Israel minister: Possible war with Iran could be month-long affair


War with Iran would probably turn into a month-long conflict on various fronts with missile strikes on Israeli cities and some 500 dead, Israel’s civil defense minister said in an interview published on Wednesday.

“There is no room for hysteria. Israel’s home front is prepared as never before,” Matan Vilnai, a former general who is about to leave his cabinet post to become ambassador to China, told the Maariv daily.

The interview coincided with Israeli media reports over the past week suggesting that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before the U.S. presidential election in November.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that Washington does not believe Israel has made a decision on whether to strike.

“I don’t want to be dragged into the debate,” Vilnai said, when asked if Israel should go to war against Iran. “But the United States is our greatest friend and we will always have to coordinate such moves with it.”

Echoing an assessment already voiced by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Vilnai was quoted as saying hundreds of missiles could hit Israeli cities daily and kill some 500 people in a war with Iran, which has promised strong retaliation if attacked.

“There might be fewer dead, or more, perhaps … but this is the scenario for which we are preparing, in accordance with the best expert advice,” Vilnai said.

“The assessments are for a war that will last 30 days on several fronts,” he said, alluding to the possibility Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian militants in Gaza would also launch rockets at Israel.

Israel has built a sophisticated missile shield likely to stop some of the salvoes and regularly holds civil defence drills to prepare for rocket strikes.

Vilnai made no mention in the interview of the impact a month of conflict would have on Israel’s economy should Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial center, be hit by long-range missiles.

Tel Aviv was not struck by missiles during Israel’s three-week war in the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009 and in a 34-day conflict with Hezbollah in 2006. But it came under Scud rocket fire from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf war.

War jitters with Iran, which denies accusations that it is striving to develop nuclear weapons, caused steep declines in Israeli financial markets on Monday although some of those losses were recovered on Tuesday.

“Just as the citizens of Japan have to understand they are likely to be hit by an earthquake, Israelis must realize that anyone who lives here has to be prepared for missiles striking the home front,” Vilnai said.

Vilnai is set to leave office by the end of August. Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he will be replaced by Avraham Dichter, a previous head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Crispian Balmer

Israel building its first eco-friendly town


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Mount Gilboa will be the site of Israel’s first green town.

It’s one thing to adopt environmentally conscious behavior, such as recycling, taking public transportation and saving water or electricity. But that’s not enough for the future residents of the developing northern Israeli community of Nurit. They plan to live green.

That’s because the Mount Gilboa town is set to be the first planned, eco-friendly community in Israel, with infrastructure and services designed not just to encourage, but to actually enforce environmentally responsible behavior.

If you’re planning on living in Nurit, said Danny Atar, chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council, you’re by definition willing to go out of your way to save water, avoid excess waste and in general reduce your carbon footprint. “Otherwise, Nurit is not for you,” he said.

The idea for Nurit stemmed from discussions conducted by Gilboa Regional Council officials nearly a decade ago, as they were seeking to build tourism in the area, as well as comply with new government requirements to introduce environmentally responsible educational programs and activities.

“We were also considering putting up a new town to attract more residents here from the center of the country, and the whole project just sort of made sense,” Atar said. “Thus was Nurit born.”

After intense study and consultation with environmental experts around the world, the town is almost ready for prime time; work has begun on infrastructure, and the first 100 homes will be ready next year. By 2012, there will be 400 families living in Nurit, Atar said.

Located on Mount Gilboa itself, Nurit will take advantage of the mountain’s wind and sun to generate power, and will install dozens of wind turbines and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, enough to provide electricity for all the public buildings in Nurit — and then some.

“We recently got approved for a program by the Israel Electric Co., where residents and public buildings will be able to mount solar PV units on their roofs and sell the electricity to the IEC,” Atar said.

“Together with turbines to generate electricity from wind, we expect that the electricity we generate will be enough to light most of the schools, offices, streetlights and park lights in Nurit, as well as save homeowners money on their energy bills since they can get credits for the power their roof PV systems generate that they don’t use, selling it back to the IEC,” Atar said.

The regional council has a program that provides loans for residents to buy and install the PV panel setup, or residents can design the systems into their construction plans, he adds.

Residents will be asked to grow tall, leafy trees around their homes, creating a natural “cooling canopy” that will help cut down on the need for artificial cooling and heating systems. They will also be asked to build their homes using effective insulation systems, to further reduce the need for air conditioners or heaters.

“We hope to be able to limit the use of artificial heating and cooling solutions to the hottest or coldest days of the year,” he said.

Saving water will also be required of Nurit residents

“In theory, Israel gets more than enough rainfall, but much of the rain is lost to evaporation or runs off to the sea,” Atar said. “We are requiring all residents to build rain-collection systems and minireservoirs to store rainwater. The water will then be funneled into the town reservoir, allowing us to cut down significantly on our use of water from Mekorot, which is drawn from either the Kinneret or Israel’s underground aquifers.”

With the Sea of Galilee at an all time low and Israel scrambling to build desalination plants to make up for projected water shortages, Nurit’s efforts could serve as a model for other, noneco-friendly communities, as well.

Saving rainwater is important, but saving “gray water” is even more important, say many environmentalists, and Nurit is requiring all homeowners to install a gray water collection system, which will store waste water from dishwashing, bathing and other nonsewage (“black water”) sources.

The storage of gray water entails building a separate drainage system that funnels the water into a tank, which is then used for a variety of purposes, such as watering gardens, decorative fountains, etc.

“No one in Nurit will be permitted to use fresh water to water his or her lawn,” Atar said. “Residents will use gray water to water their lawns and run watering systems for plants or orchards.”

Unfortunately, Nurit won’t be able to encourage its residents to trade in their cars for commuting by train, because there is no Israel Railways line in the area, at least for now. But the town will have a complete complement of local and inter-city bus service for those who need to travel. Actually, it is expected that most of Nurit’s residents will work in the area, either at home businesses; in tourist-oriented services, such as bed and breakfasts or restaurants, or at one of the industrial zones in the area.

“Many of the homes have been zoned for use as businesses, as well, so a resident can operate a small business in their backyard,” Atar said. “There is an industrial zone three minutes out of town, mostly with light manufacturing or agriculture industry allied services. And tourism in this region is expected to skyrocket when regular horse racing begins at the Afula Hippodrome, only a few minutes from here,” he added.

Nurit is open to anyone willing to live by the town’s eco-friendly ethos — and many Israelis are willing, apparently, because there is already a long waiting list for lots.

“We’ve already got about 700 families who have made a deposit to get into the lottery for a chance to buy a plot, with more signing up all the time,” Atar said. “The lots, which will have extensive infrastructure to support the gray water drainage and reservoirs system, cost $120,000 to $150,000 — not particularly high for people coming from the center of the country, where many of the Nurit hopefuls come from, and certainly not expensive, when you consider the cost of the infrastructure.”

Most applicants are from big cities — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and its suburbs. A few people from the kibbutzim in the area have signed up as well, but the majority are new to the lower Galilee. Which already makes Nurit a success, as far as Atar is concerned.

“This is a beautiful part of the country to live in, and thanks to Nurit, hundreds of families are going to get the opportunity to find out just how beautiful it really is,” Atar said.