When Israeli civilians are confronted with information about how Hamas and Hezbollah collectively stockpile vast arsenals of rockets, often the reaction is one of deep unease. Yet the officials in charge of protecting Israel’s soft underbelly – the home front – say they place great trust in these same civilians to do the right thing if a war erupts.
Col. Ronen Dagmi, commander of the Home Front Command’s Southern District, and Col. Eran Makov, his counterpart in the Northern District, told The Jerusalem Post this week about some of their preparations for the possibility of rocket barrages on Israeli cities, towns and villages.
“It is clear that the nature of war has changed.
The home front is becoming more significant and involved, and it is a target for enemy rockets,” Makov said. “We have levels of defense in place. Most of them are run by the Home Front Command, and some by the Israel Air Force.”
He stressed that any understanding of Israel’s protection capabilities would be incomplete without looking at the IDF’s massive offensive capabilities and devastating firepower that would be leveled at enemy areas.
The Northern District in the Home Front Command works around a designated threat scenario involving war with Hezbollah, in which thousands of projectiles land on northern areas. Such a scenario, Makov said, would be “more challenging to the home front than any of Israel’s past wars. And still, I think the home front is capable of dealing with this.”
Because of close cooperation between the Home Front Command, emergency services, and particularly local councils and civilians, Makov said, “I believe we can successfully deal with this threat.”
The fact that Hezbollah is now also stockpiling Iranian- made, accurate warheads that can guide rockets and missiles to pinpoint targets is “a challenge,” he said. Yet although “we identify an improvement on the other side, we still do not see a capability that could be a game changer in the next war,” Makov added.
“The conduct of the individual civilian, together with the performance of defensive systems, will decide” how effective Hezbollah’s rocket onslaught will be, Makov argued.
“If civilians know what to do, and, at the same time, local councils… act correctly and provide solutions, the home front will cope,” he said.
“I don’t want to alarm anyone,” Makov stressed. “We are working on the most precise, area-specific rocket alerts. We are working on ways to maintain a flow of electricity and Internet. If, in the end, civilians find themselves having to sit for hours or days in safe zones, we will work on providing a continuous supply of electricity and the Internet. I cannot promise this, but we are working on this. We understand that today, these are [fundamental] needs.”
In the southern district, where residents have amassed more experience than any other place in the world with rockets, preparations are also at an advanced stage, according to Dagmi.
“The local council is the fundamental building block of our preparations,” he said, praising what he described as high levels of cooperation with local government officials and their willingness to dedicate resources to preparing for the next conflict with Gaza.
“The goal is to ensure minimum harm to the routine of civilians,” Dagmi said. “The Home Front Command has spent millions of shekels on this.”
In the coming months, the Home Front Command will introduce IP-based, area-specific alerts that will enable the IDF to warn 3,000 individual areas of incoming rocket fire, compared to 255 warning blocs that exist today. This, Dagmi said, will decrease disruptions to daily life.
Sharing his concerns, Dagmi said he was worried by the prospect of civilians who might choose to evacuate themselves in the face of rocket fire rather than wait for an official evacuation order. “We do not want Eilat absorbing 60,000 people who left their homes. Not only would it clog the roads, we also believe that the best solution for civilians exist in their own homes. That is the message we transmit to local councils,” Dagmi said.
The southern district is preparing for the possibility of Hamas sending terrorists into Israel beyond the Gaza-border area community.
“We take what Hamas says seriously. If they say they plan to cross the ‘Gaza envelope’ area, we prepare accordingly,” Dagmi added.
“We expect civilians to give us time to solve problems as they occur. There’s a reason we ask civilians to store water, batteries, radio, and a generator,” he added.
Generators have been placed across critical sites, like medical clinics and multistory buildings with elevators, the southern district chief added.
Makov, the northern district chief, stressed that there is no such thing as complete protection, adding that in a conflict with Hezbollah, rockets will hit some Israelis.
Despite the difficulties, he added, “I think the Home Front Command has proven it can handle these challenges. It has already proven ‘analysts’ from the enemy side wrong.”
The Home Front Command is also preparing for the scenario of multi-arena conflict, in which the country comes under fire from both Gaza and Lebanon simultaneously.
In such a scenario, the Iron Dome air defense systems, which civilians have come to trust with a near blind faith, would be redirected to protect strategic national sites such as power plants, the airport and ports. Adhering to safety instructions would become even more critical, the district commanders warned.
Both commanders acknowledged that civilians have come to rely on Iron Dome to an extent that could prove problematic in a future conflict. Makov said over-reliance on Iron Dome in a war with Hezbollah would “be a mistake. If they [civilians] act in accordance with our instructions, we believe they will get out of a rocket attack in a good way. If not, if they stand on balconies looking at rockets, yes, they can get hit. It is important we match up our expectations. Relying too much on Iron Dome could confuse civilians.”
“In the absence of Iron Dome, we need iron discipline,” Dagmi added. “There is no such thing as 100 percent protection. There will be people hit by projectiles. I am not deluding myself,” he said.
Both commanders said an ability by the civilian sphere to conduct itself under such conditions is crucial for allowing the IDF to focus on a devastating offense.
“It’s clear that whatever happens here, it will be much less preferable to be in Gaza or southern Lebanon if a conflict occurs,” Makov said.