TEL AVIV -- It's Friday, 7 p.m. and I'm in my study on the ninth floor of a suburban Tel Aviv building, preparing for another night of Iraqi missiles. My black gas mask is next to me. Window and door frames are sealed with tape and plastic curtains to keep poison gas out, in accordance with civil defense instructions. Not that I'm not afraid, but I'm a bit more relaxed than last night. I already know how to use my gas mask and what it is like being under a missile attack.
During military service in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, I had been under gunfire, artillery exchange and even air raids. Until last night, I had never experienced a missile attack. I hope I never will again. We had gone to bed -- my wife, my 7-year-old child and I -- around 11 p.m., feeling euphoric, like many of my countrymen. All day radio and television reports brought news of allied air raids against Iraqi strategic targets. We began to think Iraq would not carry out its threat to launch chemical and conventional warheads against Israel's population centers if war broke out.
But at 2 a.m. Friday, sirens and alarms woke us. I rushed to my kid's room and carried him to the sealed room we had readied. He was crying and didn't want to put on his gas mask. I closed the door and put a wet towel under the door. Two or three minutes later, I heard two strong explosions. It was frightening, but even more than fear and anxiety, we were filled with a great sense of helplessness. You can only sit and listen to confused radio reports not knowing what is happening anywhere else in the country. I knew that in my sealed room with my gas mask, I would be pretty safe from a chemical attack. But I also knew that a conventional attack could turn the apartment into a death trap.
More than an hour passed before the military reported it had not been a gas attack. I spent the time reflecting on my bizarre situation: I had warned in several articles last year that Saddam Hussein would not hesitate to use the chemical, conventional and missile arsenal he was building. But I never thought that one night I would find myself threatened this way.
We emerged from our sealed room at 6 a.m. to a sobered new world. Missiles had struck the city, and while the damage was light and only 12 people were injured, I realize that we Israelis are in a completely different kind of a war where the homefront can become the front lines. This uncertainty has a paralyzing effect on each of us. The question of the night is: Will we be hit again? Now it is 9 p.m. The alarms and sirens are moaning again.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli journalist.