Israel held a dress rehearsal for disaster Sunday, beginning a defense drill to test the response of soldiers, emergency crews and civilians to simulated missile barrages, terrorist attacks and chemical strikes.
Israel embarked on its fourth annual home front drill at a time when Iranian-backed militants are rearming to Israel's north and south, and Iran itself is suspected of developing nuclear arms, despite its denials.
The five-day exercise, the biggest in Israel's history, has raised allegations by the country's enemies that it is preparing for war — a concern Israel has sought to allay.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the drill is a "routine exercise that was scheduled long ago."
"I want to emphasize that this is not a result of any abnormal security development," he told his Cabinet on Sunday. "On the contrary, Israel wants quiet, stability and peace, but it is no secret that we live in a region that is under threat of missiles and rockets."
Israel began carrying out the annual exercise, code-named Turning Point, after its 2006 war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon showed the country's bomb shelters, air raid sirens and civil defense authorities were unprepared. The exercise also incorporates lessons from Israel's 2009 war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Tensions have risen in recent weeks after Israel accused Syria of smuggling Scuds and other missiles to Hezbollah. Syria denied the charge.
Israeli media reported that Hezbollah heightened its alert status ahead of what it branded Israel's "war game."
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the drill proves Israel is not serious about wanting peace.
"Israel should reduce these maneuvers and return to the table to have serious talks about peace," Hariri said, according to a statement issued by his office. "If it wants peace, why does Israel resort to military maneuvers? And if it wants to negotiate with the Palestinians, why would it resort to military maneuvers?"
Israel has tried to allay regional concerns with assurances through diplomatic channels that the drill is not a cover for a military strike, defense officials said.
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