Special report: Thousands of rockets to pound undefended Israeli civilians in next war

There are significant defects regarding physical protection, early warning systems and the evacuation of the population, which would increase the risk of civilian life during a war.

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December 6, 2016 16:00

IDF soldiers hold large-scale exercise Dec. 5, 2016 in preparation for possible round of altercations with Hamas on the border with the Gaza Strip

IDF soldiers hold large-scale exercise Dec. 5, 2016 in preparation for possible round of altercations with Hamas on the border with the Gaza Strip

The next war is expected to bring tens of thousands of rockets raining down on the home front, but will find defective warning systems, a lack of bomb shelters, and an incomplete evacuation plan for civilians in critical areas, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira reported Tuesday.

Notably, his report does not include expected sections on the defective handling of Hamas’s tunnel threat during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge or the IDF’s compliance with the laws of war during it.

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It briefly suggests that those sections were put off until later due to the intensity of the threat to the home front – though even weeks ago the missing sections were expected to be included and the threat to the home front has not changed since then.

The report is based on the comptroller’s comprehensive audits between September 2014 and October 2015 on issues related to the 2014 war, including the Home Front Command, especially in areas related to the protection of civilians.

According to the comptroller’s report, there are several significant defects in preparations for physical protection, early warning systems and the evacuation of the population, which would increase the risk of life to civilians during a war.

In addition, there has been increased criticism of shortcomings in coordination among the various government bodies which deal with the home front, including the Defense Ministry, the IDF and the National Security Council.

The most glaring lack of bomb shelters or at least specially outfitted shelter-rooms was in the Beduin sector in the South. The report found that despite a High Court of Justice petition demanding equal protection for Beduin, there has basically been no progress in increasing their safety.

In July 2015 and March 2016 hearings before the High Court, the Beduin slammed the state for ignoring “unrecognized” Beduin villages. The court noted that rockets do not skip over villages simply because Israel officially does not recognize them.

Though the Defense Ministry responded in March that private citizens have the duty to build their own shelter- rooms, Shapira said that Beduin building plans are rarely approved – meaning essentially they cannot build their own shelters.

Another common refrain from the state is that the Beduin are only one of many groups near the border that are still unprotected and that other villages are in even greater danger. The Beduin have responded that Jewish villages within the same rocket range as the Beduin have been provided with far more new shelters than they.

The report states that the IDF expects northern residents who live within 15 kilometers from the Lebanon border to spend an extended period in bomb shelters during the next conflict with Hezbollah, since they are vulnerable to the short and medium range rockets which Hezbollah has in abundance.

A 2014 IDF survey found that, although most Golan residents have some form of nearby bomb shelter, the majority of residents near the Lebanese border do not.

As a result of the gaps in bomb-shelter coverage, the National Emergency Authority (RACHEL) decided on June 23, 2015 to establish a special unit to increase the number of bomb-shelters in the North. As of October 2015, the new unit still did not exist. In November 2015, the head of RACHEL told the comptroller that he was only acting- head and that forming the new unit would need to wait for a more permanent head of RACHEL to take over and appoint leaders of the new unit.

The head of RACHEL also was tasked with publishing an operational plan for increasing the number of bomb shelters. The plan was due to be completed by the end of 2015, but by March 2016 it still had not started.

The IDF and RACHEL responded in early 2016 that private citizens or the Education Ministry were primarily responsible for the issue. The comptroller said he disagreed and placed primary responsibility with the defense minister.

Shapira said it is unrealistic to expect all private citizens to have the funds to build their own private shelter at an approximate cost of NIS 100,000, when the median income is NIS 6,707 per month and the average income is NIS 9,317 per month.

In the Gaza border region, the comptroller said that the Defense Ministry must outfit nursery schools with bomb-shelters so that the children’s parents can work. In contrast, the Defense Ministry policy has been that many nursery schools should simply be closed during periods of rocket attacks, which would make building bomb shelters unnecessary.

On the positive side, Shapira complimented the state on outfitting Gaza border communities within seven kilometers of the border with special shelters.

Besides having bomb-shelter protection once rockets start striking, the report said that the early-warning system in the Gaza border area was not sounded soon enough to give residents the required 15 seconds to get to a shelter.

Shapira complimented the defense establishment for improving the speed of the early-warning system for parts of the border, but said that it has still failed to improve the speed of warnings for other sections.

Similarly, the report criticized the North’s advance-warning system for failing to sound sufficient warning when short-range rockets were fired at Israel.

The report also blasted the Finance and Defense ministries for not allocating their share of the NIS 60 million yearly budget for improving advance-warning systems.

More seriously, the comptroller said that plans to evacuate up to 300,000 civilians from areas under attack have moved forward, but far too slowly.

The “hotel guests” program for finding temporary quarters for evacuated citizens was approved in 2012, but neither the Interior Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the IDF nor the local authorities have moved the program forward anywhere near the target of 300,000 evacuees.

The report said there was no collaboration between relevant government bodies and the army to examine the overall preparedness of the country against various threats until June 2016. It was also noted that the Ministerial Committee for Preparedness for Civil Emergencies was established only in October 2015 and has met only once between then and July 2016.

And while the state comptroller noted that the IDF has offensive and interception capabilities that would reduce the rocket fire into Israel, he was not sure that the IDF is prepared for the scenario where tens of thousands of missiles and rockets could be fired into the country the same day.

In March 2016, Public Security Ministry Gilad Erdan told the comptroller’s office that “the complexities of… the civilian arena in different emergencies is unclear with regard to the distribution of powers and responsibilities between the government departments and the bodies which deal with the Home Front Command, making it difficult to properly prepare.”

Shapira noted that, although according to the IDF chief-of-staff and the defense minister, they had formulated a multi-annual plan for the home front, the plan was formulated without consulting Erdan, calling this and other poor coordination a “fundamental flaw.”

According to a Defense Ministry statement on Tuesday, there is coordination with the Public Security Ministry, referring to the wave of fires which hit Israel two weeks ago. “Despite the Public Security Ministry not declaring it a national disaster, all government ministries were present to help, and the Home Front Command forces were in full coordination with the Israel Police,” the statement said.

The statement noted that detailed plans have been formulated in the event that residents from the North must be evacuated.

“Operational plans are updated every few months according to demographics in each community, under the supervision of an inter-ministerial steering committee. At the same time, government agencies have helped RACHEL make a significant leap forward in their ability to carry out the plan for hotel guests and the extensive evacuation of the population in case of war and mass disasters,” read the statement.


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