JERUSALEM: Air raid sirens wailed across Israel on Wednesday at the peak of a five-day civil defense exercise to test the Jewish state’s defenses in the event of war, the army said.
The sirens sounded at 11:00 am (0800 GMT) for 90 seconds, sending civilians across the country into their nearest bomb shelter or protected space where they waited for 10 minutes until the all-clear.
Radio stations broadcast a pre-recorded message saying the siren was part of a drill but asking people to go down to the shelters.
Motorists, however, were not expected to participate in the nationwide exercise, dubbed Turning Point 4, which kicked off on Sunday with the aim of preparing the country for any future rocket attack from Gaza, Lebanon or Syria.
But Israel has sought to reassure neighboring Lebanon and Syria that the five-day exercise, which ends on Thursday, is not hostile.
"This is a routine exercise which has been scheduled for a long time and is not the result of any unusual security development," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as the annual exercise began on Sunday.
"Israel seeks calm, stability and peace but it is no secret that we live in a region where there is a threat from missiles and rockets," he added.
It is the fourth such drill held since a 2006 war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and aims to fine-tune emergency procedures in the event of a new rocket barrage against the Jewish state.
During the Lebanon war, some 300,000 Israelis fled from border regions under relentless Hezbollah rocket attacks.
Since then, Israeli military experts believe Hezbollah has stockpiled more than 40,000 rockets. Israeli officials have also charged that Syria has supplied the militia with Scud missiles, something Damascus has denied.
In the 1991 Gulf war, then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired more than 30 Scud missiles at Israel, killing one person, wounding more than 170 and causing extensive property damage.