Who Is in Charge of Israel’s Home Front, the Government or the IDF?

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday convened the second meeting in a week on the tensions between the Home Front Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command, whose areas of responsibility interface and sometimes overlap.

The disputes began with the appointment of Gilad Erdan as home front defense minister in March.

Erdan has been demanding a larger budget for his ministry, as well as the authority to deal with regulations, preparing local authorities to deal with security emergencies, and public information campaigns. Many of these issues are now under the purview of the Home Front Command.

Erdan is basing many of his demands on a National Security Council paper issued in December entitled “National Security Doctrine for the Home Front,” which recommends that the bulk of the responsibility for the home front be taken from the Defense Ministry and the IDF.

The document proposes that the powers currently with Home Front Command be divided between two ministries. The Home Front Defense Ministry would handle budgets and the regulation of vast areas such as the protection of buildings, while the Public Security Ministry would create a National Guard to centralize all the emergency and rescue services: police, the Home Front Command, firefighters and emergency medical services. The IDF would continue to provide personnel and logistical support for the home front forces, but would effectively act as a contractor for the civilian bodies.

GOC Home Front Command Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg vehemently objects to Erdan’s proposals, fearing that transferring areas of responsibility to Erdan’s ministry would create duplication and in many cases leave some areas slipping between the cracks. Eisenberg has already warned Netanyahu about the ramifications of the NSC’s proposals.

Following a stormy meeting last week in Netanyahu’s offices, during which both sides made their case, on Sunday the premier met only with defense officials. Both Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Eisenberg expressed reservations regarding Erdan’s demands. Sources involved say the prime minister seems to be leaning toward a compromise of some sort, not least because of Erdan’s strong political position in the Likud. Diplomatic sources told Haaretz that Netanyahu will make a decision soon.

Meanwhile, The Knesset Control Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss the state comptroller’s follow-up report on the handling of the home front that was released late last month. The report gives credence to some of Erdan’s arguments, and harshly criticizes the slow pace of correcting deficiencies in home front defense.

Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies also issued a report recently which concludes that Israel’s home front is lagging in its preparations given the improvements in terror groups’ rocket and missile capabilities.

A search and rescue drill conducted by the IDF's Home Front Command, May 2013. Credit: Gil Eliahu

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