15 Years Since the First Gulf War
I'm a Gulf War Veteran.
Actually, everyone who was in Israel in January, 1991 is a Gulf War veteran. We were all in the front lines of battle. The battlefield was each and everyone's living room, dining room, bedroom - wherever you had the plastic and tape that created what was known as a "sealed room".
The yeshiva that I learned at had its enrollment cut in half - from 70 to 35 students - before the war even started. But quantity was not the only thing affected. The war also affected the quality of learning for that entire year. If there's anything that will seal Saddam's fate, it will likely be his causing Bitul Torah for thousands of people.
From what I remember, President Bush (41) set a deadline of January 15th to Saddam to get out of Kuwait or face military action. The war started on Jan. 16th (Israel time). The first SCUD missle was launched at Israel on Jan. 17th (Israel time). That first SCUD attack was the scariest night of my life - and I'd venture to say that of many Israelis too. No one knew what to expect. Chemical weapons? Biological weapons? Is it better to have your sealed room in the basement bomb shelter? No, we were told, as the chemicals sink.
We heard the siren go off outside and we ran to the sealed room. Naive little me put on my gas mask, but didn't remove the filter cap because I thought that would make it ineffective. I was having trouble breathing, but everyone else seemed to be OK. I was wondering why. When someone else pointed out to me that the cap was on, I removed it, and I literally breathed a breath of fresh air. B"H.
We started saying Tehillim. As the bumper sticker said in a play-on-words "Tehillim Neged Tillim" - Psalms to counteract missiles. We also were glued to the radio. The soothing voice of Nahman Shai would tell us how long to stay in the sealed room and for which area of Israel. That first night seemed like forever.
The next sirens (if I remember correctly) happened on Shabbat - at 3:00 AM and at 5:00 AM. Heteirim were given to leave the radio on over Shabbat because of Pikuah Nefesh. Our Beit Midrash was unusable because part of it was sealed off so we had to use the dining room as a make-shift Beit Midrash. At Shaharit on Shabbat morning, some students were so tired from the previous night's experience that they prayed in pajamas.
As the war went on, and the sirens continued, some students in the Yeshiva grew increasingly lax in their sealed-room rituals. First, they started taking off their gas masks before the all-clear was given. Then, they started not putting on their gas masks at all. It even got to a point that they didn't even go into sealed rooms when hearing the siren - even those that were outside just continued walking. It seemed clear to some at that point that no chemical or biological weapons would be used. I wasn't one of those people.
In all, 39 SCUD missles were launched at Israel. Through open miracles from Hashem, only 1 fatality was caused by a direct hit, despite the considerable damage.
The war finally ended around Purim, 5751. The Saddam - Haman comparisons were endless, and it was one of the most joyous Purims that I remember.
And so, I am a Gulf War veteran.
I can't believe that it's been 15 years.