JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—Hundreds of thousands of Israelis living and working in the Tel Aviv region responded to air raid sirens at 10 a.m. Thursday and went orderly to the nearest bomb shelter. They were responding to a practice alert by the Home Front Command signaling a mock attack by missiles bearing chemical warheads.
Coinciding with the civil defense drill in the center of Israel, warplanes of the Israel Air Force were completing a three-day exercise with the Italian Air Force over the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. There was ostensibly no connection between the drill and recent talk of a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The Defense Ministry said the exercise had been planned some six months in advance. The commander of the F-16 squadron that participated, Lt.-Col. Y., told reporters that, “We simulated a common enemy. The cooperation between us and the Italians was very good.”
At the Mikveh Yisrael school in the city of Holon, just south of Tel Aviv, the drill took the form of a mock rocket impacted in the earth, with teenagers lying on the ground simulating casualties. Added realism was provided by a yellow cloud of simulated nerve gas.
The Home Front Command called the drill a success and said in a statement that it showed people to be serious about the threat of attack. Despite the current talk of a possible Israeli strike at Iran’s nuclear sites, the drill was actually planned a year ago.
Home Front Col. Adam Zussman, commander of the Dan Region, said the drill was meant to “simulate a rocket that lands here in this area. What we trained for the whole week was a drill that trained all units to deal with the threats we’re going to deal with in the future; rockets or non-conventional rockets, and this specific rocket is non-conventional.”
Zussman noted that the drill was planned a year ago and “has nothing to do with the things going on in recent days in Israel.”
He told reporters that the rescue services were “improving all the time” and that the drills “make us more prepared for these things we think will happen in the next war.”
In the spirit of prepare for the worst, but hope for the best, Zussman offered the following encouragement to Israelis living in the home front—the likely front in a war with Iran. “The only good advice I can think of right now is to prepare themselves and their private home and family for the worst, meaning getting ready the room they’re going to be in when the rocket lands, or their gas masks, or whatever they think they can do to prepare their private area.”
Talk of a possible preemptive strike against Iran has been all the rage in Israel for the past several days, stimulated by a number of leaks by senior ministers. Such talk has not been confined to Israel, however.
Britain’s armed forces are stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran amid mounting concern about Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program, the Guardian reported.
The paper quoted unnamed British officials as saying that if Washington presses ahead with a strike, it would receive UK military help for any mission.
In anticipation of a potential attack, British military planners are examining where best to deploy Royal Navy ships and submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles for an air and sea campaign, the paper said.
Officials in Britain and the US are anticipating next week’s report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran, which is expected to provide fresh evidence that the country is developing nuclear weapons.
In Israel, meanwhile, a Haaretz poll has found that 80% of Israelis believe a preemptive strike against Iran will lead to war with Hamas from the south and Hezbollah from the north.
Of the 80%, 59% of respondents said they believe it is highly likely that such a war will occur and 21% said that it is fairly likely that it will occur. Just 20% said that the probability of a war is unlikely or entirely improbable.
The poll, which queried both Jewish and Arab respondents, also asked whether people trusted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak “on the Iranian issue.” A majority of 52 percent said they do, compared to 37 percent who do not. The remaining 11 percent had no opinion.
According to the poll, Israelis are almost evenly split on whether Israel should attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, with 41 percent supporting such a strike and 39 percent opposed. The remaining 20 percent were undecided.
In the Arab sector, 54% of respondents believe that Israel should not attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, while 21% support such an attack.