So far, the whims of war have been kind to Israel --but will they turn cruel?

January 20, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

TEL AVIV -- The whims of war were kind to Hezi Tikva.

The 21-year-old soldier was home with his family Friday night as darkness brought the threat of Iraqi missiles. They spurned the government's advice to stay in a sealed room in their home and instead sought out a bomb shelter.

The first empty shelter they went to, in the plaza of their neighborhood cultural center, seemed too exposed. So they joined five other families in a second shelter 80 yards away.

When the missiles did come, at 7:20 in the morning, the blast seemed ungodly loud. The women started screaming, Mr. Tikva said, and struggled with hysterical children to get them into gas masks.

After 10 minutes, Mr. Tikva ventured out. He stopped, stunned, at the first shelter to which they had gone. An Iraqi missile had plunged directly to the bunker and torn through the concrete.

"We would have been dead," the young man said, surveying the gash, cement and iron bars laid open like a nasty wound. "Everybody inside would have died."

If Israelis needed any convincing that God is on their side -- which they don't -- their proof was delivered with missiles from Iraq.

At least six of the slender Scud weapons had fallen on Tel Aviv by yesterday, and another three on Haifa. Yet there were no injuries more serious than cuts from flying glass. No one had died.

"We are lucky." said Shi Tassa, 39, who lives near where one of the missiles landed. "The whole country is lucky."

One missile slammed into a residential area, ripping the concrete walls off a pair of two-story houses and leaving two other houses so battered that they were bulldozed to the ground. "This looks like Beirut," said Gi, a teen-ager surveying the wreckage.

Neighbors say one family was staying at a cousin's house. Another family of seven walked out of the wreckage unscathed. The whims of war were kind.

Early yesterday morning, the second salvo of missiles delivered a 500-pound explosive to the same neighborhood. Israeli censors require that its name and location not be given. But it is a poor suburb, ironically filled with many Iraqi Jews.

The houses are packed closely together, but this missile thrust down between them, landing on the empty plaza bunker in the largest open space in the area.

Another missile plunged through four floors of an empty commercial building. Yet another hit the ground near some old water storage tanks in the city.

The whims of war were kind.

"Just as I closed the door, the bomb went off. Outside, it looked like a storm, with everything flying through the air," said Shimon Sason, 26, who was in the neighborhood struck on successive days. His windows were shattered, but his family was safe.

As modern tools of destruction go, the Scud missiles are old, inaccurate and not very lethal. Some military analyst with a keen eye for averages concluded in Iraq's bombardment of Tehran in 1988, each Scud missile claimed 3 to 10 lives. If the missiles keep falling on Tel Aviv, the averages must be paid their due.

"I have been in four wars, and I never shake as much as I shake now," said Yacov Perez, a 52-year-old businessman and a reserve Army lieutenant colonel. "The problem is you are just sitting in your bed, not doing anything but waiting, waiting, waiting. You and your wife sit there and keep guessing where it will hit."

The guessing was over for the 60-year-old father of Zion, a vegetable dealer who would not give his full name. Zion showed a visitor great splotches of red on his floor, the tracks of blood where his father had reeled out of his bedroom, slashed by flying glass.

The missile had blown off the doors and windows of hundreds of homes. House after house in the neighborhood was littered by glass shards, debris from the concussion, and the twisted metal of shutters and awnings.

But no one was badly injured. Zion's father was stitched up at the hospital and would be all right, his son said. The house could be repaired.

"Why does he try to kill the people?" asked Zion, of the man he blamed for sending the missiles, Saddam Hussein. "We are not the war."

But they are. The residents of Tel Aviv are pawns in a game of war chess in which Mr. Hussein is trying to move Israel onto the board. By sending missiles on indiscriminate flights to the city, he hopes the public outrage will cause the government to enter the war.

"It is time for Israel to fight back," said a young man whose house was shaken by a missile blast. "We have to show them where the power is. We have to do it now."

Before the whims of war turn cruel.

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