Archive for June 2022

‘Mess with Israel, you’ll pay a price,’ PM warns after Iran steel plant cyberattack

June 28, 2022

Speaking at Cyber Week conference, Bennett says ‘wreaking havoc in Tehran’ is not a policy, but Israel will respond to assaults; top cyber official says Iran a ‘dominant rival’

By EMANUEL FABIAN Today, 12:36 pm   


Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Cyber Week conference in Tel Aviv, June 28, 2022. (Screenshot: Youtube)

Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Tuesday, a day after Iran’s major steel companies were hit by a cyberattack, that anyone who attempts a cyberattack against Israel would “pay a price.”

“[The] approach with our enemies, especially Iran… we don’t go around wreaking havoc in Tehran — that’s never been our policy. Our policy is, if you mess with Israel, you’ll pay a price,” Bennett said at the Cyber Week conference in Tel Aviv.

Monday’s large cyberattack forced the state-owned Khuzestan Steel Co. to halt production, and two other major steel producers also reported being targeted.

An anonymous hacking group claimed responsibility on social media for the attack, saying it had targeted Iran’s three biggest steel companies in response to the “aggression of the Islamic Republic.”

The group, calling itself “Gonjeshke Darande,” shared what purported to be closed-circuit footage from the Khuzestan Steel Co. factory floor that showed the malfunction of a piece of heavy machinery on a steel bar production line, causing a massive fire.

Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET IT

By signing up, you agree to the terms

Israeli military correspondents, who are regularly briefed off-the-record by senior Israeli officials, hinted that Israel was directly responsible for the assault in retaliation to a suspected cyberattack that caused rocket sirens to be heard in Jerusalem and Eilat last week.

“Just like there’s nuclear deterrence, there’s going to be cyber deterrence… If anyone attacks us on cyber, we’re going to attack back,” Bennett said.

A screenshot from what is believed to be closed-circuit footage obtained from Iran’s Khuzestan Steel Co. factory floor where a piece of heavy machinery on a steel billet production line malfunctions and causes a massive fire, June 27, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Also speaking at Monday’s conference, Israel’s National Cyber Directorate chief Gaby Portnoy said Iran had become a “dominant rival” in cyberspace, amid relentless attempts to attack civilian infrastructure in the past year.

“There is no longer only one type of an ideological official enemy. On the one hand, Iran has become our dominant rival in cyber, together with Hezbollah and Hamas,” Portnoy said. “We see them, we know how they work, and we are there.

“On the other hand, the spectrum also was stretched to attackers, attack groups, proxies, independent crime organizations, and private people,” Portnoy added.

According to data presented by the directorate at the conference, 1,500 cyberattacks on the Israeli home front were foiled over the past year alone.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Gaby Portnoy, director general of the Israel National Cyber Directorate, in Tel Aviv, May 2, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel and Iran have for years been involved in a largely clandestine cyberwar tthat occasionally bubbles to the surface. Israeli officials have accused Iran of attempting to hack Israel’s water system in 2020.

In turn, Iran has accused the United States and Israel of cyberattacks that have impaired the country’s infrastructure.

Iran disconnected much of its government infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus — widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation — disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the country’s nuclear sites in the late 2000s.

In a major incident last year, a cyberattack on Iran’s fuel distribution system paralyzed gas stations across the country, leading to long lines of angry motorists. The same anonymous hacking group, Gonjeshke Darande, claimed responsibility for the attack on fuel pumps.

AP contributed to this report.

Turkey reportedly busts Iranian cell planning attack on Israeli tourists

June 23, 2022

By AFPToday, 2:09 pm   


Two Turkish riot police officers walk in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, on June 14, 2022. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

Turkey has detained eight people allegedly working for an Iranian intelligence cell that planned to assassinate Israeli tourists in Istanbul, according to local media reports.

The eight, who are not all Iranian nationals, were detained in a raid last week in three houses in Istanbul’s popular Beyoglu district, the private IHA news agency reports.

Israel has repeatedly urged its citizens in recent weeks not to travel to Turkey and to leave the country immediately because of “possible” threats from Iranian operatives.

IHA reports that Iran sent agents disguised as businessmen, tourists and students to Istanbul to assassinate Israelis. It says the Iranians split into four groups of two assassins who could better track their Israeli targets.

“The hitmen in the assassination team, who settled in two separate rooms on the second and fourth floors of a hotel in Beyoglu, were [detained] with a large number of weapons and ammunition,” IHA reports.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is expected to take charge as prime minister of a caretaker government in the coming days, is on his way to Turkey to meet with officials.

PM warns Iran: ‘Those who send terrorists to attack Israelis will pay the price’

June 19, 2022

Bennett cites ongoing plots against Israelis abroad, says ‘danger is still great’; also warns Gaza terror groups of ‘painful’ cost to disrupting relative quiet in southern Israel

By TOI STAFFToday, 1:17 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 19, 2022. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday warned Iran against attempts to orchestrate terror attacks against Israelis abroad, threatening that anyone who tries to will pay the price.

“We are currently witnessing Iranian attempts to attack Israelis in various overseas locations,” Bennett said in public remarks at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

“Our new rule: Whoever sends, pays,” Bennett warned according to an English-language statement of his remarks provided by his office. “We will continue to strike those who send the terrorists, and those who send those who send them.”

Israel’s security establishment is acting to foil such attempts before they can be carried out, Bennett said.

Noting that the government had asked Israelis to avoid unnecessary travel to Turkey, and in particular Istanbul, Bennett said: “The danger is still great. I call on the citizens of Israel to show personal responsibility and safeguard their security.”

Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET IT

By signing up, you agree to the terms

Last week Israel urged its citizens in Turkey to leave immediately over concerns that Iranian agents were planning to kill or kidnap Israelis. The warnings came amid unverified reports in the press that Israeli and Turkish intelligence had together thwarted several planned attacks by a broad network of Iranian agents, nabbing some of the suspects.

Turkish riot police officers walk in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on June 14, 2022. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

The National Security Council raised the warning level for travel to Istanbul to its highest level, putting it alongside Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iran as places that Israelis must leave immediately and may not visit.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent weeks, after the assassination of a top Iranian officer in Tehran last month that it blames on Israel, a number of other deaths of security and scientific personnel inside Iran, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders and Iran’s increasing violations of nuclear agreements.

At the cabinet meeting, Bennett also commented on a rocket fired Saturday by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip at the southern coastal city of Ashkelon. The missile was intercepted by Israeli air defense systems and hours later the IDF hit several Hamas targets in Gaza.

Screen grab from IDF footage of a strike on a terror group observation post in Gaza overlooking an Israeli border community. The strike was carried out on June 18, 2022 in response to rocket fire. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire and attacks emanating from the coastal enclave, no matter which terror groups claim responsibility.

“As far as we are concerned, Hamas is the address,” Bennett said.

The prime minister noted that the last year had been the quietest in a decade for southern residents, with rocket fire dropping from an average of hundreds of cases each year to just seven in the past 12 months that caused no injury or damage.

In addition, Hamas’s ability to arm itself “is the slowest for years” due to cooperation with Egypt and the US to prevent weapons from being brought into Gaza via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

“We will take strong action against any attempt to undermine this quiet,” Bennett said. “The price that we will exact from the enemy for every action against our people will be high and painful.”

He attributed the relative peace to his government’s policy of “zero tolerance” for rocket fire at the country while at the same time opening Israel’s borders for some Gaza workers.

“This acts as quite a restraint and also differentiates between Hamas and the residents [of Gaza],” Bennett said.

Last week Israel said it would allow another 2,000 Gazans to enter the country for work or business dealings, bringing the total to 14,000. However, in the wake of the weekend rocket fire, that plan was put on hold.

The Defense Ministry has signed off on a tentative plan to eventually raise the number of Gaza permits to 20,000, a dramatic and unprecedented increase. In mid-2021, just 7,000 Palestinians from Gaza had permits to work or trade in Israel.

Defense officials say allowing more Gazans to work in Israel will pump much-needed income into the impoverished coastal enclave while encouraging stability.

Iran said building vast new underground tunnels to hold nuclear enrichment facility

June 17, 2022

New York Times says US and Israeli officials have been monitoring new construction at Natanz for a year; Defense Minister Gantz first alluded to site in speech last month

By TOI STAFFToday, 5:14 am  

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear site, as well as ongoing construction to expand the facility in a nearby mountain south of Natanz. Iran, May 9, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Iran is constructing a vast new network of tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site that could house a massive enrichment facility that would be impervious to bunker-busting bombs and cyberattacks, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The report said that the US and Israel had been monitoring construction at the site for several months, but had refrained from commenting on it publicly, with the exception of a brief remark made last month by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

“At this very time, Iran is making an effort to complete the production and installation of 1,000 advanced IR6 centrifuges at its nuclear facilities, including a new facility being built at an underground site near Natanz,” he said, speaking at a conference at Herzliya’s Reichman University.

Gantz’s public comments surprised both US and Israeli officials, the report said. Iran did not deny the accusation, having previously said it was constructing new facilities in response to attacks at the existing Natanz site, blamed on Israel.

Sattelite images published recently by research groups show that the new facility is close to the old center at Natanz, but buried far deeper under a mountain, in a similar manner to the Fordow plant. Efforts to attack such a site would require the most advanced bunker-busters, which Israel does not yet possess.

Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET IT

By signing up, you agree to the terms

The report noted that the Americans and Israelis differ sharply over the seriousness of the implications of the construction.

Biden administration officials told the Times that they have been following the construction for more than a year and they were not especially alarmed.

They pointed out that the facility, which would be deep underneath a mountain, would not be ready for several years, giving the Americans time to deal with it either through diplomacy or force should the need arise.

They believe that the primary purpose of the new facility is to replace the centrifuge facility that was severely damaged in a sophisticated attack last year, blamed on Israel.

This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

And while it would not play a role in Iranian abilities to construct a nuclear weapon in the near future, Tehran was using its existence to pressure the US into concessions in talks over a return to the nuclear deal.

Talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled.

The nuclear deal collapsed four years ago when former US president Donald Trump withdrew the United States and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran. In the meantime, Iran has vastly expanded its nuclear work, while insisting that it is for peaceful purposes.

“The Iranians’ highest priority is using the nuclear threat to gain concessions, economic and otherwise,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the recently retired head of US Central Command, told the Times.

Israeli officials however view the site very differently.

They see it as further evidence of Iran’s efforts to achieve nuclear weapons capabilities and justification for Israeli efforts to thwart the program, the Times said.

The report said the construction could be behind what it called accelerated Israeli efforts to thwart the program, referencing several recent attacks on Iranian scientists and engineers blamed on Israel.

It also noted that construction of the new site began around the same time as the killing of the father of Iran’s nuclear program Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which has also been blamed on Israel.

In his recent speech, Gantz said Iran is just a “few weeks” from accumulating sufficient fissile material for a bomb.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a conference at Herzliya’s Reichman University, May 17, 2022. (Gilad Kvalarchik)

“Iran continues to accumulate irreversible knowledge and experience in the development, research, production, and operation of advanced centrifuges,” Gantz said.

“It stands just a few weeks away from accumulating fissile material that will be sufficient for a first bomb, holds 60 kg of enriched material at 60%, produces metallic uranium at the enrichment level of 20%, and prevents the IAEA from accessing its facilities,” he added, before revealing the construction at Natanz.

The report quoted several Israeli officials as saying they believe Iran’s ultimate objective is to use the facility to enrich uranium at a mass scale, using advanced new centrifuges.

American officials concede the new facility is quite large, and usually well protected, the Times said.

But while much of the West’s focus was on Iran’s nuclear program, General McKenzie warned that the major current threat came from Iran’s ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones, which he called Tehran’s “crown jewels.”

“And that’s where they’ve made huge strides in the last five to seven years,” General McKenzie said, “where they now realistically have overmatch against their neighbors.”

Israel makes dramatic upgrades to military plans to attack Iran – The Jerusalem Post

June 8, 2022

IAF can now fly its F-35 stealth fighter jets from Israel to the Islamic Republic without requiring midair refueling.


Published: JUNE 8, 2022 14:35

Updated: JUNE 8, 2022 14:48


The IAF's F-35i at a base in southern Israel.  (photo credit: IAF/ALEX AGRONOV)

The IAF’s F-35i at a base in southern Israel.

(photo credit: IAF/ALEX AGRONOV)

In face of Iran’s continued development of a nuclear capability, the Israeli Air Force has developed a new capability to be able to fly its F-35 stealth fighter jets from Israel to the Islamic Republic without requiring mid-air refueling. 

The development is a boost to IAF capabilities and comes as the Israeli military has upped its preparations for a future strike against Iran’s nuclear capabilities. 

In addition, the IAF recently integrated a new one-ton bomb into the arsenal of weapons used by the F-35s (known in the IAF as the “Adir”) that can be carried inside the plane’s internal weapons compartment without jeopardizing its stealth radar signature.

Israeli Air Force gets a new bomb

The bomb – made by Rafael Advanced Weapons Systems – is said to be autonomous and protected against jamming and electronic warfare systems. The bomb was recently used in a series of IAF tests, the results of which were presented to Defense Minister Benny Gantz. 

The Israeli Air Force works to fight new and developing threats across the region (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)The Israeli Air Force works to fight new and developing threats across the region (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)

The IAF has held four large-scale drills simulating attacks against Iran over the last month. The first drill included confronting Iranian radar and detection systems, like those which protect its nuclear installations. The second included simulating long-range combat flights – in this case to destinations in Europe. The other drills included defensive measures against cyber weapons and electronic warfare systems, means that could be used by Iran to undermine an Israeli military operation. 

Bennett threatens Iran

News of the progress in military preparedness came just a day after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel’s Iran strategy has changed in the last year, and it is “acting against the head… and not just its arms, as we had in recent years.”

During the recent military maneuvers, the IAF also drilled cooperation between fifth-generation fighter jets like the F-35 and fourth-generation jets like Israel’s older model F15s and F-16s. The planes practiced sharing intelligence, missions and more. 

The Israeli Air Force works to fight new and developing threats across the region (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)The Israeli Air Force works to fight new and developing threats across the region (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

“Iran’s surface-to-air missile systems and radars are crowded and they are not the only challenge,” a defense official said. “We need to be able to attack targets that are significant and the attack needs to be able to cause extensive damage. There are multiple targets in Iran at different ranges.”

Bennett to IAEA chief: Israel reserves right to act against Iran’s nuclear program

June 4, 2022

Hosting Rafael Grossi for talks, PM urges use of ‘all means’ to prevent Tehran from getting nukes, accuses Islamic Republic of concealing atomic work with ‘false info and lies’

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIES3 June 2022, 12:21 pm 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on June 3, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Friday with the visiting head of the UN’s atomic watchdog for talks focused on Iran’s nuclear program.

A statement from Bennett’s office said the premier warned International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi that Iran was pushing ahead on developing a nuclear weapon while misleading the world with “false information and lies” to conceal its work.

Bennett stressed the “urgent need” to confront Iran using “all means” to prevent it from acquiring nuclear arms, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. He also called for the IAEA to send Tehran a “clear and unequivocal message” at an upcoming Board of Governors meeting dealing with undeclared Iranian nuclear sites.

“Bennett made it clear that while Israel prefers diplomacy in order to deny Iran the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, it reserves the right to self-defense and to take action against Iran in order to block its nuclear program should the international community not succeed in the relevant timeframe,” the statement said.

Grossi, who was returning to Vienna after the meeting, said he and Bennett had “important exchanges on topical issues.”

Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET IT

By signing up, you agree to the terms

“I stressed the importance of IAEA safeguards and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) for global peace and security,” Grossi tweeted.

Israel, widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, is not a member of the NPT.

Grossi’s trip came as Israel has expressed growing concerns about Iran’s atomic activities and any potential return to the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers. Negotiations to restore the accord remain deadlocked after stalling in March, with a main sticking point being Iran’s demand — rejected by Washington — that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideological arm of the Iranian military, be removed from a US terrorism blacklist.

Earlier this week, the Israeli prime minister accused Iran of stealing classified documents from the IAEA and using them to deceive international inspectors nearly two decades ago. He released what he said were some of the documents in question. Iran has dismissed the allegations as lies.

Israel was a staunch opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal and welcomed the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement, which caused it to collapse. However, a number of current and former security officials have begun saying that the withdrawal was a mistake, as it has led to Iran accelerating its nuclear enrichment efforts.

The Biden administration has been trying to renew the accord, which lifted sanctions on Iran in return for limits to and oversight of its nuclear program.

Iran has always said its nuclear activities are for purely peaceful purposes but has stepped up uranium enrichment after the collapse of the nuclear accord to near weapons-grade levels.

US intelligence agencies, Western nations and the IAEA have said Iran ran an organized nuclear weapons program until 2003. Neither the US nor Israel has ruled out the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The flag of Iran waves in front of the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)

Earlier this week, the IAEA published a report estimating that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to more than 18 times the limit agreed on in the troubled 2015 pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The UN’s nuclear watchdog also said it still had questions that were “not clarified” regarding undeclared nuclear material previously found at three sites — Marivan, Varamin and Turquzabad, a district of Tehran, previously identified by Israel as an alleged site of secret atomic activity.

Both American and Israeli officials have assessed that Iran now needs only a few weeks to amass enough fissile material for a bomb, should it choose to make one, though it would need additional time to assemble the device’s other components.

Israel, US pledge economic, diplomatic and military coordination to stop Iran nukes

June 2, 2022

Meeting of national security advisers at White House comes a day after massive Israeli air force drill to simulate striking Iranian nuclear facilities; US denies taking part


IAF and AFCENT F-15 and F-16 jets are seen over southern Israel during the ‘Desert Eagle’ drill, August 10, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata and his US counterpart Jake Sullivan met Wednesday in Washington for talks largely focused on Iran, with the two pledging economic, diplomatic, and military coordination to stop Teheran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“The officials committed to coordinate on efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and toward deterring Iran’s aggressive regional activities, said a joint statement after a meeting at the White House of the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group.

“They also discussed economic and diplomatic steps to achieve these goals and reviewed ongoing cooperation between the US and Israeli militaries,” the statement said.

The commitment came the day after dozens of Israeli Air Force fighter jets conducted air maneuvers over the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday night, simulating striking Iranian nuclear facilities.

The SCG has met several times since the start of the Biden administration to coordinate efforts aimed at curbing the various threats posed by Iran. The meeting was attended by foreign policy, defense, and intelligence officials from both governments, the White House said in a statement.

Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET IT

By signing up, you agree to the terms

“The US and Israeli officials committed that, working toward the same goal, they will remain in close coordination on the full range of issues of mutual interest and to remain united against all threats to their national security.”

Hulata was expected to have discussed US President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel and the West Bank, which is slated to take place in late June. Additionally, he was reportedly slated to receive an update on US efforts to broker an agreement that will see Egypt transfer the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in front of the White House on October 5, 2021. (Jake Sullivan/Twitter)

That deal requires Israeli approval because of the multinational observer force that has been deployed on the islands since the Jewish state’s peace deal with Egypt. As a result, the US and Israel are reportedly pushing Riyadh to take a series of small steps toward full normalization with Jerusalem.

Tuesday’s military drills included “long-range flight, aerial refueling and striking distant targets,” according to a statement Wednesday from the IDF.

According to Channel 13 news, more than 100 aircraft — as well as navy submarines — participated in the drill that spanned some 10,000 kilometers.

The jets were refueled twice during the simulation, as they circled Cyprus and conducted mock airstrikes in Israel, the report said. Meanwhile, the elite helicopter search-and-rescue Unit 669 was on standby to assist pilots who may have needed to abandon their planes.

Earlier this month, The Times of Israel learned that the drill — as part of the military’s major Chariots of Fire exercise — would simulate a widescale strike in Iran, including against its nuclear facilities.

Chariots of Fire, which involves nearly all branches of the IDF, has been focusing on training for fighting on Israel’s northern borders, including against the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

Troops during a major exercise in Cyprus, May 31, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal amid long-stalled negotiations with world powers, the past year has seen the Israel Defense Forces ramp up its efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

At the beginning of last year, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced that he had instructed the military to begin drawing up fresh attack plans against Iran. By September, Kohavi said the army had “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Tehran’s nuclear program.

Still, defense officials estimate that while some aspects of the IAF’s strike plans, which are still in their early stages, could be ready within a short period of time, others would take more than a year to become fully actionable.

In addition to having to find ways to strike Iranian facilities that are buried deep underground, requiring specialized munitions and tactics, the IAF will have to deal with increasingly sophisticated Iranian air defenses in order to conduct such a strike. The air force will also have to prepare for an expected retaliation against Israel by Iran and its allies throughout the region.

The drill has also focused on preparing for and responding to such retaliation.

According to Channel 13 news, the US Air Force was supposed to serve as a complementary force with refueling planes during the drill. The IDF did not confirm the report, and the US Central Command denied it, saying “there is no direct US military involvement in that exercise.” A Pentagon spokesperson also denied the Department of Defense was “directly participating” in the drills, according to The War Zone online magazine.

The Chariots of Fire drill — scheduled to last through June 3 — is the military’s largest exercise in decades.

Military officials said it is aimed at raising the competence and readiness of troops and top brass for war on multiple fronts, as well as coordination with other emergency organizations, local authorities, and government ministries.

ToI Staff Contributed to this report