Southern Israel is once again in between rounds of rocket attacks from Gaza. The
lull in the barrages is partial at best; Not a day goes by without at least a
couple of rockets exploding in rural areas, sending residents of villages
fleeing for cover.
During times of escalation, the terrorists target
major cities, though they must now try to circumvent the invisible protective
layer around urban centers in the form of the Iron Dome anti-rocket
Every time a rocket slams into southern Israel, the southern
police district’s officers spring into action.
Today, the officers look
skeptically at the lull in the fighting, and believe it is only a temporary
Police have not returned to routine deployment in the South, and
remain on standby in greater-than-usual numbers around Eilat and the Philadelphi
corridors, in line with recent incidents and intelligence
The police view their role in confronting rockets and terror
attacks from Gaza and Sinai as semi-military, and work to swiftly contain
incidents in Israeli territory in order to allow the IDF to focus its efforts on
stopping the attackers on the borders and beyond them.
terrorists fired their first rocket into southern Israel 11 years ago, southern
district police had no clear response plan.
“Back then, there were no
systems and we working blindly,” said bomb squad unit officer
Ch.-Supt. Yigal Turgerman.
Police began locating the remains of
rockets based on phone-in reports from local residents. Today, when a rocket
lands in the police’s southern district – the largest district, covering 60
percent of the country – a well-oiled machine goes into action.
improved police response is a reflection of what police officers call the
“routine emergency” that has become a way of life for hundreds of thousands of
southern Israelis under rocket threat.
“The threat has become much more
developed. There are Gaza-made rockets and rockets imported from several hostile
countries,” Turgerman said.
“All of them carry warheads of various sizes
designed to fall in built-up areas and cause damage and injuries,” he
When the air raid siren rings out, bomb squad officers initially
respond like all other civilians: they take cover.
Turgerman lives in a
village that is well within rocket range. When he hears the siren, he takes
cover with his family in a safe room, makes sure everyone in his home is okay
and then rushes out to the rocket scene.
“We’re all from the South and we
know this routine,” he said. Unlike in 2001, when police had to rely on
eye-witness reports to find the rockets, today the bomb squad officers are
linked up to the IDF Home Front Command’s advanced radars, which provide precise
data on rocket impact locations.
“We don’t have the privilege of having a
set response time to rockets. We just have to be there as quickly as possible,
because the public is in danger,” Turgerman explained.
Once on the scene,
bomb squad officers first ensure that the rocket has already exploded. Then the
projectile is examined and catalogued.
If the type of rocket is known, it
is added to an ever-growing database. If it is a new type of rocket, a mobile
explosives lab is called to the site and an in-depth investigation is launched,
which continues back at the bomb squad’s lab.
A report is later composed
and sent out to police national headquarters as well as to the IDF and
During times of escalation, as occurred this
month, when over 160 rockets landed in the South, other police districts send
their bomb squad units to reinforce their southern counterparts. This allows for
reasonable response times. Police will also prioritize their responses to
rockets that fall in cities, where dangers to lives are far
“This is the response we have developed over the years,”
Turgerman said. “At the end of the day, it’s about saving lives.”
key element of the response strategy is the fact that police coordinate all of
their activities with the other emergency services; Magen David Adom paramedics,
firefighters, Home Front Command officials and the intelligence
“We go to the scene together with them and hold joint
evaluations with their representatives.
We hold joint exercises with the
other emergency services almost every month,” said Asst.-Cmdr. Doron Ben-Amo,
spokesman for the southern district.
“Building up these connections is
very important to the district chief, Cmdr.
Yossi Prienti,” Ben-Amo said.
“All the services work like a single fist directed to the scene.”
regular basis, Prienti sits down with military and intelligence representatives,
and the other emergency services, at his office in Beersheba to prepare the
police’s operational readiness. During the meetings, he hears the latest
“Our police district has the highest number of
problematic borders. We border Gaza, Egypt and Jordan. Whether we like it or
not, this requires precise readiness.
This quiet is very fragile,”
Ben-Amo warned. “If one Grad rocket falls and the IDF responds, we could be back
in an escalation.
Within an hour to two hours, we must be in a different
mode,” he added.
Asst.-Cmdr Ilan Peretz, head of the southern district’s
operations branch, is the key man responsible for transforming the police’s
focus from ordinary crimefighting to a key counter-terrorism force within a few
“We have lived under this threat, like the rest of the area’s
residents, for years. Escalations are a matter of time. This is the emergency
routine we live in,” Peretz told The Jerusalem Post.
The key to going
into counter-terrorism and rocket response mode is to supply every southern
police station commander and other senior officials with clear instructions on
what to do, he said.
“Take the last terror attack on the Egyptian border
fence on June 18 as an example.
We’re used to the fact that in attacks of
this nature, the IDF responds and we get into a security escalation. We deploy
additional patrol units in cities and the Gaza border communities, and place
special police forces in city centers,” Peretz said.
“After an IDF
response to a terror attack, our evaluations can end with the conclusion that a
national escalation is underway,” he added.
In such cases, volunteers are
called up in cities from Eilat to Ashdod, while Border Police forces are also
deployed. Traffic Police maintain a higher presence on the roads, according to
During times of sporadic rocket fire, the Israel Police maintains
jurisdiction on the ground, but during significant military confrontations, the
IDF Home Front Command takes control and the police become a tool at the IDF’s
Asked if all of these measures damage normal civilian crime
fighting efforts, Peretz maintained that criminal incidents still receive full
police attention. Over the past week, for example, despite the rise in tensions,
police raided Beduin areas searching for weapons. Over the past weekend, police
cracked down on drunk driving.
“We don’t abandon the criminal
We can’t stop serving the public in combatting crime,” he
Nevertheless, resources for crime fighting are depleted during
“Unfortunately, we can’t be in every place at the
same time. I can understand a citizen who dials 100 and wants to see a unit
arrive because of an attack or because he sees a suspicious person. I don’t
think the public is interested in the pressure that the police deals with, and I
understand that,” Peretz said.
National police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld
added, “The southern district deals with the constant threat of rockets. Our
units maintain a rapid response time, thus protecting the public in the
These well-evolved tools seem set to be employed again in the
not-too-distant future, as arms continue to enter the Gaza Strip and terrorist
groups expand their base of operations in the Sinai Peninsula.