MESS Report / How Prepared Is Israel to Defend Its Home Front?

Next week's fourth anniversary of the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War is a good time to revisit an issue that morphed into a national trauma.


Site of a Hezbollah rocket strike, AP, 2006

Next week's fourth anniversary of the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War is a good time to revisit an issue that morphed into a national trauma: the abandonment of the home front in the north during the war, as 4,200 Hezbollah rockets rained down on the country.

During a symposium held at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University on Sunday, senior Israel Defense Forces Homefront Command officers attracted a measure of attention. The home front commander, Gen. Yair Golan, acknowledged that "we failed in our efforts to supply gas masks to the entire public." The head of the Home Front Command's population protection division, Col. Hilik Sofer, said that "Israel is not prepared for a chemical war."

Golan and Sofer committed an unacceptable deed for anyone holding a public position in Israel circa 2010. They spoke the truth. In the years that passed since the war, the IDF and the defense establishment have boasted of a long list of improvements and changes that were made in the wake of the clashes with Hezbollah.

The military headquarters are better drilled, the units in the field have resumed training, and the home front is more ready for a challenge, in stark contrast with the minimal preparations that preceded the summer of 2006.

The Home Front Command and its officers have no reason to be ashamed. The command, whose reserve soldiers were almost entirely not mobilized for the war, has since adopted an all-encompassing approach that will enable it to take on greater involvement in case of another conflagration.

Even government ministries and local councils have signed onto the effort, which is no longer viewed as bearing peripheral importance. IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi speaks of the civilian home front as the second most important front during wartime, a view that is mostly shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

On the other hand, there are still significant gaps in home front preparation. The problem spots are well known: Israel is developing active anti-rocket interception systems, yet the process of activating these systems has stalled because of budgetary issues.

Israel decided to distribute gas masks to all its citizens, yet funding for the undertaking has yet to be found and the plan is having difficulty being implemented. Israel's firefighters, a vital cog in the home front's response to a missile attack, are lagging compared to other agencies that will be called upon.

IDF forces during Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon