Israeli army stages surprise drill near Lebanese border
Israel's army on Wednesday staged a surprise drill on the country's northern border, the military said, amid tensions over Iran's nuclear drive and the fate of Syria's chemical weapons.
The one-day exercise was ordered by army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, a military statement said, "in order to examine the competence and preparedness of several units in the army, led by (the) artillery corps."
The drill was not previously announced, but the military said it had been scheduled.
"The drill is a part of routine inspection in the army," the statement said. "These drills take place throughout the year."
Military sources said the drill began with soldiers being drafted from their homes, after which they were dispatched by air to the Golan Heights, which borders Syria.
The drill was to end with a live fire exercise later in the day, sources added.
"The drill was scheduled in advance and does not indicate any changes in the army's levels of alert," they said.
The exercise was accompanied by local reports of Israeli warplanes flying above the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre. Israeli military aircraft violate Lebanese airspace on a daily basis, despite UN objections.
Israel is closely watching its northern border with Syria, where it fears the embattled regime might supply chemical weapons to Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Tensions also remain high over the prospect of a preemptive Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program, which the Jewish state believes masks a weapons drive, a charge Iran denies.
On Sunday, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards General Mohammad Ali Jafari responded to rising Israeli war rhetoric that if its jets or missiles did strike Iran, "nothing of Israel will be left."
Israel, the Middle East's sole nuclear power, fears a nuclear Iran would pose a threat to its existence and has been lobbying the US, albeit unsuccessfully, to back a military strike.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has also warned Israel that it would respond by hitting targets across the Jewish state if Israel launched a war against Lebanon.