Israel's Emergency Agencies' Dispute Puts Public at Risk, Local Governments Warn PM

Local leaders fear disagreement over responsibilities and a lack of coordination between the military and the national emergency authority damage Israelis' readiness for war

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File photo: Israeli Home Front Command soldiers at a house his by a rocket fired from Gaza, in the southern city of Be'er Sheva, October 17, 2018.
File photo: Israeli Home Front Command soldiers at a house his by a rocket fired from Gaza, in the southern city of Be'er Sheva, October 17, 2018.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

An ongoing dispute between Israel's two main emergency agencies is damaging the public's readiness for war, heads of local governments warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. In a letter, local leaders urged Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, to solve disagreements between the Israel Defense Forces' Home Front Command and the Defense Ministry's National Emergency Management Authority. 

The Federation of Regional Councils and the Federation of Local Authorities said the disagreements between the two defense institutions over division of responsibilities and the stalled implementation of a governmental report on their operations make it difficult for local governments to prepare for emergencies. 

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In May, then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman endorsed the recommendations of a committee appointed by him earlier last year on the two organizations. The committee, headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Avi Mizrahi, recommended that NEMA, also known by its Hebrew acronym Rahel, remain an advisory body in the Defense Ministry, while only the Home Front Command would have operational authority.

The committee said the responsibilities and authority of the Home Front Command and NEMA overlap andthat  the two bodies do not properly coordinate their operations with each other. In many areas, such as the establishment of operations rooms, exercises and training, NEMA uses its own resources, which are not synchronized with those of the Home Front Command. This, the committee found, causes massive waste of resources. 

For example, the two bodies are in constant contact with municipalities and local governments, in parallel and without any coordination. The Home Front Command has intensive ties with local governments, as a result of the lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The State Comptroller found in a report after the war that the lack of clarity concerning the responsibility over the home front led to only a partial response by the Home Front Command in aiding civilians and hindered the IDF's efforts to assist northern residents, who suffered under Hezbollah rocket barrages for over a month.

Even though Lieberman, and later Netanyahu himself, agreed to the committee's recommendations, in practice, none of them were implemented and the battle over power between the two bodies continues.

The letter to Netanyahu was signed by Shai Hajaj, the chairman of the Federation of Regional Councils and the head of the Merhavim Regional Council, and Haim Bibas, the mayor of Modi’in and the chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities. It states that the crisis between the two bodies began after Brig. Gen. (res.) Zeev Zuk-Ram was appointed the head of NEMA last year, and past understandings have been canceled.

Zuk-Ram was a member of the Mizrahi committee and supported its recommendations, but the IDF says he is making it difficult to implement the committee’s report today. Asking Netanyahu to return the situation to what it was before Zuk-Ram took office, Hajaj and Bibas wrote Netanyahu that they regard the situation as very severe and said it could seriously harm the response provided to civilians in emergency.