TEL AVIV (Jan. 27)
Saddam Hussein’s relentless Scud missile attacks on Israel, especially in the Tel Aviv area, have created a new cadre of homeless.
Some 4,000 people have been evacuated from damaged homes in the Greater Tel Aviv area and temporarily housed in local hotels.
Insurance officials say that 4,000 housing units have been damaged in some form. Most of this damage is reparable, including broken window panes and door frames, or cracked walls and damaged roofs.
But several score structures have to be totally razed.
The municipality of Ramat Gan, the Tel Aviv suburb struck in a direct hit on Jan. 22, began work Sunday demolishing seven structures severely damaged by the impact of a Scud warhead. One of these buildings contained eight apartments.
To date, more than 200 people have been injured by the six Scud attacks, most not seriously. But there have been deaths.
On Friday night, shortly after Shabbat began, Iraq fired seven Scud missiles at Tel Aviv and Haifa. Five of the Scuds were destroyed and two diverted in the air by Patriot missiles.
As the debris from a destroyed Scud came down over the city, a two-story house took a direct hit and completely collapsed. Next door, a house was partially destroyed, and adjacent homes had their roofs ripped off and windows broken.
On the streets, cars were smashed and set aflame.
Across the street from a synagogue, a piece of missile ripped through four apartments. An 8-foot-deep crater was left where a wall of a school for disabled children collapsed.
THREE SCUDS INTERCEPTED SATURDAY
In one house, two people survived because they took refuge in a basement bomb shelter in direct disregard of civil defense orders to avoid basement shelters and stay instead in rooms sealed against poison gas.
But debris raining down on Tel Aviv proved lethal. One man, Eitan Grundland, 55, of Ramat Gan, died from a severe head wound. Some 69 others were wounded, including one person reported to be in critical condition.
On Saturday night, the air raid sirens sounded again, as two successive waves of Scuds came down, a change in Iraqi tactics. Three Scuds were reportedly fired toward Tel Aviv, and one at Haifa. All were intercepted by the Patriots, with no casualties and only minor damage.
Here, where Israelis have had to steel themselves to the repeated stomach-wrenching wail of the air-raid siren, the subsequent screech of an outgoing Patriot missile and the thump of an incoming Scud, the normal war situation has been turned around.
Now, it is the civilians who are on the front lines of battle. The soldiers at the front have little to do but sit and worry about their families back home.
By now, the post-siren routine has become routine: Turn off the gas and electrical appliances. Grab the children and/or the family pet. Walk as calmly as possible to the gas-proof room. Fasten the door with adhesive plastic tape and stuff cloth soaked in a solution of baking soda in the crack between the door and the floor.
Then, put on the gas mask and wait for the worst, while hoping for the best.
But thousands of Tel Aviv residents who cannot tolerate this almost nightly ritual have fled the city, and in some cases the country, for a safer refuge until the attacks abate.
Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat has come in for some criticism for referring to these people as “deserters.” He has appealed to them to return and resume as normal a life as possible.
MORE PATRIOTS ARRIVE
It is not that anyone thinks the missile threat to Israel is over. But Israeli officials seem to feel that the American-supplied Patriots can greatly reduce the extent of damage the Scuds cause, if not eliminate it entirely.
On Saturday, another delivery of Patriots arrived here from the United States and was immediately put into working order. There are now six Patriot batteries operational in Israel, and more have been ordered, military officials say.
The crews, both American and Israeli, appear to have applied their theoretical and practical know-how to the task. The “kill rate” of enemy missiles has improved in recent days.
But despite Israelis’ comfort over the protection offered by the Patriots, it has become abundantly clear that they are an imperfect wonder weapon for defense of a populated area.
The Patriot was originally designed to destroy aircraft attempting to bomb military sites in unpopulated areas. It is programmed to explode incoming missiles without regard to people or property directly under the site of impact.
The Patriot has a 200-lb. warhead that explodes as it approaches the incoming target missile, which is descending at six times the speed of sound in its final approach. Shrapnel from the explosion falls directly on the area below, as occurred Friday night in the Tel Aviv and Haifa areas.
The manufacturer of the Patriot, Raytheon of Lexington, Mass., is looking int possible alterations of the product to make it safer for use over densely populated areas.
Still, President Bush emphasized his “enormous confidence” in the Patriots. “They are doing very well,” he said at a White House news briefing Friday in Washington.
But the president admitted to being perplexed over how to stop Iraq’s “brutal bombings.”
“We want to find ways to stop these brutal, senseless, non-military attacks on civilian populations,” he said.
At the State Department, Secretary of State James Baker expressed his “sorrow” Friday over the continuing Scud attacks.
His spokeswoman, Margaret Tutwiler, said the missile strikes on Israel make clear “that we are dealing with a regime prepared to use all means of terror against innocents in pursuit of its goals.”
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents David Friedman and Howard Rosenberg in Washington.)