The continuing escalation of attacks from the Gaza Strip this week has left Home Front commanders facing dilemmas over the approval of large public events in southern venues within striking distance of Palestinian groups’ missiles and rockets.
With intelligence warnings shifting given the precariousness of the Hamas-backed cease-fire − in place since last Sunday − the joint discussions between Home Front, police and local officials have resulted in last minute changes of planned events.
The main event affected was the Breeza Festival in Ashkelon, whose opening was delayed by a day and, in the end, was held for just a single evening, on Tuesday.
“We decided on Tuesday, in light of intelligence assessments and in joint consultation with the mayor, Benny Vaknin, to hold the festival, in which 8,000 persons participated,” said the commander of the Home Front’s Southern District, Col. Doron Mor Yosef.
“We also worked closely with the police, who set up a field command center and our officer in charge of monitoring warnings was there,” he adds.
Throughout the event, police received intelligence on possible rocket attacks toward the area, and a soldier was at the ready by the public announcement system so that a Red Color alert would be issued if the need arose.
In addition, dozens of Home Front soldiers were deployed in readiness to usher the crowd toward protected areas, in case of emergency.
The Iron Dome missile interception battery deployed near Ashkelon was also upgraded with further digital data fed into its system about the areas of the festival which it was protecting.
The command headquarters of the Gaza Division was also instructed to be ready to attack specific target areas, if these were used to fire rockets at the festival.
On Wednesday the Home Front expanded the regular intelligence assessment which determines the protection levels required in the different parts of the country over a 24-hour period.
“We made two additional special assessments, and every hour I talked with the mayor,” Mor Yosef said. He explained that during the day the situation appeared safe, but “there was a moment in the evening when we received intelligence on possible launches [of missiles] and with the Southern District Police Commander, we decided to cancel [the event] and informed the mayor. We warned the people, and a quarter of an hour after we had dispersed the people, the first missile landed.”
Similar preparedness took place at the funeral of Yossi Shushan, who was killed by a Grad missile in Be’er Sheva last week.
“We brought soldiers and police in case they were needed and we updated Iron Dome, and everything was done so the family would be able to bury their loved one in a dignified manner,” says Mor Yosef.
“Part of our policy,” he says, “is to ensure that the population is strong, even though they live under fire, they can go on with their routines. You cannot tell one million people that because we are in an escalating confrontation, you cannot live, you cannot marry, you cannot hold events. We cannot stop the lives of a million civilians, and we need to establish the levels of warning so that they can cope, especially now as the summer vacation is coming to an end.”
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