JERUSALEM, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief-of-Staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz on Wednesday ordered to cut back the number of troops taking part in the extensive Austere Challenge-12 (AC-12) air-defense drill conducted jointly with the U.S. military.
The several-week-long drill ranges from the U.S. European Theater to U.S. naval craft along Israel's shore, and on land to Patriot 3, Arrow II, Iron Dome and David's Sling missile interceptors arrayed in batteries across Israel.
The Israel and U.S. forces, some 3,500 in all, are trained in switching from a drill to genuine air-defense.
Iron Dome shot down seven rockets aimed at coastal Ashkelon Wednesday morning.
In the last 24 hours, Palestinian militants have fired close to 70 Grad and Kassam rockets, and mortar shells into Israeli towns and villages.
The IDF has "enough Iron Dome batteries to cover areas in danger," army Spokesman Lt.-Col. Avital Leibovitch told Xinhua in a conference call Wednesday morning.
"In light of the escalation in the south and the fear of a worsening situation due to the IDF responses, it's important that the IDF has to be ready for any scenario from Gaza," a military official said during a tour of hard-hit southern communities.
Israeli Air Force craft have sent four sorties over Gaza to strike areas from where the rockets are being launched, the army said.
IDF Brig.-Gen. Nitzan Nuriel, the Israel's chief officer in the exercise, said on Monday, that AC-12 includes scenarios "with threats from all the fronts." He noted the test will include live fire, in addition to the computerized ballistic rocket paths. The IDF will also reduce forces dedicated to the week-long Turning Point 6 national emergency preparedness drill, according to the Walla news site. The civilian drill is meant to simulate a scenario in which Israel is hit by two catastrophic earthquakes and a tsunami, leaving 7,000 dead and 170,000 homeless.