By Amos Gilboa
Instead of dealing with the deep darkness of the future, why don’t
we take a glance for the moment at the lessons of the past from that war –
although there is a saying: for the Jews, the future is clear; they only argue
about the past.
Translated by Viktoria
Edited by Steven Stenzler
Only one man was killed in Israel during
the first Gulf War, but that’s where the watershed had occurred: the home front
became the front line.
these days, 21 years ago, long-range missiles struck the greater Tel Aviv* and Haifa**areas. That
occurred during the first Gulf War where the United
States spearheaded an international coalition against Iraq, led by
Saddam Hussein. Instead of dealing with the deep darkness of the future, why
don’t we take a glance for the moment at the lessons of the past from this war
– although there is a saying: for the Jews, the future is clear; they only
argue about the past.
my opinion, that war was a constitutive Middle East
event, a watershed the implications of which are clearly evident at the present
time. It’s only in the wake of this war that there began what we call the
“peace process”: the Madrid Conference had been convened; a peace treaty with
King Hussein had been signed (who had to, among other things, atone for his
great sin when he joined Saddam Hussein); the Oslo Accords with Arafat had been
agreed (who also needed, among other things, to atone for the sins of his
standing to the right of the Iraqi adversary); and failed attempts at
settlement with Syria, which actually allied with the winning American side.
On the strategic level, the seeds of major shifts in the Middle
East were planted there. The only ruler who aimed then for
leadership in the Arab world, Saddam Hussein, was beaten. The Arab world not
only has remained without any leader, but instead, the way was paved for the
rise of a new regional power, a non-Arab one: Shiite Iran. These changes came
to fruition in the second Gulf War.
there is the State of Israel. In the first Gulf War, for the first time in the
history of Israel,
long-range missiles originating from a country not bordering it fell on its
territory. The consequences were no less than historical from the standpoint of
the entire Israeli security concept. Overall, 39 improved Scud missiles dropped
on Gush Dan, Haifa and Negev
area. Only one person was killed directly by the impact of a missile, and a few
more died of heart attacks; damage to property was caused, nevertheless, not in
alarming proportions. All the performance studies conducted on the eve of the
war indeed showed that the physical damage wouldn’t be large.
Home Front Is the Front line
But, and this is a huge
but, the psychological impact on the morale of the people of Israel was tremendous, dizzying. The fear of
the missiles was astonishing – for [people] had no clue when and where the next
rocket would land or whether it would be chemical. And not only that – the
Israeli people had no ability then to defend themselves
against missiles. In confronting the enemy aircraft, we knew we’ve got the Air
Force, but in confronting the projectiles – we had nothing.
That’s a terrible feeling. For the first time, the home front had
turned into the front line, and for the first time the Arabs (and all our
enemies) realized that they had found a strategic response to the Israeli
might, [with] its centerpiece being our decisive air superiority: missiles that
would hurt the civilian home front and the strategic centers of
One of the most instructive things to take place in the first Gulf War was the
mass exodus from Tel Aviv, primarily from the established parts of the city.
[The population] escaped to Galilee, escaped to Negev, and I’d almost say that they escaped
to Sderot*** as well; however, there were no luxury
hotels over there. Yes, all of those who less than 15 years after that advised
to the residents of Sderot, from their Tel Aviv heights,
to embrace patience and suffer a little bit – fled like rabbits. Walking around
the streets of rainy Tel Aviv in those days was like touring a ghost town.
And two notes regarding the current
1991, we’ve sprang 100 steps in our capacity to develop and produce weapons
against missiles en route, to reach far distances and destroy missiles, and to
procure accurate intelligence in real time. The second one concerns leadership.
In 1991, we had top echelons (Yitzhak Shamir as the
Prime Minister and Moshe Arens as the Minister of Defense) that knew
the secret of restraint and right maneuvers vis-à-vis the United States.
The question of questions is therefore – and for everyone, his own answer is
reserved – whether the current leadership has made a leap forward commensurate
with our operational capability, or the other way round.
author is Brigadier General (res.), advisor on intelligence affairs to the
Israeli intelligence community and lecturer on intelligence. He has held
several senior positions in the Intelligence Corps and in the Intelligence
Department of the IDF General Staff, most recently as Head of the Research
Division. He also served as Advisor to the Prime Minister on Arab Affairs and
as Advisor to the Defense Minister.
Original Hebrew article: http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/334/138.html?hp=1&cat=479
* in Hebrew - Gush Dan: the Tel
Aviv Metropolitan Area, includes
areas from both the Tel Aviv and the Central Districts of Israel.
** the largest
city in northern Israel,
and the third-largest city in the country
western Negev [desert] city in the Southern District of Israel located nearly 3 miles from the Gaza Strip border and
systematically terrorized by rocket fire from there – worse than elsewhere in