The Remembrance of the Sept. 11th attack brought back memories of a local Israeli extreme experience: January 1991, The Gulf war: the first night Tel Aviv was hit by SCUD missiles.
The night before, American and British airplanes brought a devastating blow on the Iraqi army. I was then serving in the army in IAF computer center. We were all called back to camp at midnight. We sat and listened to the news. They said the raid has destroyed all of Saddamâ€™s missile launchers. All the time when everyone was preparing for the missile attack. Stockpiling food, covering the windows with nylon, etc. I did not believe the attack would actually take place. So apart from the gas mask I got from the army, I did not prepare at all.
On Jan 15th, around 1 am, the first missiles hit Tel Aviv and Haifa. The late night radio shows were abruptly interrupted with a strange deep voice that chanted â€œnahash tzefaâ€ (rattle snake) three times. The radio broadcasters thought someone was playing a joke on them. Then, a few seconds afterwards, the sirens rose, their shriek splitting the silent night.
I was sleeping alone in my rented apartment in the outskirts of Tel Aviv. My flat mate was at his parentsâ€™ house. He called me on the phone and woke me up to alert me that the attack happened.
No-one knew how many missiles hit Israel and where did they hit. worse still, no-one knew what kind of warhead were the missiles carrying. I had no food stored in the house, no means to seal the bedroom. I put on my mask, I slapped on some duct tape on the windows, put a rug near the door, turned on the radio and sat on my bed.
I was Alone. Staring through the maskâ€™s glass eyes on the white wall.
In retrospect, turning on the radio had turned out to be a bad idea. It seems total chaos has settled there, the military and police had no significant news to say, No-one could say how many missiles have fallen or where did they fall. Worse still, no-one could say what type of warhead did the missile carry. The news reporters did not know where to go or who to ask. The picture that drew in my mind was that of shock and despair from the disorder and lack of preparation of the emergency forces.
The night was very long. Slowly, news of the missiles began to arrive. Police and military officials were brought on the air and tried to reassure the public. They had little factual information to say except "our forces are on site, checking the missiles and assessing the danger" the crucial piece of information â€“ the type of the missiles' warheads â€“ that was held back until more than two hours had passed. Eventually, around 5 am. The relief alarm sounded and the radio said that there is no more immediate danger.
I clearly remember one incident from this night: A mother called the radio from the coastal town of Hadera. She said her child, a 4 y.o. boy is in hysteria and she cannot put the gas mask on him. She asked IDF spokesman what to do. He was silent for a few seconds, then he answered: â€œit is strongly advised to put the mask on the child.â€ When I heard this I felt my heart stop and a big lump crawl up my throat in horror: I imagined Hadera filled with poisonous gas,. People dropping dead like flies...
Later on, as the war continued, Israelis got accustomed to the missile attacks. The alert time grew longer as more advanced warning measurements were applied, the country was divided in to zones and the radio announced which zone was hit and which is relieved. Near the end of the war, I rememeber even watching the missiles from my balcony. The first attack, however, with the panic and disarray that ruled the night, was one of the most difficult and unsettling experiences I underwent in my life.