In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to attack Israel with various types of weapons, including non-conventional ordnance. For the first time in Israel’s history, the entire country faced a real threat of destruction.
After the end of his war with Iran, Saddam Hussein had a huge, battlewise army sitting idle and his threats to "burn half of Israel" had to be taken seriously. The IDF was concerned at the availability to Saddam Hussein of considerable quantities of Russian-made Scud missiles with a range of 600 kms., against which no effective countermeasure was as yet in Israel’s arsenal; particularly if those missiles were to be equipped with chemical warheads, which Saddam was reputed to have perfected with the help of German companies.
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.
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.
At the urging of the US, which was concerned that it might be deserted by its Arab coalition partners, Israel refrained from active participation in the war.
In view of the unprecedented danger to the civilian rear, special attention was paid to its organization: the IDF was responsible for the procurement and distribution of gas masks to the entire population; it readied the medical aid network; and instructed the population in preparing "safe rooms" for use in case the alarm was sounded.
For Israel, this war was characterized as the War of the Civilian Rear, and the Gadna, the Youth Batallions, once more had a useful role to play, which they faithfully carried out.
From "The Arab-Israeli Wars" by Netanel Lorch