From Neveh Dekalim to New Orleans

Without the tens of thousands of soldiers who were put into operation in New Orleans, late and in the presence of the crumbling of the local police, the catastrophe would have been even worse.

The opponents of the evacuation from Gush Katif, among them Americans emeriti, had not yet finished condemning the participation of the Israel Defense Forces in the operation as the destruction of Israeli democracy, when along came Hurricane Katrina to blow their arguments away to the four winds.

Without the tens of thousands of soldiers who were put into operation in New Orleans, late and in the presence of the crumbling of the local police, the catastrophe would have been even worse.

When experts in Israel are asked who will deal with a similar disaster, in the shore areas that are subject to flooding or in other places stricken by nature or terror, their answer is similar: the IDF. This is not its purpose, and it would be better to dismantle the rickety scaffolding of the Ministry of Public Security and build the Ministry of Defense and Policing, which would also include the Home Front Command, but only the army can do it in the meantime.

In New Orleans, the municipal structure collapsed and the army plugged the gap. Not happily: The Americans, who refuse to carry an identity card, are leery of the central government invading citizens' lives and the municipal, county and state authorities. This position is shared by the far reaches of the right and the left.

Al Gore would not have had any more success than U.S. President George W. Bush on September 11, and John Kerry would not have been any better prepared for the disaster in New Orleans. At the root of the problem is the insistence upon living eight meters below sea level, by the grace of dams and levees, and the no less human tendency to prefer development to insurance.

The scenario that occurred had been precisely predicted in an article by Joel Bourne in The National Geographic in October 2004. The administration itself raised a possible natural disaster in New Orleans to the top of its list of fears, alongside an earthquake in California and a terror attack in New York, but investing billions before a disaster strikes - in order to thwart it - is not realistic in the politics of a president who proposes and a Congress that legislates; both of them were miserly.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was integrated into the Department of Homeland Security, which was established as a lesson learned from September 11. The status of FEMA's head was upgraded to undersecretary, and the valuable resource of the senior management's attention was directed primarily toward the dangers of terror and above all biological terror.

In Israel, there is no FEMA. There is the IDF, and within it the Home Front Command, and apart from them some police and some firefighting and rescue services (which refused to participate in training for the evacuation of the Gaza Strip, according to Brigadier General Aharon Franco). More than the IDF needs the Home Front Command, the Home Front Command needs the IDF. At the end of the evacuation, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz confirmed that he is sticking to his long-held ambition to get rid of the home front and hand it over to some other official body, such as the police. Halutz is giving, but no one is in a rush to take, and Home Front Commander Yair Naveh, formerly the GOC Home Front, doubts the ability of the police to digest the home front, like a mouse that swallows a mountain.

Tomorrow, in the government meeting room, there is a meeting scheduled for the ministerial committee on preparedness for earthquakes and "sudden disasters with many casualties." The group consists of eight ministers (for the most part, only their representatives), headed by National Infrastructures Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. The discussion was scheduled some time ago, but they will not refrain from mentioning New Orleans.

The minister's chief headquarters officer, the chairman of the National Steering Committee for Earthquakes in Israel, is Dr. Efraim Laor, a colonel in the reserves, who has studied disasters and teaches on the subject. Laor is Israel's "Dr. Disaster," a prominent member of a handful of monomaniacs who are liable to turn out to be the handful of the sane after everyone else has gone crazy. Among the business of the Laor commission: planning refugee camps for 400,000 Israelis stricken by an earthquake, a tsunami or the explosion of a chemical plant in the Haifa Bay. Between the knowledge and the action, estimates Laor, there are "only 16,000 dead, 90,000 injured, 150,000 victims of destruction and hundreds of thousands of refugees."

The security establishment is represented on the committee, but it will be called in to the rescue after the fact, not to minimize damages in time, as natural disasters are not included on the list of essential priorities for intelligence. "The Shin Bet security service, the Mossad and Military Intelligence research the enemy. Disasters are from God, and for Him the IDF is not responsible."