Real Life

Living Under the Iron Dome: A Story of Rockets and Shelters

Recently, grim news from Israel and Palestine hit the news worldwide. What follows is a post by our friend and fellow member of the 132nd Virtual Wing, AssafB, during the recent fights.

Needless to say, this is not a political post, just a glimpse of the daily life in those days, in such an extremely complex situation, from the point of view of a normal guy, a DCS player like many of us are.

I copied the post exactly as it was written and with his permission, I removed the real names for obvious reasons.

During May 2021 we’ve had – once again- a period of about two weeks of open confrontation with two militant organizations (Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) based in the Gaza strip .
While this was not the first time – and sadly, probably not the last time – that we have one of those rounds, this time was my first time experiencing it since becoming a member of the 132nd (Previous major confrontation was back in 2014 while I joined the wing in 2017). Having quite a few conversations with friends here in the wing, I came to realize that for those outside of this area it’s quite difficult to understand “what’s it like”.
I’ve therefore tried to describe and explain individually but figured I might try to put it all together (Read: “So this wall of text is actually YOUR fault” ;-)….)

One heads up:
I’m not gonna argue who’s right and who’s wrong here as this would probably lead to political/ethnical issue we don’t want here. This nonsense has been going on for decades now and has quite some complexity into it and IMHO there’s no real “right” and “wrong” here. My intent is merely to try describe what is like for us here in the Israeli side of the border during a confrontation like the one we’ve just had. If what I write here does end up with a sound or stench of politics then please know that it is not my intent.

During those weeks of shooting you might’ve heard about things like rockets and mortars firing, Iron-Dome, shelters etc.
What’s the deal? Some ancient background first.
Back in 1991 during the first Gulf War, some 40 or so Scud missiles were fired from Iraq to Israel with some landing in population centers (Actually those were an Iraqi modified version named Al-Hussain rather than the original Russian made ones) At the time it was feared that those missiles might be armed with chemical warheads, the civil defense authorities ran into a dilemma:
Chemical agents are usually heavier than the air and tend to sink down to lower spaces. Therefore when defending against chemical agents it’s safer to stay on higher floors of multistory-buildings (With protective equipment that was issued to the general population like ABC masks and similar items).
However, conventional, High-explosive warheads are best defended against by being in underground shelters (Of the kind many buildings has for decades here, as well as public shelters that are available for anyone caught outdoors during an air raid).
Back then the decision was therefore to instruct civilians to stay in their apartments in a “sealed” room (A room with some duct tape on the window frames, wearing gas masks etc) and hope that if a HE warhead is inbound, it would land elsewhere.

Not long after that war, home-front command issued some standards dictating that ANY new house or building should include a fortified space in each floor and preferably in each and every apartment. This space is called MAMAD (Hebrew acronym for “Apartment Fortified Space” or something like that). That space is essentially a room (Minimal 9m sq for each apartment) built of thick reinforced concrete, with a blast-proof, sealable doors and windows (Window is composed of a blast-proof glass window with a 20mm or so thick tough steel plate on rollers serving as a shade). The MAMAD also has the infrastructure or the actual components of an air treatment system making the room usable to defend against nonconventional agents while still providing more breathable air than the inside air volume so that a family can safely stay inside for prolonged durations).

Buildings built prior to 1992-or-so are not equipped with a MAMAD (Some were later refitted with one but not too many as this is quite expensive). So during rocket attacks residents of such buildings are instructed to head for stairways shaft, lower floors or rooms as far away from external walls and windows and stay down. This is obviously not perfect: A rocket impacting a regular roofing is likely to penetrate a few meters into the apartment/s below before detonating, and the sheer mass and inertia of the cylindrical tube is enough to plow through a few floors and walls (More so for long-range rockets anyway).

Fast-forwarding to recent times:
During time of high tension or conflict with Israel since the early 2000s, one of the key moves by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is the use of indirect fires such as mortars and rockets. Those weapons vary depending on the range to which they are fired and can be as “light” as 60mm mortar rounds fired to ranges of a couple km to villages closest to the border) through light rockets containing a few kg of explosive warheads , through standard mil-grade GRAD rockets (Fired as far as 20 or so km) and as heavy as larger rockets with warheads in the order of 100kg of explosives and a range of more than 100km.

Since 2011 or so, Israel is deploying Iron-Dome batteries that are capable of intercepting artillery projectiles like those used by Gaza militant groups. The missile batteries are usually deployed during times of higher-than-usual tension.
Even though Iron-Dome’s kill rate is in the area of 85%+ of all targets being engaged, it is not regarded as a perfect solution and so whenever rockets/mortars are fired from Gaza, The Iron-Dome radar plots the projectiles trajectory and estimate its impact point. A siren would than automatically go off in the area around that impact point as well as in any areas between the launcher and that point – as those areas might be subjected to falling remains of interceptor missiles and/or rockets which might be dangerous.

This alert systems is being upgraded over the years to provide more and more localized alerts for affected areas so that the disruption to life in nearby areas is reduced (Trying to have only a portion of a city to go to their shelters is preferred over sending everyone into shelters…).
A key factor in this alert system is the response time:
The further away one is from the border, the longer the alert time one would have to take cover due to increased flight time of the inbound projectile. The alert time might be as little as 10 seconds near the border and up to 90 seconds in central-Israel (Tel Aviv and the surrounding areas). The alert time is also shorter the closer one is to the Northern parts of Israel as it is closer to Lebanon (Where Hezbollah and other militant groups sometimes use similar weapons…).

So to make it easier on civilians, the sirens that are shouting once an inbound projectile is detected would only shout during the “alert” period and would go quiet once the projectiles are expected to land on the ground.

So taking all of this and applying to what we’ve been through here in our place in Tel-Aviv , living in an apartment on the 3rd floor in a 4 stories, 50 years-old building:
The alert-time here is defined as 90 seconds. So when a siren starts, we drop everything we do, take my son and head for a small corner in our apartment (A relatively shielded spot with walls all around, better than nothing). The siren runs for 90 seconds and we’re usually “ready” in less than that. At some point when the siren still going we can hear Iron-Dome interceptors firing from a nearby battery a few km South of my place. Once the siren stops it means basically that any projectile not intercepted would be landing momentarily and indeed once it gets quiet we can hear the booms. Those booms have distinct sounds for air intercepts and another for a ground impacts. Keep in mind that all Iron-Dome interceptors are self-destructing if not hitting any inbound rocket so there are usually more explosions heard than the number of inbound rockets but to me it’s impossible to distinguish an actual intercept sound from a self-destructing interceptor.
Also, Iron-Dome is only spending its interceptors for rockets that are deemed as inbounding for population centers or strategic places (Bases, factories etc.). A rocket that would land in an open field would NOT be intercepted so as to save ammo in the Iron-Dome batteries. Since there are some crop fields around then a few rocket landing there were also heard very distinctively.

If the siren catches one while in the outdoors, one must head indoors to a nearby building or to a nearby public shelter and anyway if still running in the street and the siren stops – it’s the sign to hit the dirt: lay on the ground, cover the head as any rocket seeping though Iron-Dome wall would impact any moment now.
If one is on the road, one must stop the car, egress and lay down.

The Homefront instruction is to sit tight in whatever safe place you’re at and wait for 10 minutes after the siren before going on with whatever it is you were doing. This is because there are usually several rockets launching in some intervals and also because debris from intercepts or Iron-Dome interceptors might be falling to the ground after some time.

As frustrating as things were for us in Tel-Aviv, folks living further south (and closer to the Gaza border) had a much harder life: While the rockets fired to shorter ranges are usually lighter, there are MANY more of them so those living close to the border had to stay in their shelters around the clock with numerous sirens running almost back to back. There, the alert time is also shorter: 10 or 30 seconds of a siren are barley enough get into a safe space (Imagine waking up from it at night, realizing what’s going on, having to grab the kids from their beds etc.)

This round we’ve had in May 2021 was the toughest one for me. While I already had one time of a siren after my son was born back in 2018 or so, that time only had a couple of rockets fired at Tel-Aviv. Early in this round however, the first barrage at Tel-Aviv had around 100 rockets fired our way. Sitting in our apartment, hearing the numerous blasts and basically waiting was a really frustrating time.

Final words: I’d like to again extend a HUGE THANK for the support I’ve been getting from you guys. It meant a huge lot for me and us here!
Hoping for some quiet and peaceful time for all of us, and hoping I was able to make it a bit more clear – else it would’ve been a huge waste of text 😛

AssafB hosted a very interesting introduction of the new Syria map, and sent us some great pictures of the area near the Golan Heights, in the north of Israel).
He also gave this great theory lesson about CAS Control.

Cover picture credits Wikipedia.

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