Inside an Israeli Missile Defense Team

February 13, 2012 12:41 pm 1 comment

Iron Dome missile defense system in Ashkelon, Israel. Photo: wiki commons.

A chilling wintry wind blows over a water tower on the outskirts of coastal Ashkelon on the evening of Feb. 8, as a full moon rises to the east. A small group of IDF soldiers shivers on the flat concrete roof as they scan the darkening skies and wait.

On the first evening of a two-day drill, Home Front Command (HFC) spotter teams, geared and trained to identify incoming missile fire from a foe to the east—presumably Iran—are here to methodically practice their responses and to test their reaction time.

Their mission is simple, but their role is crucial: using an advanced laser-guided spotter scope, they follow a rocket’s trajectory and alert waiting HFC ground units of its expected point of impact.

“Our role is to track an incoming missile attack against Israel and direct the troops on the ground to arrive as fast as they can (to the impact site), and handle the threat on the ground,” IDF Cap. (res.) and ops commander Noam Ginzburg tells JointMedia News Service.

The decades-old white Mekorot Water Company structure overlooks a major north-south highway and a busy intersection leading into Ashkelon.

An operator of the tripod-mounted, GPS-synched device zeros in on the falling projectile, and follows its path. At the press of a button, the device fires an infrared laser beam at two points along the projectile’s falling arc. From that moment, internal programming extrapolates the full path into the ground and calculates to within a few feet where the projectile will hit within the heavily populated urban area.

Ginzburg, in his mid-30s, shoulders the responsibility of protecting the densely populated, target-rich coastal area stretching from Kassam-battered Sderot alongside the Gaza Strip, some five kilometers to the south, to Ashdod and its strategic port several kilometers to the north.

Ashkelon, itself home to a major power station, oil and natural gas pipelines, wharves, and numerous other strategic infrastructure facilities, has sustained dozens of Kassam and Grad rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza over the years. Luckily, however, none have managed to strike the facilities—yet.

The ground units “should be able to arrive at the affected area within a minute to a minute and a half,” Ginzburg says of the Hazmat-prepped forces. On Feb. 9, an army source says, the teams planned to drill hits by non-conventional warheads, including chemical weapons.

Down below, in a open field alongside the tower and over at a nearby gas station, soldiers fire a series of red flares several hundred meters into the air in different directions, in order to randomly simulate a rocket’s fiery exhaust and give the spotters’ gear something to lock on to.

The HFC has learned the hard way—from experiences during the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, 2009’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and Iraq’s 39 Scuds fired at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War—that the ability to accurately and immediately identify the precise spot a rocket hits can be difficult.

“The problem” deputy commander, Cap. (res.) Amit Sabag says, “is that the moment you have hits in urban areas, in addition to the IDF’s updates, the police and municipal emergency forces get hundreds of calls from residents saying, ‘The rocket hit here; the rocket hit there,’ and this phenomena can mislead you.”

The drill came a day after an announcement by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, during a U.S. visit to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i was pegged to become Israel’s next envoy to China.

Vilna’i’s ministry, established just over a year ago, was to be “a new stage in the improvement of Israel’s readiness for an emergency,” he said at the time.

“The Israeli home front is made up of millions of people and thousands of bodies and organizations that need to know how to prepare for a time of emergency and how to act when such a situation occurs, whether it be a military confrontation or a natural disaster. The Ministry of Home Front Defense will guide, lead and coordinate all of the bodies that go into action on the civilian front in a time of emergency, and will work to improve their preparedness for emergency,” according to Vilna’i.

It’s unclear, so far, who will replace him in the post.

While the timing of the decision raised eyebrows in Israel due to the rapidly escalating tensions over a potential Israeli military strike to foil Iran’s clandestine drive to attain nuclear weapons, Ginzburg said the timing of the drill itself was coincidental.

“We planned this months ago, and we do it every year,” he said, adding that political appointments at the top were not their concern on the ground.

Politics aside, the HFC, along with the Israel Police, fire departments, municipal first-responders, Magen David Adom and Zaka rescue services, and Israelis from the Golan Heights to Eilat, have in the past year stepped up detailed simulations of the aftermath of a mass missile attack on the Jewish State.

JointMedia News Service was on hand for several such drills, among them a rapid, orderly evacuation of over 500 middle school students in Jerusalem into prepared bomb shelters with filtered ventilation, and another that tested full-scale emergency rescue responses to a rocket strike on a Tel Aviv power station, including mass triage after a deadly chemical payload detonated, killing and incapacitating scores of bystanders.

At the recent annual Herzliya Conference, military officials from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and on down, spoke frankly about the myriad of ballistic threat Israel was facing.

IDF Intelligence Directorate chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi put a shocking cumulative number to the threat.

Israel’s enemies—from Hezbollah in Lebanon, to Hamas in Gaza, to Syria, Iran and others—have amassed 200,000 missiles, rockets, and mortars, ready for use in any potential conflict.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.