Israeli Military Not Prepared for Threats to Civilians During War

Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai describes how the enemy has changed and IDF has been forced to change its readiness in emergencies: ‘The traditional separation between the home front and front lines is no longer valid’

Home Front Command soldiers arrive at a home hit by a rocket fired from Gaza in Sderot, June 14, 2019.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Israeli military has not adapted to changes in its enemies’ capabilities to threaten Israel’s home front during wartime in recent years, said Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, the head of the IDF’s Home Front Command. The General Staff has not taken these threats into account almost at all in planning for times of emergency and war, he wrote in a new article in an Israeli military journal.

The military has not prepared properly for the threats “even though the change in trends of the threat to the home front are known to everyone,” and the Home Front Command did not “interface” properly with the rest of the army’s major commands, he stated. Since he took over the command in August 2017, things have improved somewhat but the Home Front Command “has still not solved all the problems, and has a long way to go,” wrote Yadai in the 16-page article (in Hebrew): “To Take the First Step: The Story of the Transformation of the Home Front Command,” in the July issue of the IDF journal “Bein Haktavim” (Between the Poles), published by the Dado Center for Interdisciplinary Military Studies.

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In March, the State Comptroller’s Office released a report on serious lacunae in the Home Front Command’s readiness for war. Then comptroller Joseph Shapira found that the command had a severe shortage of equipment for rescue forces and the preparedness of its reserve search-and-rescue battalions was low. In addition, the army had not analyzed the manpower allocated to its rescue units since 1992, despite new threats that have arisen since then.

Yadai acknowledged the comptroller’s complaints, writing that the IDF knew that the next war could very well paralyze the home front, but the problem has “not found expression in the situational assessments the IDF has made in its various war exercises.” This is because the IDF has not thought out “to what extent the command needs to prepare to take the place of failed civilian authorities,” and whether the command’s willingness to accept responsibility for possible failures of such authorities could become “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Since he started in his present post, he has learned that the command could become irrelevant during wartime if it does not “significantly change the quality of its search and rescue response and its ability to help prevent the collapse of civilian systems during times of emergency,” said Yadai.

Because the scenario he provided to the comptroller just a year after taking over the command contained many flaws, many of these problems likely remain unresolved. While the ground forces, intelligence, Navy and Air Force branches have experienced technological revolutions, such changes “have passed over the Home Front Command,” said Yadai.

Yadai described the changes in enemy forces in the north and south throughout his article. “Since 2006 [after the Second Lebanon War], the enemy has developed substantial rocket forces capable of launching large-scale and ongoing volleys to all of Israeli territory,” he wrote. As a result, these capabilities have led the enemy to develop a view in which such fire will not be used only for terror and intimidation, but also for paralyzing the home front by forcing civilians to spend extended stays in shelters, shutting down airports and seaports and penetrating the IDF’s aerial defenses, wrote Yadai.

Yadai used the article to explain the changes he has made in the last two years, including the project intended to change strategic thought concerning the home front. He wants to fully exploit information technology while emphasizing the centrality of the Home Front Command for its civilian partners in providing a better response for residents of the south. “The command has developed technological interfaces that have connected all the civilian and military systems able to provide high-quality and relevant information,” wrote Yadai.

The army and political leaders say Hezbollah has not yet been able to make major improvements in the accuracy of its missiles, but Yadai’s scenario has taken such improvements into account. “The armies of terror surrounding us are developing precision attack capabilities,” he wrote. “These capabilities are intended to paralyze critical civilian targets, such as electricity and water; and the rear echelon (such as intelligence sites and air defense).” Adding cyberattacks threats to the mix, Yadai wrote: “The scenario of fighting simultaneously on several fronts – both in the Gaza Strip and the north – has become, more so than in the past, a reasonable scenario that must be prepared for.” The possibility that Hezbollah or another terrorist organization could paralyze the Israeli home front combined with ground and underground warfare “would overshadow any military achievement in enemy territory,” he wrote.

Such fighting will most likely occur during a war’s initial stages throughout Israel’s territory and will blur the lines between the rear echelon and the civilian home front, he said. Therefore, the cooperation between the rear and the front must be improved urgently because they currently “operate as two parallel lines that never meet,” wrote Yadai. “The traditional division in which the Home Front Command will deal with the home front and the military will win at the front is no longer valid.”

The new strategy showed some of its capabilities in the round of fighting against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in May, stated Yadai. “In this round, we in the command succeeded in producing a complete picture of the home front situation, which mapped out every public event nationwide planned for the coming Memorial and Independence days using an analysis based on information and criteria,” he wrote, noting the whole process was completed “within a few hours.”

The district and regional commanders of the Home Front Command received – through an app – concrete recommendations regarding the strategy of protecting each and every one of the thousands of events planned for those days, said Yadai. Still, he noted, “The cultural change in this spirit in the Home Front Command is still in its infancy.”