Alerting for life

Israel has been under the threat of rocket and mortar fire for decades.

Rocket siren system in Israel (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/KFIR)
Rocket siren system in Israel
Israel updated its rocket alert systems recently to make them more precise, the IDF said on Wednesday. This is a significant and important step in protecting the home front and ensuring that people are aware of the dangers they face.
Israel has been under the threat of rocket and mortar fire for decades. In the 1980s, Israel faced a Katyusha threat from Palestinian groups in Lebanon and then later from Hezbollah. In the 1990s, Saddam Hussein threatened Israel with Scuds. Hamas in Gaza developed increasingly sophisticated rockets after the Disengagement in 2005, graduating from Kassams raining down on Sderot to long-range rockets that can reach more than 100 km. In the 2014 war, rockets were fired at major cities across Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The IDF’s response has always been to try to keep the home front civilian population safe through sirens and alerts. These have become more sophisticated over time. The Home Front Command has now begun a campaign to educate people in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and Amharic. It is also working to help the Haredi community. “We understood from [past experience] that although Israel once had only one warning system, it’s not something we can live with,” Lt. Col. Shlomi Maman of the Home Front Command’s Early Warning Branch said.
The upgrade increases the precision of the alert system. Where once the system would be activated across a whole town or city, sending tens of thousands of people into bomb shelters and causing trauma among children and the elderly, now the system can pinpoint the threat. It works on polygons, dividing the country into various grids. The new system has approximately 1,700 different areas that can be alerted individually, as opposed to the previous system that had around 250 – an almost seven-fold increase in precision.
From the North to the South, the increased efficiency of the system will be clear if there is a conflict. That includes communities in the North which might be threatened by Hezbollah rockets from Lebanon or from Syria. For instance, the Krayot, just north of Haifa, will now be divided into three different areas.
Hopefully, the people of Israel will never have to see the full system being implemented. Unfortunately, however, we know all too well that conflict will continue. Over the last year, thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza. This has made life unbearable for the communities along the Gaza border. It is part of the Hamas campaign to test Israel’s resolve. At least twice in the last year, Jerusalem considered a major ground operation in response.
The efficiency of the red alert sirens, as well as Israel’s missile defense technology, has given us many options that we didn’t have in the past. Now the layered missile defense, including Iron Dome, David’s Sling and the Arrow, make Israel more secure. And the systems have also become more accurate. But that doesn’t mean there are no mistakes; rockets struck Ashkelon and Beersheba in the last round.
Increasing the efficiency of the sirens is only one part of the puzzle. It means that less people have to be traumatized or have their lives disrupted by having to run to shelters. It also means that the public must now be aware that the siren is not just for show, but that when it goes off, there is a real threat to the immediate area. It used to be that people would go outside to take video of interceptions, endangering their lives.
Alongside the siren updates is a story of Israel’s hi-tech approach to modern conflict. From new drones that Israel’s defense industry will be showing off at the Paris Air Show to new technology for missiles and surveillance, to missile defense, Israel is a world leader in the modern approach to war.
This approach prizes human life above all other things. It is about precision – not only in defense but also in offense. It means that Israel can be more precise defending us, while also striking immediately at the enemy which has threatened civilians. The world is watching – and Israel’s innovations, for which we have paid a high and difficult price over the years, are protecting them as well as us.