Defense Ministry, IDF Nix Interior Ministry Idea of Taking on Some Home-front Missions

Arye Dery's proposal would leave civil defense to Home Front Command, while entrusting municipal emergency procedures to his ministry.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, addressing the Home Front Command during an exercise in 2015.
IDF Spokesman's Office

The Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces both object to Interior Minister Arye Dery’s proposal to transfer broad responsibilities relating to the home front, in times of emergency, to his ministry.

The IDF says that the Interior Ministry will find it difficult to deal with the heavy burden of wartime, and that it is preferable to leave most of the responsibilities concerning dealing with municipal authorities – for example, during times of missile attack – in the hands of the army's Home Front Command.

Following a request by Dery, in advance of a discussion on the issue, defense officials will present their recommendations and comments to the newly installed Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Controversy over distribution of various Home Front Command responsibilities to civilian institutions has surfaced numerous times in the past, and the subject was again broached at a special meeting of the security cabinet on Sunday, which dealt with home front preparedness.

The dispute once again came to light by chance at a coalition meeting last week, when comments between Dery and Lieberman were picked up by Channel 2 microphones, apparently without the ministers knowing they were being overheard. “There is a terrible oversight here,” Dery was recorded as saying to Lieberman, ostensibly about the lack of preparedness in his ministry in connection with the home front.

Dery said the National Security Council gives his ministry tasks involving work with local governments, but the ministry has no budget, no manpower and no emergency supplies. “We have nothing... Everyone manages with ‘trust me.’ Until something lands here, God forbid, and then they will understand... I’m willing to take responsibility but they are demanding resources and a budget from me,” the interior minister said.

Apparently, Dery was referring to a recent report by the NSC that recommends transferring responsibilities relating to “national resilience” to the Interior Ministry. The idea is for the civilian ministry, and not the military’s Home Front Command, to be the main body dealing with local governments in times of emergency. This includes integrating all home-front related health, education and welfare services, carrying on regular communications with local governments, and dealing with the sites to which people will be evacuated from areas under missile or other bombardments.

The Interior Ministry is interested in assuming such responsibilities – but only if they are accompanied by more funding, manpower and other resources, according to sources there. But Dery was only called on to consider the issue after revelation of the worrisome lacunae in the national emergency drill last month.

Even though the government is prepared to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from locales near both the Lebanese and Gaza Strip borders, it turns out that the number of places available for accepting the evacuees is much smaller than initially planned. Many of these sites are still ill-equipped to provide for the vital, day-to-day needs of those finding refuge there, and still have to be prepared properly to prevent the outbreak of disease.

Under the present system, in times of emergency, the National Emergency Management Authority in the Defense Ministry (better known by the Hebrew acronym Rahel) and the Home Front Command operate small units attached to every local government. The Home Front Command also conducts drills on behalf of these authorities during normal times. During wartime or emergencies, the better-functioning municipal governments are supposed to receive various resources and will use their own employees to provide services, while other governments will benefit from much closer supervision and aid from the Home Front Command.

The local governments, with the aid of the IDF and Rahel, are supposed to deal with the people who are evacuated to their locales and to provide necessary services.

Now Dery wants the Home Front Command to go back to focusing on civil defense and operating search-and-rescue forces, and to return responsibility for dealing with local governments in times of emergency – which the command still considers to be one of its basic functions – to the Interior Ministry.

As mentioned, this issue has been under debate in various forums for decades. After the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Ehud Olmert’s government decided to establish Rahel. Discussion was renewed thereafter under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, partly due to political and other battles of power between ministers. In 2013-14, then-Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan demanded broad responsibilities from the Defense Ministry, but in the end his ministry was disbanded and the relevant functions remained at Rahel, at the request of then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. At present, the Public Security Ministry is asking to assume a large share of these responsibilities.

The fierce snowstorm in the winter of 2013 is partly what convinced Netanyahu not to make any changes in the status quo, when it became clear that the Home Front Command and Defense Ministry were the only bodies capable of providing quick and effective aid to hundreds of thousands of people stranded without electricity or food.

Since then, however, coordination between Rahel and the Home Front Command has improved, their division of responsibilities and authority has been clarified, and local governments have become better prepared for emergency situations.

The issue arose this time at the initiative of the NSC, sources in the Interior Ministry told Haaretz.

For their part, defense sources say the Interior Ministry has yet to submit an official request regarding transfer of responsibilities, and as far as the Defense Ministry is concerned, no reason exists at the moment to change the present division of authority. These sources mention the state comptroller’s reports on home front response during the Second Lebanon War, and also during the 2010 Carmel forest fire, which revealed major problems among the fire-fighting services – which are under the Interior Ministry’s purview.

“The Interior Ministry has no clue in the matter [of wartime scenarios]. We are talking about tens of thousands of missiles and a prolonged attack," say defense sources. "The [responsibility] must be concentrated in the body that has all the authority and experience, and this is the defense establishment."