Why Israelis Living Near Gaza Strip Keep Hearing False Rocket Alerts

There were three alarms sounded near the border in March, only one of which turned out to be a projectile. But safety-first approach of automated system means mistakes will continue to happen.

The remains of a rocket fired from Gaza into the Eshkol Regional Council.
Ilan Assayag

There were three missile alerts in Israeli communities close to the Gaza Strip in the month of March. One was an actual alert in response to a real rocket, while two were false alarms not triggered by ballistic launches.

Residents in the area cannot afford to assume any alert is false, though, so every siren causes their pulses to race. However, the more inaccuracies there are, the less faith people are likely to have in the Home Front Command.

The doubt has reached such levels that some even wonder if false alarms really are false, or whether a rocket launch is being hushed up.

The first of the three March alerts occurred around March 11, when a false alarm sounded in Nir Oz. A week later, on March 18, a rocket fired toward the area of Yad Mordechai exploded on open ground.

The following day, an alert sounded in the Eshkol region, shortly after noon. The residents of communities in the area – Nir Oz, Ein Habesor and Magen – had seconds to scramble for their bomb shelters. Four minutes later, the Israeli army announced it was a false alarm.

Why do alarms sound if neither a rocket nor mortar shell has been identified? The Home Front Command systems are connected to Israel Air Force radar systems, which are programmed to identify any threat moving along a steep trajectory toward Israeli territory – missile, rocket, shell.

The policy of sounding an alert differs from area to area, depending on the probability of peril. For instance, suspicion of a launch from Lebanon or Syria will require manual activation of the alert system by a soldier (triggering 3,320 sirens throughout the country).

But the warning systems near Gaza are automated: if a threat is detected, the systems will immediately be activated.

That’s because a projectile arriving from Syria or Lebanon will take some time to arrive, relatively speaking, compared to projectiles from Gaza. But Israelis living in communities by the Strip have mere seconds to seek shelter: every microsecond counts. The price for that is that the system picks up, and responds to, other stimuli that it misreads as threats.

The price of fast reaction is a higher probability of mistakes, and each false alarm is subsequently investigated by the southern front commander.