Gulf War operations in Tel Aviv,

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Tel Aviv

on Tel Aviv, and no one knew whether the warheads were chemical or conventional. We certainly did not know.   Becoming Routine   
The bureau worked through it all, and it became quite a production. The sirens would sound. and the embassy radio would confirm a launch. The Turkish monitors, with their earphones on, frequently did not hear the sirens and had to be informed that things were happening. The Hebrew monitors generally knew first, because the radio would broadcast a whirring noise and a coded message to the rescue teams a few seconds before the sirens blared. The teletype operator would send the canned flash message, vents were turned off via a master switch, and bureau personnel would converge on the sealed room carrying gas masks. We became accustomed to donning the masks and taping up the door of the systems administrator's office. It was deemed the safest place to be because it has no windows, little ventilation, and is an interior office. Sometimes, however, Saddam sent his greetings more than once a night; one night there were three alerts.
We stayed in that room for four hours. Later, I learned that one of those first missiles had fallen near a gas station, and the sensitive instruments of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were picking up fumes from the gasoline. This caused confusion and delays in making a decision as to whether or not people should be allowed out of the sealed rooms.  
War of Nerves
The first missile strikes were frightening and immobilizing. Bill Brown, the senior editor, was the "lucky" guy to oversee the first strike on Israel. The monitors were frightened, and the whole country stayed at home. Schools were closed, and few vehicles could be seen on the streets. We had to work hard to persuade our monitors to come to work and almost as hard to get them to leave at the end of their shifts. Even renting a room at a nearby hotel did not help. The monitors did not want to walk the two blocks from the hotel to the bureau. They were terrified of being by themselves during an attack, a fear I shared. In fact, several of them were caught outside when the sirens went off.  
 The best attack was one that did not happen. One night while I was on duty, Nicosia sent in an item in which Iraq claimed an attack on Haifa. Because an attack anywhere in Israel meant sirens were sounded throughout the country, it was obvious that the only thing striking Haifa that night were ill wishes.
To put the danger in perspective, more people died in car accidents during the war than died in missile attacks. Few died as a direct result of missiles. More died from heart attacks and suffocation while wearing their gas masks. On the other hand, about 1,000 people were injured by flying glass or because they injected themselves with atropine. (A syringe of atropine was provided in the gas-mask kits as an antidote to nerve gas.) The small number of deaths, however, is in no way a true measure of the fear and anxiety caused by the attacks.  There were periods of several days when there were no attacks. We would wonder if Saddam had run out of missiles or if the US had finally destroyed all the launchers. It seemed the US announced almost daily that more missile launchers in western Iraq had been taken out and only a few were left. It became frustrating to hear these announcements and then to have our hopes dashed. One Israeli journalist cynically asked an Israeli politician, "Has the US now destroyed 600 out of the 200 Iraqi missile launchers that are left?"
The American staffers did not have their families to worry about, as the dependents were evacuated before the war. Many of the monitors and teletype operators were leaving small children and aged parents at home when they came to work. In addition, several of the monitors' husbands were called up by the IDF, leaving the women alone with their families. The monitors and the teletype operators were more frightened than the Americans; they had more to lose.  We eventually got used to Saddam's missiles. There was so much tape on the door of the sealed room that we stopped applying more and simply reused what was already stuck to the door. Everyone learned his particular responsibility during an attack, and fear began to subside. There still were problems. Both Turkish and Israeli TV were carrying many CNN reports, and CNN seemed to love to broadcast the sound of the sirens in Tel Aviv or Riyadh. The

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Posted: May 08, 2007 09:01 AM
Last Updated: May 08, 2007 09:01 AM