Israeli army, telco face off over emergency SMS alert test

Israeli army, telco face off over emergency SMS alert test

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Israel's third-largest cellular telephone service provider, Orange, are at odds over the use of the firm's SMS (Short Message Service -- cellphone text messages) system to send emergency alerts to the populace in wartime, Xinhua reported.

And the dust-up couldn't have come at a more critical time: during a week-long national drill, "Turning Point 5," in which the military, police, government ministries, rescue services, some 80 municipalities, and the country's 7.5 million residents practice responding to a simultaneous massive missile attack on the Jewish State.

A crucial part of the this year's annual drill comes on Wednesday, when a newly-installed alert system is scheduled to send out hundreds of thousands of SMS messages to the population in order to test out the technology. There are an estimated 10 million cellphones in use in Israel.

The message that will be sent by the Home Front Command will say, "Drill -- have a nice day, from the Homefront Command."

The idea is to eventually phase-out outdoor air-raid sirens, which are often unheard indoors, by the infirm, or in certain areas of the country. However, sirens will sound twice to drill the public in entering protected spaces: in the mid-morning, to test responses during the workday; and once in the evening, to gauge responses at the dinner hour.

The two other main telcos, Cellcom and Pelephone, have signed on with the test, which, in case of a missile attack would utilize the GPS coordinates of every cellphone in the area where a rocket is expected to hit, sending a message to the phone's owner to seek shelter.

However, Orange's phone system, which is operated by Partner Communications, has refused to allow the Home Front Command to use their system, saying that the mass event could damage their gear.

In reply to a request by Xinhua to clarify the imbroglio, the IDF Spokesman's Office said that, "In order to allow all the citizens of Israel a better and more specific alert the Home Front Command also uses the 'Cell Broadcast' technology which alerts the citizen personally to their cell phones. The Home Front Command regrets the lack of cooperation on the part of 'Partner' cell phone Company but is willing to cooperate with all cell phone companies in order to assure the best possible alert service for all citizens in times of emergency."

Numerous calls to Partner's public relations department for comment went unanswered by press time.

"Partner is unnecessarily afraid of the test," senior IDF officers told the Globes business news site. The army has said that it reassured Partner that the test would not harm its system or equipment.

The five-day test -- and especially Wednesday's drill, which is being widely publicized in radio, television and internet spots -- is meant to ready the populace, comprehensively synchronize rescue responses, and possibly to warn potential foes that such an attack would cause little damage to a prepared public and military.

"Our enemies know perfectly well that if they attack us, we will strike them with very tough blows, but we must prepare," Israel's Home Front Command Minister, Matan Vilnai, told Army Radio on Sunday, "because they have the capacity to fire missiles and rockets at all of our territory."

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