A Home Front, but No Command

Despite the existence of the military branch called the Home Front Command, the sad truth that is being revealed daily in the 'Katyusha communities' is that of a home front without a command.

Last week a group of scientists and engineers from the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology and from other institutions in the Haifa area, headed by Prof. Amos Notea, urgently addressed the Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces. The group proposed solutions for reducing the danger from containers of "hazardous, flammable and explosive" substances that are stored in the Haifa port and Haifa Bay.

One of the suggestions was "Kat-Yesha," a kind of missile-trapping net. The experts' calculations showed that a steel net, similar to the ones installed on aircraft carriers and at Israel Air Force bases to slow down landing planes, could be spread on the roof of a building and on the side that faces the direction of the threat, in this case to the north.

The rockets that would fly into the nets are faster than landing planes, but much lighter. The explosive fuses of many of the rockets will be trapped in the net, thus turning the Katyusha into a dud, while a second net will absorb the steel balls in the warhead. It is too expensive and impractical to cover every house, although private citizens could decide that the expense - a few thousand dollars - is worth it to them. But for the containers of dangerous substances, as well as for hospitals and for other sensitive facilities, the nets could provide protection that would prevent a disaster.

If Israel had a national network for protecting the home front, such a suggestion would be discussed seriously and would merit the proper study and perhaps even a budget for emergency development. The sad lesson of the past three weeks is that there is no such network. Despite the existence of the military branch called the Home Front Command, which is one of the four IDF area commands, the true and sad situation that is being revealed daily in the "Katyusha communities" is that of a home front without a command.

The Home Front is not unique in that respect. A national war room for coordinating all efforts - diplomatic, military, intelligence, economic - is nonexistent. Everyone does whatever he wishes, and usually that means doing nothing. The sum total of all the separate efforts is less than the best possible result, because the friction among the various ministries detracts from capability, and the pace is dependent on those trailing behind rather than on those in the lead.

In recent months, until shortly before the outbreak of the war, a series of Home Front training exercises was held, with scenarios similar to those that actually took place in Haifa ("Bay Watch") and that are liable to take place in Tel Aviv or in the Sharon area ("Midnight Express") - with the participation of the army, the police and the municipalities, Magen David Adom and the firefighters. Predictably, it turned out that the Home Front Command is doing the best it can with its limited capacities, using its own resources and relying on the goodwill of other authorities, but even after almost 60 years of war, the government continues to avoid organizing all those involved into one functioning system.

The IDF boasts of the fact that in building its strength, the emphasis is on intelligence, the IAF and special forces. It is not pleasant to admit this, but that is exactly what the enemies, the terror organizations, are doing, in accordance with their size. The distinction between rockets and aerial weaponry is an artificial one. With the exception of artillery shells - and even that is subject to debate - whatever arrives from the air is an aerial threat, from a Qassam and a Katyusha to a Zelzal and an Ilyushin bomber and a Boeing that crashes into a tower. Only last week we once again heard warnings about an effort to launch rockets from the West Bank, this time from Tul Karm. There is no need to put someone into a pilot's seat in order to hit a ground target from the air.

The job of confronting such a threat is currently divided among various defense groups, each of which has a different priority: What preoccupies the IAF (which also has sub-organizations such as the system of battle squadrons alongside the forces of aircraft interceptors, including the Arrow and the Patriot), is not necessarily what is important to the research and development administration, and what is a top priority for them differs from what is important to those responsible for the last phase - from bomb shelters to rescue operations.

And this is still within the defense establishment, with a branch in the Israel Police, whose districts (headed by a major general) are subordinate in times of emergency to the districts of the Home Front Command (headed by a colonel, two ranks below a major general). The proposal by the head of the Home Front Command, Yitzhak Gershon, to establish an inter-organizational national guard, outside the IDF, preferably in the Ministry of Public Security but under the ultimate guidance of the Prime Minister's Office, is likely to lead to a solution. This is despite - and not thanks to - its underlying logic. Perhaps what a dozen committees, scores of documents and hundreds of discussions have not achieved, will be achieved by thousands of Katyushas.