Even though it's been months since rockets slammed into the "capital of the south," some residents of Be'er Sheva are still uneasy when they hear loud noises, and the first day of the largest military exercise in the history of the State of Israel didn't make it easier.
Yocheved Miriam Russo was one of those who didn't expect Turning Point 3 to turn up on her doorstep -- it had been billed to start safely enough as a simulation in the weekly Cabinet meeting.
But the largest air base in Israel is located in the Negev, not far from Be'er Sheva.
"The action started very suddenly with a terrific bang around 12:30. A tremendous BOOM hit, so strong it shook the house, tipped over my water battle, set car alarms blaring, and made my dogs run to get under the bed," she told Israel National News. "It hasn't been that long since booms like that were actual bombs, so as usual, I listened for sirens. Then I remembered. This was just the war games we'd been warned about."
Russo spent days holed up in her house while the IDF carried out its counterterrorist Operation Cast Lead in Gaza earlier this year, listening to the sounds of air raid sirens and rockets landing, following by IAF jets zooming off into the distance. She remembers clearly how a long-range Grad missile sounds when it crashes into the ground nearby – and said this wasn't much different.
"That first boom was the loudest, but there were many, many planes overhead. I couldn't see what they were doing, but the noise was considerable. There were helicopters too; one flew very low over the house."
The action didn't last all that long -- less than 45 minutes -- then it became quiet, she added. Three hours later, the action resumed with occasional aircraft movement, but "maybe it's nothing out of the ordinary," she said hopefully. Russo made it clear that she has yet to fully recover her equilibrium from the trauma of the recent war with terrorists in Gaza, distant as it was for most Be'er Sheva residents.
"I was thinking that if that considerable major commotion up in the sky was going to continue through all four days, it was going to be tough to get through it. Even though I know it's our guys and nothing to be worried about, I knew I'd be tense, constantly on edge, waiting for the next major bang," she explained.
Government ministers, meanwhile, were prepared and actively involved in the first day of simulations, which began at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday morning.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the ministers in his remarks at the opening of the meeting that the drill "is carried out on an annual basis and reflects the special way in which we lead our lives, which on second glance is not so routine."
The most important thing, said the prime minister, "is that we adopt means, routines, methods of coping to allow ourselves to live in this land, this region, under any condition." The war games themselves, he added, may prove a deterrent against attack by surrounding enemies – but he emphasized that the drill was "unrelated to any intelligence warning. It is linked to the reality which we must prepare for in order to defend our citizens."