Israelis, already jittery at the prospect of renewed hostilities with Iraq, got a jolt Monday night when air raid sirens sounded over Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, areas that were hardest hit by Iraqi Scuds during the Persian Gulf War.
Worried citizens initially assumed the worst, but Israel Radio soon assured them that the incident was a “technical mishap.”
But the episode took place against the backdrop of an announcement by Israel’s Home Front Command of new civil defense procedures to deal with possible missile and gas attacks.
Announcing the amended rules Sunday, Home Front Commander Brig. Gen. Yishai Dotan said they bore no relation to the heightened tension in Iraq. He reiterated the government’s assessment that there was little chance of an Iraqi attack on Israel and said the new instructions were “advisory” and were not meant to be implemented at present.
“The feeling regarding the possibility of a new missile attack on Israel is that it is highly unlikely,” he said.
“This is the kind of information that might come in handy to the public in the future, and not necessarily because of any recent developments,” he added. “At the moment, the public is not required to take any special measures.”
The new procedures increase from six to 10 the number of warning zones established at the start of the Gulf War.
The increased number will enable the Israel Defense Force to issue and cancel warnings of conventional or non-conventional attacks to smaller areas, forcing fewer citizens into shelters and gas masks.
Unlike during the Gulf War, from now on the public will not be required to don gas masks at the sound of an initial siren but need only take them into a sealed room and await a second siren.
The public was urged not to rush out now to buy masking tape or plastic sheeting to prepare sealed rooms but only to be ready to purchase them when necessary.
Gas masks and protective clothing issued last year and held in store by the public are still suitable, and older equipment nearing the end of their useful life will be replaced gradually over the coming months, the Home Front Command said.
The timing of the announcement was criticized by Ha’aretz defense analyst Ze’ev Schiff, who said it stood in contrast to repeated government declarations of a low probability of attack by Iraq.