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Experts Warn: Major Earthquake Could Hit Israel Any Time

After four earthquakes shake Israel in one week, experts debate whether the big one is imminent.

Israeli and American soldiers participate in a joint earthquake drill in Cholon, Israel, October 21, 2012.

Israeli and American soldiers participate in a joint earthquake drill in Cholon, Israel, October 21, 2012.
Photo Credit: Yossi Zeliger / FLASH90

Last Sunday, Israel experienced two earthquakes, raising fears that a significant geological event could occur. Sunday’s quakes followed two others, one on Saturday morning and another on Thursday evening. Although they were all minor in scope, some experts warn that a major earthquake may hit the region in the near future, capable of inflicting fatalities and significant property damage.

Professor Amotz Agnon, a geology and geophysics expert working at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, explained that a strong earthquake in Israel could “lead to thousands of deaths. From experience, we know that everything depends on the time of day an earthquake occurs. The cities of Safed, Tiberias, Kiryat Shmona, Beit She’an and Eilat, unfortunately, are all built above the Syrian-African fault-line.”

Dr. Avi Shapiro, chairman of the government panel on earthquakes, also believes that such an earthquake is only a matter of time. According to Shapiro, consecutive small earthquakes similar to the recent geological activity in Israel may represent the prequel to one gigantic earthquake. Shapiro cautioned that this is not inevitable, however, since small earthquakes can also relieve pressure, thereby preventing larger earthquakes.

While more preparation is needed, Shapiro maintains that the government has prepared for major earthquakes. Structurally, many public buildings, including schools, and newer homes and apartment buildings can probably withstand a significant earthquake. On the other hand, older buildings in Israel require upgrades to comply with modern earthquake codes. Shapiro also recommended that Israelis educate themselves regarding proper earthquake procedures.

With regard to the imminence of a major earthquake, other experts disagree with Agnon and Shapiro. Dr. Uri Frieslander, general manager of the Israel Geophysical Institute, does not believe that the long-predicted major earthquake will strike any time in the near future. “We cannot say that this event will yield something in the future. We are watching carefully the results of the seismological map,” he said. “There were similar cases in the past in which a number of earthquakes clustered around the same time and place, among other cases in Lebanon and the Gilboa. The truth is we don’t know what this recent string means.”

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