30 countries joined Israel in mass bio-terror drill
Drill simulated scenario in which terrorists infected with a virus entered Tel Aviv posing as tourists.
The security and health systems conducted a mass drill against a smallpox terror attack last week, involving a scenario whereby terrorists infected with a virus entered Tel Aviv posing as tourists from a European country. It was the largest drill of its kind ever held in Israel.
Among other things, the drill, which was conducted in the Dan region over a two-day period, involved the simulated purchase of tens of thousands of courses of medication against the disease.
Dubbed "Operation Orange Flame 4," the biological defense drill was conducted by the Defense Ministry and the Health Ministry, along with the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command.
Also involved in the drill were representatives from 30 other countries, in Israel to participate in a conference on emergency and disaster management. The drill included a response to a smallpox outbreak affecting about 1,000 people.
The teams in the drill that were to investigate the identity of the biological contaminant as well as the medical teams were not told what material they were meant to be dealing with and how it would be spread.
Among the participants was the CEO of SIGA Technologies Dr. Erik Rose, whose company produces anti-viral pharmaceutical agents, and which is developing a smallpox anti-viral medicine, known as ST-246 for the U.S. Department of Health.
A statement released by the company in the United States said SIGA Technologies had contracted with the defense and health ministries to immediately sell Israel tens of thousands of anti-viral medications against smallpox.
The exercise simulated a scenario whereby two infected terrorists spread the disease by going to a sports stadium and a hotel and infecting as many passersby as possible. In addition to the 1,000 mock-infected persons, the drill also simulated treatment and isolation of 20,000 others with the disease, and initiated a national inoculation operation against smallpox.
According to researchers, smallpox has killed more people than any other disease in history - between 300 and 500 million people in the 20th century alone. In the 1960s, a world campaign began to eradicate the disease, with the last death from smallpox occuring in the mid-1970s.
Medical experts say that for all intents and purposes, the disease has been completely wiped out, with samples of the virus remaining only in a small number of guarded World Health Organization labs.
However, intelligence and medical officials fear that terror groups could get hold of the virus and use it for mass biological warfare.
Israel is said to have enough vaccines to inoculate the entire population against smallpox. However, it is believed that terror groups could use the virus to infect a large number of people before the vaccination campaign could reach the whole population. Such a campaign could be expected to take a few weeks.
The Health Ministry spokeswoman confirmed that a mock-purchase of medication against smallpox was made during last week's operation.