Yet again there are not enough gas mask kits - surprise, surprise, as always. And yet again it has become clear - also as expected - that the Israel Defense Forces will get a hefty budget addition because "it is needed to increase stocks in the emergency warehouses," as a member of the defense establishment told the Knesset committee discussing the defense budget.
This addition comes to a quarter of a billion shekels, and nobody has bothered to ask why - yet again - the Home Front Command is caught unprepared, despite the huge financial allocations its gets. Avshalom Vilan, MK (Meretz) did term the situation in which the Home Front Command finds itself "scandalous." But even he did not know that as well as the quarter of a billion shekels added yesterday to the Home Front budget (by the joint committee on the defense budget of which he is a member) the Home Front has this year spent half a million shekels on what its commanders call "equipping the population with protective measures."
The Home Front Command was established more than a decade ago to designate a special authority for the civilian population that would take charge during an emergency. It was set up because during the Gulf War it was found there was no coordinating body to take charge of all the emergency and rescue services during wartime - in 1991, the IDF found itself unprepared to deal with the emergencies that arose.
Military, police, fire-fighters, Magen David Adom and Civil Defense personnel all turned up at sites where Iraqi missiles landed, without it being clear who was in charge of making decisions. In some cases fights even broke out between representatives of the various defense and rescue services. To prevent such a disgrace in future, a special command was added to the IDF and a major general was assigned to head it to emphasize its importance.
The headquarters were manned by a large number of officers, hundreds of soldiers and thousands of reservists seconded to it. The command enjoys a sizable budget - a cautious estimate is that more than NIS 3 billion have been funneled to it since its establishment. From time to time it conducts extensive exercises involving all the rescue and emergency services and in which missile attacks on populated areas are simulated. The command mans 30 stations across the country - capable of being increased to 105 - that regularly distribute gas mask kits.
And now, after all of this, a discussion in the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee this week revealed that there are serious shortcomings "in preparing the home front for a missile attack."
The chairman of the defense committee of the Center for Local Government told the panel that there is a total lack of information in local councils about preparing the public for a missile attack. The deputy director general of the Environment Ministry said representatives of her ministry are not at all integrated into the Home Front Command. The commissioner of the firefighting and rescue services and the heads of Magen David Adom also made it clear that their organizations were not adequately prepared to deal with the home front in case of a missile attack.
If this is how things stand after a decade of energetic and very expensive activity, there should be an explanation of what exactly the Home Front Command is up to. Why is it that every time tension in the region increases, it turns out that in fact the command is never adequately prepared? Why is it that every time there is a threat that Iraq might launch missiles, the Home Front Command "discovers" it does not have enough gas mask kits and it is necessary to instruct the Shelon factory (which makes the masks) to work three shifts round the clock?
The problem, as usual, is that there is no external supervision of the Home Front Command or of the IDF's policy of preparing for enemy attacks behind the front lines. In the IDF they are well aware of the lack of supervision and control, and the commanders exploit this anew every time to get additional budgets. The IDF is convinced it has the politicians in the palm of its hand over the home front, and that there is no chance it will have to give an account of its policy and the way it allocates its resources.
The extent to which this is so became obvious when a junior officer - a major - was dispatched to the defense budget committee meeting at which the army asked for a large addition to its budget. If this is not scorn for the committee, it is not clear what scorn is. Neither did committee members show much concern for their own responsibility - only two of them were present at the vote that approved the transfer of a quarter of a billion shekels.
As usual, Knesset members show no respect for themselves and unanimously rush to approve more and more huge budgets for "the fortification of the home front," without even attempting to demand explanations from the senior IDF command.
The Home Front Command has a right to exist only if it is proved that Israel is facing a serious threat. If there is no threat from Iraqi missiles, who is going to transfer millions of shekels to it every year? A large part of the information and assessments the public and politicians get from the high command suggests there is a grave and imminent threat from non-conventional warheads and frightening plans for weapons of mass destruction in hostile countries.
Every time they need more money, a new threat is leaked or an existing threat is magnified. And it always works. No one who has approved additional budgets has ever tried to examine the seriousness of the threat. Therefore, it is a pity that on the evening before the meeting, the members of the defense budget committee did not listen to the statement by the head of Military Intelligence, who appeared on Channel Two. Perhaps they could have saved the taxpayer a lot of money.
"At present," said Major General Aharon Zeevi Farkash, "there are no ground-to-ground missiles in western Iraq, and to the best of our knowledge there are no plans to deploy them there in the near future." Farkash was also reassuring when he explained that if the United States first deployed its forces in western Iraq, the positioning of missile launchers there should be prevented entirely.
If the head of Military Intelligence knows what he is talking about, then there is no imminent danger of Iraqi missiles landing in Israel, and the likelihood of them being fired at us is quite small. Hence the alarm that gripped Knesset members is unnecessary, there is no need for the panicky addition of hundreds of millions of shekels to the defense budget. Perhaps it is even possible to use this opportunity to clarify exactly what is going on behind the Home Front Command.
However, in the tradition of their self-abnegation when confronted by the army, the members of the legislature yet again asked no questions. Hands were meekly raised and the IDF walked off with another huge sum - but this is merely an advance until the next time the they decide to frighten us.
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