residents to carry on with their normal routines, offering assurances that city officials were monitoring the situation and all municipal bomb shelters were well maintained.

The country’s air defense systems were put on high alert in the north, but the military said a planned military drill in the north that will include explosions and flares was not connected to the tensions.

The drill was expected to last through the night, the army said.

Iran has access to a variety of surface-to-surface missiles, from short-range Fajr-5 rockets to medium-range Fateh 110 missiles, which have a range of approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles), to long-range Shahab ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets over 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) away.

A Shahab-3 long range missile, left, and Zolfaghar missiles, right, are displayed during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on June 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

“We have very advanced anti-missile systems: Iron Dome, David’s Sling, the Arrow,” Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a former head of Military Intelligence and one-time national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told reporters, referring to Israel’s air defense batteries, which are designed to shoot down short-, medium- and long-range missiles, respectively.

“I hope that most of the missiles would be intercepted by our defense systems, and military targets are supposed to absorb such attacks from time to time,” he said.

Illustrative image of a tank taking part in an IDF drill on March 21, 2017. (IDF)

If these active air defense batteries fail, however, there are concerns that Israel’s passive protection against missiles — bomb shelters — will not provide an adequate solution.

“The working assumption is that they are planning to strike military targets, but it can escalate at any moment, and we will find ourselves in an entirely different kind of situation,” Kiryat Bialik Mayor Eli Dukorsky told Walla. “This requires Israel to urgently fill in gaps in defense, but also requires each of us to understand that preparation should be on a personal level, as well as on a community level.”

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