The Missing Inquiry Committee

The home front is liable to become Israel's main front in a future war. The problem is not limited to Hezbollah or rockets fired from Lebanon.

For all the Israel Defense Forces inquiry committees, the important ones and those less important, that have investigated the second Lebanon war, one appears to be missing: the committee that should be dealing with the problem of the Israeli home front in the event of a future war or emergency situation. The matter relates to the IDF, but is a more widespread national problem. The army's investigations dealt primarily with the failures in coping with short-range rockets, but that is not enough.

The home front is liable to become Israel's main front in a future war. The problem is not limited to Hezbollah or rockets fired from Lebanon. It's impossible to distinguish between what happened in the North and the Qassam rockets falling on Sderot and other western Negev towns. It is not Sderot that is the center of the crisis. Rather, this is a national crisis to which Israel is having difficulty finding a response, even when primitive rockets are involved. It's clear that if a Palestinian terror organization were to fire Qassam rockets from the West Bank, it would create a strategic crisis because Israel would have almost no choice but to occupy the West Bank, as it has done in the past.

An examination of the home front as a future frontline must also take into account the rockets that Arab armies have in their arsenals. Syria, for instance, has hundreds of long-range rockets with various warheads, including nonconventional ones. Thus it is clear that defending the home front with the help of various rescue organizations affects several government ministries, not just the Defense Ministry and the IDF.

The second Lebanon war exposed serious problems in the defense of the home front. It became clear, for instance, that there is a problem protecting sites where particularly dangerous materials are concentrated. And when Katyusha rockets hit Arab communities in the Galilee and caused losses and destruction, it became embarrassingly clear that these communities don't even have air-raid sirens. The Social Welfare Ministry did not have a list of the weak citizens, like the sick and the disabled, in the communities that were shelled. A lot depended on municipalities and local authorities; but while there were some mayors and city council members who acted appropriately, others abandoned their posts.

The Home Front Command, headed by Major General Yitzhak Gershon, and Israel's center for emergency preparedness, an inter-ministerial organization headed by Arnon Ben-Ami, drew different lessons from the war. But both entities agreed that there is no complete, up-to-date legislation that sets the conditions under which rescue organizations would be activated. There is also no single ministry charged with coordinating such activity should the entire home front become a war front. When Ben-Ami suggested during the war that the government declare a "special situation" for the home front, it opposed the idea. It appears that the government did not realize that a war was underway. Only Defense Minister Amir Peretz's insistence led to a change in the original position.

The absence of a special committee to investigate this situation manifested itself in a meeting this week whose participants included Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, his bureau head, Yoram Turbowicz, and the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ra'anan Dinur. Opposite them sat Peretz, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, Defense Ministry Director General Gabi Ashkenazi and Brigadier General Michael Herzog. The topic was closing gaps in defending the home front. Israel doesn't have the funds to close the huge gap between the existing shelters and the shelters needed, which would cost billions of shekels. The meeting also clarified that only about a fifth of the gas masks distributed to citizens to protect against chemical weapons are fully functional today. Money has been budgeted to collect the gas masks, but not to fix them. The Home Front Command demanded about NIS 1.3 billion, the Defense Ministry director general lowered the amount to NIS 350 million and it was agreed that some NIS 63 million would be distributed to the local authorities. The request to allot funds for outfitting old buses that travel in the territories was rejected out of hand. Olmert suggested that the Defense Ministry renew its discussion regarding the protection of the home front with the Finance Ministry. Defense Ministry officials thought it would be better to go to the security cabinet. Until then, it's clear that the citizens of Israel have a big problem on their hands.