Memories of Saddam




Israel, Ma’ariv 

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 Lymar


Edited by Steven Stenzler



6 February 2012




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.



On 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.  


In 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.

And then 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.



The 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 gravity.  

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 situation. Since 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.


The 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:






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 the country