First put into service in 2011, Israel’s Iron Dome air defense missile system is designed to stop short-range rockets and artillery like those fired from Gaza. It relies on a system of radar and analysis to determine whether an incoming rocket is a threat, firing an interceptor only if the incoming rocket risks hitting a populated area or important infrastructure. The interceptors are designed to detonate the incoming rocket in the air, producing the explosions in the sky that have come to accompany warning sirens during numerous recent Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.
Before 2011, however, things were much different. Palestinian terrorists and Lebanese militia were shooting rockets into Israel, but it took a system of air-raid sirens and human interface to alert civilians of the oncoming danger. Many of the people who worked in these underground bunkers were responsible for saving many lives, and their stories are no less dramatic or poignant than the more recent accounts of the Iron Dome and how it saves lives.
The Second Lebanon War was a 34-day military conflict in Lebanon and Northern Israel. The conflict started on July 12, 2006, and formally ended on September 8, 2006, when Israel lifted its naval blockade of Lebanon. It affected many people’s lives in Israel. One Israeli soldier recalls how, during the war, her job was to alert civilians where missiles were heading and even precisely where they were going to fall, so they could get to safety. One morning during her shift, there was a heavy bombardment, and she could see 12 missiles being launched from Lebanon toward the major Israeli city of Haifa. Her heart skipped a bit since Haifa was where her family lived and where she grew up. The city always remained close to her heart. She followed the trajectory of the incoming missiles and hurriedly sounded the air-raid sirens to alert the immediate area.
She knew that she had only approximately 10 to 15 seconds before the missiles hit the ground, so she quickly opened up a separate screen on her monitor where she could see the actual missile hitting in real-time. She randomly chose one of the arching missiles and opened the window to see where it was heading. She recoiled in shock as, clear as day, she saw her apartment building where her family lived. Thoughts ran through her mind: She could see her home, the place where she was born, where she grew up, where she and her cousins played almost every single day after school. And the image was so clear and accurate, she could actually see the playground, the outer façade of the building – and before she had a chance to process the whole picture, the image suddenly went black. The missile had hit its target.
She was numb. She knew it hit the street, but she hoped it wasn’t a direct hit on the building. But she didn’t have a chance to dwell on it, since another missile was coming and another after that. For the next three hours, so many missiles were landing all over the place that she had no choice but to put aside her terrible thoughts and focus on her job at hand. The instant her shift was over, she ran out of the bunker and turned on her phone. She had seven missed calls from her father. She knew that was not a good sign, because her father knew that as a soldier with the country at war, she was unable to answer her phone. He knew that, and he would not be calling for no reason. The fact that he called, even though she couldn’t pick up the phone, got her really nervous, because she knew exactly how many missiles had hit Haifa and her whole family was there.
She quickly dialed his number and he picked up on the first ring. “Abba, is everything okay?” she practically yelled into her phone. Really calmly, he responded, “Matuk, everything is okay right now. I just called to thank you.”
She asked him, “Thank me? For what?” And he said, “Well I was in the street at the time the sirens were activated. There was no time to get to the shelter so everyone in our neighborhood ran into the stairwell and waited for impact. Ten seconds later the missile hit the building right next to ours and the entire building collapsed. From what I know, no one got hurt.”
He paused for a moment and said, “Thank you for alerting us and saving so many people’s lives.” She felt relieved but scared at the same time. It was too close for comfort. We must appreciate what so many people do to help other Jews.