State Comptroller's Report |

Israel Has No Central Agency in Charge of Home Front During War, State Comptroller Finds

State comptroller says more than 18 months after the establishment of the Home Front Defense Ministry, no one has decided yet what its actual responsibilities are.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Seven years after the Second Lebanon War, Israel still has no central national agency responsible for dealing with the home front, during emergencies or otherwise.

According to a report by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Israel's emergency preparedness, the responsibilities for emergency response efforts have not been coordinated among Israel Police forces, who are under the jurisdiction of the public security minister and the defense minister.

There is also no legal arrangement on the books regarding the Home Front Defense Ministry's areas of responsibility and authority in terms of handling the home front during emergencies. Since the ministry was established more than 18 months ago, the question of determining its areas of responsibility still has not been resolved.

The Home Front Defense Ministry responded that it is appropriate during times of emergency to closely coordinate and integrate efforts to address civil defense needs, the economy and overall national preparedness.

"Such a situation will make it possible to properly balance security directives with the need to continue to operate manufacturing plants and essential services in times of emergency," the ministry said.

The state comptroller found that the commander of the Home Front Command has two superiors, the defense minister and the chief of staff – a state of affairs that was criticized previously in a report on the Second Lebanon War.

According to the legal adviser for the defense establishment, Ahaz Ben-Ari, "The legal significance of the Home Front Command’s subordination to the chief of staff and also to the defense minister could lead to disaster, since the chief of staff becomes responsible for the front and the home front alike and must devote his attention equally to each."

"The problem is that the home front also includes the civilian economy, which effectively makes the chief of staff responsible for the civilian economy as well,” said Ben-Ari.

The IDF Spokesman responded that "The head of the Home Front Command is subordinate to the [IDF] chief of staff in routine [situations] and in emergency. In aspects of civilian protection, the commander of the Home Front Command is directed by the defense minister under the auspices of the Civil Defense Law. In routine and emergency [situations] the chief of staff and the General Staff act in accordance with the instructions of the political echelon."

The state comptroller also criticized the way gas masks were being distributed to citizens. Despite the fact that the ministerial committee announced in 2009 that it intended to equip 100 percent of Israel’s citizens with gas masks, as of now only 57 percent of Israelis have received them.

In addition to the obvious security concerns, there are financial implications of this as well. “The lack of appropriate budgeting in the near future, before the quantity of gas masks included in the current budget are all manufactured, could lead to the closure of assembly lines in plants that manufacture the gas masks,” according to an internal document sent out by the Home Front Defense Ministry in February.

Nevertheless, no multi-year plan has been established for distributing gas masks.

The IDF Spokesman responded that "The question of the distribution of gas mask kits depends on the budget allocated for the matter."

Shapira also found that no progress has been made since December regarding the implementation of a national cell-phone emergency alert system. Yet the ministry noted that Gilad Erdan, the home front defense minister, was also appointed this year as communications minister, and the ministry maintained that significant progress has in fact been made with regard to amendments to cellular licensing as well as hearings on the issue. Further progress is expected with the next few months, the ministry said.

The state comptroller also noted that, despite the significant threat of missiles and rockets striking Israel, there have been no comprehensive studies that would have led to the recommendation that the political echelon determine the required level of preparedness to protect critical infrastructure in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in July 2009 that this was “a top-priority matter for discussion,” yet no such discussion took place for more than a year and a half, until April 2011. In May 2011, research was presented regarding “priorities of national infrastructure installations that must be protected” – but this research never translated into any actual work.

The interministerial committee responsible for setting criteria regarding such installations, risk assessments and priorities for protecting national infrastructure has so far not completed its work, after more than a year and a half. The National Emergency Authority was supposed to have submitted a proposed resolution on the subject and have it ratified by the members of the security cabinet by the end of July 2012, but it never did so.

The state comptroller found that since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the need for comprehensive legislation with regard to the home front had increased in light of the substantially greater threat and the need to coordinate emergency response efforts.

The Home Front Defense Ministry maintains that following Erdan's appointment earlier this year as home defense minister, he has indeed pushed for legislation to codify the authority and responsibility of the ministry. However, the ministry said, the work on that legislation has not been completed due to opposition from various sources.

The ministry said Erdan is continuing to push for new legislation, and has also ordered his staff to expedite a cabinet decision on bringing the National Emergency Authority under the auspices of the ministry, and to clarify the ministry's authority and establish protocol for its cooperation with other government ministries.

Israeli soldiers of the Home Front Command rescue unit wear protective gear during a drill in Azur, near Tel Aviv, Israel, May 28, 2013.Credit: AP
Home Front Commander Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg (right) and Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan at last month’s preparedness exercise.Credit: Gil Eliahu

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