Defense Minister Ya’alon: Home Front Defense Ministry Is Waste of Money

Minister says agency should be shut down, its duties split between army and Defense Ministry.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The Home Front Defense Ministry should be shut down, because it’s “a waste of public funds,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Wednesday.

This is the first time Ya’alon has publicly called for the ministry’s elimination. He believes responsibility for civilian defense should be left to the Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces.

Ya’alon’s remarks, at a conference sponsored by the Defense Ministry, come against the background of his bitter dispute with Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan over how responsibility for home front defense should be divided between their two ministries.

Erdan has been pressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expand his agency’s authority and has threatened to quit at the end of the month if his demands aren’t met.

Ya’alon, whose opposition to any transfer of power was reinforced by observing how the emergency services functioned during December’s massive snowstorm, is now returning fire, and signaling both Netanyahu and Erdan that he won’t accept any diminution of his own ministry’s powers.

“The responsibility is mine, from start to finish,” he told the conference. “It’s impossible to divide it and set up some ministry that will give orders to the [IDF’s] Home Front Command, and both I and the chief of staff will be giving orders to the Home Front Command. I, the chief of staff and the GOC Home Front Command comprise a single chain of command. Anything else – I’m not familiar with any such thing. The right thing, which has also succeeded, and which the deputy defense minister, who has been delegated ministerial powers on this matter, has been dealing with seriously, is that both in routine preparations and in emergencies, [the responsible party] is the defense minister.

“The minute you start dividing it up due to political considerations, and certainly if you start building a ministry with a director general, independent legal capabilities, independent budgeting capabilities, budgets and so forth, it’s a waste of public funds, and nothing good will come of it,” Ya’alon added.

Ya’alon cited what happened during the snowstorm as evidence. “Who functioned? Bezalel Treiber [a Defense Ministry department head] and Dan Harel [the ministry’s director general] and other ministry staffers, and the Home Front Command,” he said. “Is the Home Front Command just the people in the orange berets? The entire IDF was behind this. The tools don’t belong to the Home Front Command. The helicopter belongs to the air force, the personnel carriers may belong to Golani [Brigade] or the paratroopers. The soldiers were from [IDF] courses.”

Talk of transferring authority from the Defense Ministry to either the Home Front Defense Ministry or the Public Security Ministry is “empty talk” that shows “a lack of understanding,” he added.

The Home Front Defense Ministry pointed out in response that it was established at the recommendation of the state comptroller and many other experts, who all thought it was vital to have a body dedicated solely to preparing the home front for times of crisis and directing the emergency services’ activities during them.

“Unfortunately, due to the Defense Ministry’s refusal to give up the budgets and personnel earmarked for the civilian home front, the Home Front Defense Ministry still lacks the ability to fulfill its role,” it said in a statement.

“We’re glad to see that ‘public funds’ interest the Defense Ministry, which controls a budget of some 60 billion shekels ($17.2 billion). If the Defense Ministry had invested even a tiny fraction of this budget” in home front defense, it added, problems such as reinforcing schools against rocket attacks would have been solved. “But for years, the Defense Ministry opted to neglect these issues ...”

“Anyone who thinks that at a time when thousands of missiles are falling on Israeli cities, the defense minister and the chief of staff will be able to deal with civilian assistance and oversee the distribution of water, heaters, equipment for shelters and more, instead of dealing with defeating the enemy that is launching the missiles, is making a serious mistake, and is liable to repeat the mistakes of the past,” the statement continued. “The fact that much of the equipment used in emergencies, which was bought with the taxpayers’ money, is in the army’s possession doesn’t in any way prove that the army is the right body to use it in a crisis.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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