IDF tests new pinpointed rocket alert system in northern Israel

Sirens to sound in individual towns, as opposed to old system that operated based on larger regions; army says test unrelated to Iran tensions

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A man walks near an open bomb shelter in the northern Israeli city of Safed on December 4, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)
A man walks near an open bomb shelter in the northern Israeli city of Safed on December 4, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Israeli military on Monday said it was testing a new, more exact incoming rocket alert system in the north of the country as part of a larger exercise taking place this week.

This new system operates by only sounding in individual communities where a threat is identified, unlike the current array of sirens, which are triggered throughout a larger region.

The military says the more pinpointed warnings to specific “polygons,” as the army refers to the smaller sections, will allow civilians who are not directly in harm’s way to continue going about their lives.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the system will be tested at 10:05 a.m. Monday in communities throughout northern Israel and the Galilee region, including the cities of Safed and Kiryat Shmona.

In addition to the sirens, warnings will also go out on Radio North 104.5 and Radio A-Shams, television channel 33 and on the Home Front Command’s website and phone application, as well as through the special devices given to Israelis with hearing difficulties, the army said.

In the case of a true incoming rocket, the sirens will sound twice.

An Israeli policeman takes cover as a rocket alert siren sounds, on a road near Yad Mordechai in southern Israel, on May 5, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Israeli military has been working to improve its incoming rocket alert system for the past 30 years.

Initially, the sirens would sound throughout the country whenever an incoming projectile was detected, meaning people in Haifa would be forced into bomb shelters when an attack was actually directed at Tel Aviv over 90 kilometers (55 miles) away.

The IDF has gradually improved the system, dividing up the country into hundreds of regions, allowing for greater accuracy.

Following the 2014 Gaza war, the military further upgraded the system and divided the country’s territory into 3,000 polygons, allowing an even smaller population to be mobilized by alarms in the case of an attack.

‘Drill unrelated to Iran tensions’

This test came as the military conducts an exercise in the Golan Heights.

The IDF said it was holding a large drill in the Golan and around the Hermon Mountain from Monday to Wednesday, “during which you can expect to see increased movement of security forces.”

The military said the exercises are not related to ongoing tensions between the United States and Iran, which have led to some fears of an reprisal attack on Israel from Iranian forces entrenched in Syria.

The US recently sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf in response to an unspecified threat from Iran, leading to saber-rattling on both sides.

A number of attacks on US allies have also been carried out in recent weeks, reportedly by Iranian proxies, and on Sunday a rocket was fired toward the US Embassy in Baghdad, causing no injuries.

“We would like to stress that this test was planned in advance as part of the 2019 training schedule and is meant to ensure the functionality of the sirens system and to test the expected changes to the alarms system,” the IDF said in a statement.

On Sunday night, US President Donald Trump tweeted that “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”

Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.

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