The Magazine

The Siege of Haifa

Missiles, ball bearings, and summer camp underground.

Aug 21, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 46 • By DAVID AIKMAN
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The city is protected, in theory, from really big rockets--Scuds, say, or the very large Iranian rocket in the Hezbollah arsenal, the Zelzal--by a Patriot missile battery on a bluff high above the city. At $1.5 million a throw, Patriots are unlikely to be launched against anything smaller than a Zelzal. But the Patriot battery's tracking radar is extremely useful. It sees every projectile coming in from Lebanon, tracks the starting point and the likely trajectory, and alerts the city to activate the siren alarm system. After this sounds, citizens have between 45 seconds and a minute to dash into a shelter. "It is nervewracking," said Tammy, a 21-year-old second lieutenant at the missile battery, "but after a while you get used to it."

Tammy, a career officer, may, but few other people in Haifa are likely to. The city prides itself not only on its measurably better Jewish-Arab relations than other Israeli cities but also on its hitherto peaceful history. Though it suffered a few suicide bombings during the intifada, it was never as much on eggshells about these things as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That sense of well-being may be gone forever. Hezbollah's smiley-faced leader Nasrallah warned leeringly this week, "I have a special message to the Arabs of Haifa, to your martyrs and your wounded. I call on you to leave the city."

A possible translation: The Zelzals are coming. If so, the Patriots may indeed be called on to prove their stuff.

David Aikman is a former bureau chief for Time magazine in Jerusalem and author, among others, of Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power.