Israeli Home Front Grossly Underprepared for War, Emergency Authority Says

Neither government agencies nor local authorities are prepared to deal with the needs of the population and critical infrastructure under a prolonged assault by missiles from Lebanon and Gaza.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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A picture taken from the southern Israeli city of Sderot shows rockets being fired from the Gaza strip into Israel, on July 13, 2014.Credit: AFP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

There are serious flaws in the home front’s preparedness for any future war, the National Emergency Management Authority warned on Sunday.

To solve these problems, it said, it will need an extra 500 million shekels ($130 million) a year for the next five years, for tasks such as reinforcing strategic infrastructure against rockets and improving the preparedness of local governments and the health and welfare systems.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Bezalel Treiber, who heads the emergency authority, presented his recommendations to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Sunday.

Currently, beyond the funds included in the defense budget, the government spends some 200 million shekels a year on home front preparedness, divided fairly evenly between the army’s Home Front Command and the emergency authority.

In June, the cabinet approved a document prepared by the emergency authority and the Home Front Command outlining what Israel can expect to face in the next war.

The document posited missile fire from at least two fronts, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, that could go on for several weeks. Lebanon alone could fire some 1,500 rockets a day, including dozens of long-range, precision missiles capable of hitting anywhere in Israel, it said.

According to the emergency authority, neither government agencies nor local authorities are prepared to deal with the needs of the population and critical infrastructure under such a prolonged assault by missiles of various ranges.

The cabinet recently approved the authority’s proposal to increase its emergency stockpile of gasoline, assuming that a lengthy war would disrupt fuel shipments by sea. Moreover, Israel’s missile defense systems – the existing Iron Dome for intercepting short-range rockets, and in the future also Magic Wand for intercepting medium-range missiles and Barak 8 for intercepting cruise missiles – should enable Israel to protect its natural gas fields and power plants. Nevertheless, there is other critical infrastructure that is insufficiently protected.

In addition, many local governments, especially in poor communities, aren’t capable of functioning under fire for any length of time without help from the central government. The Second Lebanon War of 2006 and three subsequent wars in Gaza have increased awareness of this problem among government officials, but the emergency authority says much still remains to be done.

In particular, it said, the Social Affairs Ministry’s emergency assistance network needs to be beefed up, hospital emergency rooms and community health clinics need to be reinforced against rockets (something that has already been done in communities near the Gaza border), and the unified communications system that links all the rescue services (army, police, firefighters and ambulance service) needs to be upgraded – a step that has already been approved, but hasn’t yet been implemented.

All this, the authority said, will greatly bolster home front resilience during a future war in which the civilian population will face threats of a magnitude and intensity it has never before experienced.

The biannual national budget is supposed to be brought to the cabinet for approval next week. At his meeting with Treiber yesterday, Kahlon said he was willing to allocate extra money to various ministries for the purpose of increasing home front preparedness, but on condition that these ministries also divert some of their existing budgets to this purpose.

Currently, the ministries in question have no funds earmarked specifically for home front preparedness.

Nevertheless, both ministers and ministry directors general seem to be more interested in this issue than they were in the past, due to both the assessments of the threats posed by a future war and the understanding that how the home front is handled will be a major focus of any future inquiry into that war.

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