BEIT EL, Israel, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The Israeli military's Home Front Command is testing a Short Message Service system this week.
The SMS system is designed to warn the Israeli population against missile attacks. The $10 million system is a development between Israel's eVigilo and Sweden's Ericsson.
The Personal Message system is scheduled for testing in different Israeli communities each day. A Home Front Command spokesman said SMS is specifically designed to focus missile alert warnings "just to people who are within a specific area that is going to be hit. The Home Front Command, checking cellular alert system, (number)," will be the message sent to those who signed up to participate in the SMS drill.
A statement issued by Home Front Command added, "The Home Front Command will today start conducting nationwide testing of the 'Personal Message' alert system, which will end on Thursday," with the SMS texts in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian being sent to subscribers on Israel's three main cellular networks -- Cellcom, Pelephone and Orange. The Home Front Command has also reached an agreement to work with Hot Mobile subscribers."
Subscribers can call the cellular company to request being disconnected from the alerts if they don't wish to receive them.
On Sunday and Monday, SMS mock messages about an impending missile attack were sent to the area around Ramle-Lod. On Tuesday, messages are to be sent to Ashkelon, Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Akko, Haifa, Nahariya, Karmiel, Tzfat and other locations, while Wednesday the SMS messages is scheduled to be sent to Dimona, Rehovot, Yavne, Rishon Letzion, Kiryat Shmona and other cities. Thursday, the final day of the SMS system tests, is to focus on Beit Shemesh, Mevaseret Tzion, Modi'in and other locales.
The SMS public warning system is expected to be fully operational by September. Home Front Command officials believe that the SMS system could be used to warn the population of an imminent missile attack either by Iran or Hezbollah militia based in southern Lebanon, with the Israeli military worried that the possibility of missile strikes could increase if Israel eventually decides to mount a pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Cellular companies initially hesitated to cooperate with the Home Front Command, saying that the SMS warning system could cause widespread panic. The companies demanded the Defense Ministry indemnify them in the event of possible lawsuits.
However, following discussions with legal specialists the sides agreed that no compensation would be paid, citing the legal precedent that none is paid in the case of false alarms.
A second issue that arose in discussions between the cellular companies and the Home Front Command was whether the SMS system could be defined as unsolicited, junk messaging. The two sides subsequently agreed that since the SMS system is defined as a "life-saving" service, the Home Front Command could use it exclusively in emergency situations.