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The IDF has recently introduced a system that can detect Qassam rockets and provide the residents of Sderot with a 15 to 20 second warning before the rocket falls.

This news item, reported by Haaretz this week, raises many questions. One of them is what a resident of Sderot is supposed to do in those 15 to 20 seconds, when the wail of a siren rips through the dead of the night. Even if he is an Olympic gold medalist in the 100-yard dash, how far can he run? 150 yards?

Question No. 2: Where should he run to, if he doesn't know where?

Question No. 3: What should he do with his mother-in-law, wife and three children? Should he leave them home or take them along? In this case, I would say leave them home. One way or another, he doesn't have a clue where the Qassam will land.

The Hebrew code name of this early warning system means "Believer." A better name would be "Happy is the believer."

During the Gulf War, we had five minutes warning from the moment the Scud left Iraq until it landed in Israel. That gave us time to put on our gas masks, tape up the cracks around the door and sit there petrified as Nachman Shai's voice came over the airwaves, instructing us in Hebrew and Amharic to "drink water." Looking back, the advance warning was definitely scarier than the missile.

To this day, there is no authorized data on how many minutes it will take a nuclear Shihab missile to get from Iran to Israel. The information we do have is as follows: If the take-off is detected by satellite, we have seven minutes to get into our atomic bomb shelters. If the missile is detected by the radar of one of our anti-ballistic missiles, we have three to four minutes. In that span of time, the Arrow will either blow up the Shihab, or it won't. In any case, we don't have atomic bomb shelters. But early warnings - that we're good at.

For 18 years, we were warned that withdrawal from Lebanon would endanger the Galilee. Well, we left, and it's never been quieter. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, the defense establishment warned that if Saddam had his back to the wall, he would pound us with chemical warheads and send out old revamped Soviet warplanes fitted with dirty bombs. So what happened? Nothing, nada. It was all baloney.

Twenty seconds is not a lot of time, but it depends for what. Twenty seconds is the time it takes from the moment Netanyahu says he cares about the have-nots until he slashes their welfare benefits. Twenty seconds go by from the moment Tzachi Hanegbi recuses himself until he says he's done nothing wrong. Twenty seconds is all it takes from the moment Tommy Lapid says he won't sit in a government with the ultra-Orthodox until he says he will.

Israelis manage pretty well considering the state of alert that looms in every sphere of life - in how long they have until a municipal tow truck shows up to tow away the car they left in a no-parking zone; in how long they have until someone informs them that their local council salaries won't be paid this month either; in how long they can hang on until their superiors fire them and order a political replacement; in how long they have to lie there before the emergency room doctor comes over; in how long it will take until the warnings of an impending political assassination are proven false.

When the chief of staff warns that the pullback from Gaza will become a tail wind for terror, the citizen doesn't know whether to take him seriously or not - especially when you've got the head of Military Intelligence saying just the opposite in a pre-holiday interview: He predicts that terror from Gaza will stop because the Palestinians will want to show that these operations are not launched from the territory Israel is vacating. This is a kind of warning in reverse. But, of course, the IDF will be right no matter what, whether terror continues or doesn't continue.

What Israelis don't understand sometimes is why they have to know in advance about every threat of attack. These things are being handled by the army and the police, aren't they? So what are we supposed to do? Stay home and chew our fingernails?

After so many warnings, most of the public ends up doing whatever it feels like doing. On the eve of the holiday, the authorities came out with a dramatic warning: Whatever you do, don't go to Sinai. The upshot: 100,000 people made a beeline for Sinai. The authorities also warned against traveling to Turkey; tens of thousand of Israelis flew to Turkey.

If there's anything idiotic in the army's advance warning system, it's the computer that code-named the Gaza disengagement plan Zohar Harakiya ("Brightness in the Firmament") - a phrase from a prayer recited in memory of the dead.

On second thought, perhaps, it's not so idiotic. Maybe this time it's a warning to Arafat.