In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to attack Israel with various types of weapons, including non-conventional ordnance, with the declared aim of destroying a significant part of the country. For the first time in Israel’s history, the entire country faced a real threat of destruction with non-conventional weapons. At the same time, a strong international coalition formed, under the leadership of the US, to counter the Iraqi attacks. The problems faced by the IDF and the State of Israel were firstly the result of the threat, which was estimated as follows:
- Retreat of the Iraqi army from Kuwait and its redirection to Jordan, against Israel, such a move would neutralize the coalition founded to operate against Iraq, and particularly the Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, thereby causing a strategic coup for Iraq.
- Attack on Israel using conventional and non-conventional missiles.
- Attack on Israel by aircraft.
- Artillery bombardment of civilian settlements.
- Attacks on factories containing dangerous materials.
Moreover, for the first time in its history, the IDF was prevented from initiating operations because Saudi Arabia conditioned establishment of the coalition upon Israel’s non-participation (Saudi land served as the base for the coalition’s activities). The fact that Jordan is situated between Israel and the targets in Iraq presented a further obstacle to Israel’s intervention so that the Hashemite Kingdom would not be drawn into the war.
The coalition required 6 months to organize and concentrate forces. Israel utilized this period to complete preparations for the approaching conflict. The IDF prepared for the scenario of engaging an Iraqi expeditionary force which might attack from Jordan, and to attack targets in Iraq. Simultaneously, it prepared its civilian population for conventional and chemical attacks. To do so it took the following steps:
- Distribution of gas masks and biological/chemical warfare protection kits.
- Upgrading the training of Civil Defense personnel.
- Preparation of the overall population, particularly schools and the industrial sector.
- Preparing and improving private and public shelters. Stressing the importance of the sealed room as a shelter against chemical warfare and instructing the population accordingly. Testing alarm systems.
- Establishing liaison with police, emergency services (fire department, Red Magen David) and hospitals.
- Connecting to the US satellite missile warning system.
On the night of 17/18 On the night of 17/18 January, 1991, Coalition air forces attacked Iraq. In response, Iraq fired salvos of ground-to-ground missiles into Israel. Over a period of more than 1 month, approximately 38 Iraqi versions of Scud missiles fell (33 El Hussein missiles and 5 El Tijara missiles) in 19 missile attacks. These missiles mainly hit the greater Tel Aviv region and Haifa, although western Samaria and the Dimona area were also hit by missiles. Directly, these attacks caused 2 civilian deaths, although indirectly, they caused the following casualties: 4 heart attacks, 7 deaths as a result of incorrect use of biological/chemical warfare kits, 208 injured, 225 cases of unnecessary injection of atropine. Damage to general property consisted of 1,302 houses, 6142 apartments, 23 public buildings, 200 shops and 50 cars.
In this war, for the first time the rear served as the main theater of hostilities and for the first time ever, the IDF devoted its main operational efforts to defending civilians and coordinating wartime activities between government offices and emergency services. Soldiers from the standing army were brought to the two main regions – Central Israel and Haifa – in order to reinforce search and identification operations. Likewise, divisional HQs supported the civil defense district HQs. The rescue services of the rear and the local authorities needed assistance in locating where missiles fell, identifying them and classifying them. The Patriot missiles (which arrived in Israel with their American and later Dutch operators) proved to be of extremely limited ability in dealing with the threat, at times even adding to the damage. It should be noted that the Patriot missiles were not designed to serve as anti-missile missiles but rather against aircraft. Those missiles are currently being upgraded.
The rescue services of the rear and the local authorities needed assistance in locating where missiles fell, identifying them and classifying them. The Patriot missiles (which arrived in Israel with their American and later Dutch operators) proved to be of extremely limited ability in dealing with the threat, at times even adding to the damage. It should be noted that the Patriot missiles were not designed to serve as anti-missile missiles but rather against aircraft. Those missiles are currently being upgraded.
As a result of the Gulf War, the IDF found itself having to change its approach to security and make extensive changes concerning strength. Throughout the years, the IDF had prepared itself for war with neighboring countries and accordingly equipped itself with weapons systems suitable for this purpose. These weapon systems proved unsuitable for war against peripheral countries in situations where quiet would be maintained with neighboring countries. Consequently, the IDF made a number of notable efforts in order to adapt itself to the new strategic challenges. These efforts were based on the following:
- Intelligence: obtaining satellite capabilities in order to compensate for geography.
- Ability to Attack Peripheral Countries: purchase of F-15 I combat aircraft for long-range missions as well as Apache and Blackhawk attack helicopters.
- Detection of Ballistic Missiles and their Launchers: the “Wall” project, including warning radar and “Arrow” anti-missile missiles and ancillary systems.
- The Rear: attempts to reorganize and strengthen the liaison and coordination by establishing a Homefront Command responsible for dealing with the defense of the civilian population.