Iron Dome Embraces Tel Aviv As Residents Take Cover
Sarah and Yael Levintin raised their wine glasses to the sky and toasted the Iron Dome system that had just been deployed outside Israel's commercial center.
The two sisters decided to leave their apartment Friday evening after two rockets fired into the Tel Aviv area were successfully intercepted by the system.
"We had stayed home all day because we didn't want to take the chance that, you know, we'd be away from the bomb shelter," said Yael Levintin. "We aren't used to war. I guess we are kind of babies about it."
As sirens sounded in Tel Aviv for the third day in a row Saturday, beachgoers dove into the sand and pedestrians ducked behind cars in a city that has not seen a rocket strike in more than two decades.
Across Tel Aviv, bars and restaurants appeared subdued and tables remained half-empty. Waiters joked with clients that if a rocket-warning siren sounded, they would receive their food half-off, as nervous eaters asked about the nearest shelters.
"Tel Aviv just isn't used to this. We are a city that is used to being protected from all the war around us," said Moti Amit, a 26-year-old waiter at the popular Aroma coffee chain. "Most of the people who came in today wanted takeaway. No one is really lingering over their coffee."
Israel's political and military echelons have called for a harsh response to the ongoing rocket fire into central and southern Israel.
On Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced an additional call-up of reserves, as tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers streamed toward the border with Gaza in preparation for a potential ground operation into Gaza.
Speaking during a background briefing to reporters, one senior Israeli military official said that Israel's political leaders would be "more inclined" to order a boots-on-the-ground operation in Gaza if rocket attacks to Israel's center persisted.
"The widening of the operation, the extension of it to the center of Israel is a 'red line' that has been crossed," he said.
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that the rocket that had been intercepted over Tel Aviv on Friday was an Iranian-made Fajr 5. Israel's first day of airstrikes in Gaza purported to target those long-range missiles, among other weapons caches.
An Israeli military spokesman said that eliminating the Fajrs was a priority, though he stressed that militant groups in Gaza still had "thousands upon thousands" of rockets that they could fire into Israeli communities.
As of Friday, Israel police said that more then 600 rockets had been fired into Israel by militants in Gaza. More than 240 were intercepted by the Iron Dome system.