Israel drills for potential mass missile attacks

10:56, June 23, 2011      

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A member of Israeli Army participates in an exercise which simulates a rocket attack on Ashdod Port, Israel, on June 22, 2011. Israel is holding a nation-wide, week-long emergency drills simulating simultaneous mass-casualty events. (Xinhua/Rafael Ben-Ari)

by Dave Bender

The Israeli government, the military, rescue services, 80 municipalities, and millions of civilians on Wednesday drilled responses to a simultaneous mass missile strikes across the country.

This year's test, which was the high point of the week-long " Turning Point 5" drill, marks the first time in the five years the exercise has been held that the entire population was instructed to seek cover.

In the drill's scenario, it is the 13th day of a full-scale war, and Israel's foes have lobbed some 7,000 missiles, hitting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other major population centers. Hundreds are dead and thousands wounded, according to Home Front Command Minister Matan Vilna'i, who led the government's civilian responses to the mass attack.

"In last year's exercise, about 47 percent of the population entered protected areas," Col. Efi Mishov, head of the Home Front Command's Population Department, told the Yisrael Hayom newspaper.

"The past several years have seen a moderate increase in exercise participation, and this trend is expected to continue this year, but not in drastic numbers," Mishov said.

The government security cabinet, as part of the drill, met for the first time in a secret underground bunker in the Jerusalem area. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government ministers would use the facility in such a missile attack. Part of the drill included direct missile hits on the Knesset parliament building and on the nearby Prime Minister's Office.

The sirens were to sound once, as a part of the drill, and a second only in the event of a real attack. In several cities, among them coastal Ashkelon and Ashdod, and Beer Sheba in the northern Negev, malfunctioning sirens went off twice, scaring residents who thought it was a genuine emergency.

In hospital parking lots, police and Israeli Defense Forces soldiers, and civilian first-responders garbed in chemical warfare protection suits practiced mass intake and triage, spraying down adults, and -- using baby dolls -- infants suffering from chemical burns and wounds.

Dozens of ambulances pulled up, one after another, to discharge patients, in order to test the logistics of dealing with mass- casualty attacks on a scale Israel has not seen before.

As sirens across the country wailed, the country's 7.5 million citizens were instructed to enter bomb shelters and other " protected spaces," and remain inside for a short period.

Schools across the country practiced quickly and calmly entering prepared bomb shelters, and remaining inside for 15 minutes.

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