Iraqi Scuds Strike Israel
IDF Spokesperson Nachman Shai updating the media about Iraqi-Israeli tensions in 1991. Photo: Nachman Shai

January 18, 1991

Iraq fires eight Scud missiles at Israel in the predawn hours of the morning after U.S.-led allied forces launch airstrikes on Iraq at the outset of the Persian Gulf War. Missiles hit Haifa and Tel Aviv, wounding seven people and damaging several residential buildings. It is the first time Tel Aviv has been struck since Israel’s founding in 1948.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir leads the Cabinet in an all-day emergency session, but, despite reserving the right to retaliate, Israel does not strike back. Air-raid sirens in Israel in the evening prove to be a false alarm.

Saddam Hussein’s military fires 30 more Scuds at Israel during the war in an attempt to spark Israeli retaliation and possibly shatter the 26-nation anti-Iraq coalition trying to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. But although the missiles cause 13 deaths and IDF leaders push for airstrikes, Israel holds its fire at the request of the United States. The Shamir government is able to withstand the attacks without responding in part because the United States rushes Patriot anti-missile batteries to Israel and in part because the Scuds’ warheads carry only conventional explosives. Israel feared Iraq would use chemical or biological warheads and therefore issued gas masks and instructions for home shelters to its citizens.