IDF Preparing for Mass Evacuations in Case of Hezbollah Missile Strike

Army fears new Lebanon confrontation would result in heavier warheads being launched at Tel Aviv.

The Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command is putting together a plan for the mass evacuation of civilians in the event of missile and rocket attacks. Hezbollah's rockets can currently hit practically everywhere in the country.

Site of a Hezbollah rocket strike, AP, 2006

The plan will be studied as part of next week's nationwide Home Front Command exercise. Defense officials are preparing for war scenarios including massive missile strikes on the home front.

The authorities are assuming that many rockets would be fired at the northern border, rockets with heavier warheads would be aimed at the greater Tel Aviv area, and some IDF bases might be the first targets.

Sources at Home Front Command say that in the event of war, the state would only evacuate civilians in certain areas such as the northern border, which may come under heavy bombardment.

The main challenge, a senior Home Front Command officer told Haaretz, involves assisting civilians who would leave their homes on their own initiative. During the 1991 Gulf War, the authorities had a mixed reaction to people leaving their homes; sometimes they condemned this outright. This time they would treat the phenomenon as a given to be dealt with.

"In '91, people went to work during the day, and at night wanted to get their families out of the center of the country, because the Dan Region was considered a high-risk area," the senior officer said. "But at that time, 42 missiles fell. This time the scenarios are talking about thousands of missiles and rockets."

Some civilians might decide it's better to move to the lower-risk areas, he added.

In the Second Lebanon War in 2006, many residents of the north left for the center of the country and West Bank settlements, which were out of Hezbollah's missile range at the time.

"It will be impossible to ignore such a phenomenon anymore. We'll have to prepare for hundreds of thousands of evacuees during a war. We think some 70 percent will make their own arrangements at the homes of relatives or in hotels," the officer said.

"Another 30 percent will need help from the state. We are still at an early stage of studying the method. In real time, we'll have to go with the flow, based on a system we'll set up ahead of time."

GOC Home Front Command Yair Golan recently wrote a document outlining the main points of the evacuation plan, which was distributed to the General Staff and the Defense Ministry.

The state should be responsible for helping local authorities take in civilians arriving from high-risk zones, Golan wrote. Funding should be made available to local authorities that need it, public buildings should be found that can serve as temporary shelters, and the authorities should have volunteers, doctors and social workers at the ready.

Golan also proposes that lists be made of families willing to take people in.

Underground areas like parking garages should also be considered for housing, as would tent cities in nature reserves, and even low-risk army bases.

Preparing cities to take in people fleeing high-risk areas will involve closer links between the IDF and local authorities, a process that has been underway since the Second Lebanon War. Sixty-eight cities and towns will take part in next week's drill.