JERUSALEM, Israel - Israel's fourth nationwide emergency preparedness drill began Sunday, with a simulated full-scale regional war scenario.
The exercise begins more than two weeks into the war, after 200 missile and rockets - some fitted with chemical and biological warheads - have been fired on northern, central and southern Israel by Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Iran.
On day one of the exercise, Defense Department officials, regional councils and teams of rescue personnel worked together to determine the number of casualties and damage inflicted by the missiles.
At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to assure Syrian President Bashar Assad that the annual exercise should not be construed as a threat, this despite known collusion on missile transfers between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
"This is the fourth year we have conducted this exercise, and it will include using sirens throughout the country, in workplaces and residential areas, schools and day care centers, in hospitals, local authorities, government offices and more. It is a routine exercise, which has been scheduled for a long time," Netanyahu said.
"I want to emphasize it is not the result of any abnormal security development. On the contrary, Israel wants quiet, stability and peace," he said.
"It is no secret, however, that we live in a region under threat of missiles and rockets. Israel's best defense against this threat is, first of all, maintaining deterrence and the IDF's [Israel Defense Forces] decisive capability, These we develop without letup," the prime minister said.
Netanyahu also stressed the importance of preparing the public in the event of missile attacks, which he said "is exactly what this exercise will do."
Two weeks ago, during a wide-scale IDF exercise in the north, the prime minister responded to erroneous remarks by Assad.
"Israel wants peace and has no intention of attacking its neighbors, contrary to the false rumors that have been circulating about this matter," Netanyahu said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak echoed his sentiments.
"We have no intention at all of starting a war in the north," Barak said.
"We are working toward the opposite - for calm and peace - but a country like Israel has to be prepared, and we are preparing," he concluded.
The Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.