The Home Front Command.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
On November 6, the State Comptroller published a report about protecting the Israeli population from rockets and missiles by providing alert and shelters.
It is a major concern considering that Hezbollah alone has up to 150,000 rockets and missiles.
The report points out several problems, such as the lack of shelters for more than 200,000 people. Other shelters are not ready for long stays. In response Israel could invest in both building shelters and improving those that already exist. Yet it is costly to build shelters and it would come at the expense of other projects, including military ones.
Another challenge has been to give people enough time to find a shelter. During the 2014 confrontation in the Gaza Strip 4,000 alarms were raised inside Israel, although near Gaza Israelis had only 15 seconds to run for cover.
One alternative is to evacuate some of the population. Steps in this direction, such as exercises, have already taken place. During the 2006 war, the rocket fire from Lebanon caused about 200,000 Israelis to flee from northern to central Israel, which was much more secure. Yet in the next war with Hezbollah no place in Israel will be safe. Hamas’s rockets have more limited range and pose a threat mostly to the Negev. If there is a war with Hamas Israel could move some of the population from the Negev, particularly those who live very close to Gaza, where they are exposed not only to rockets but to mortars as well. At least Israel could make sure children are not in harm’s way.
On December 6, 2016, the IDF’s Gaza division and other units, including from the Israel Police, conducted a drill. Its goal was to prepare for an attack from Gaza by air, sea and land. This is another issue, which cannot be resolved by adding more shelters.
Could the solution to attacks from the Gaza Strip, whether by rockets or any other way, be to conquer Gaza? During the 2014 confrontation some members of the government favored an aggressive approach toward Hamas. The foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, called for land operation in Gaza. On October 23, 2016, as defense minister, Liberman threatened to destroy Hamas “completely” if there is another war.
In the future the IDF could seize part or the entire Gaza Strip.
In 2001-05, when the IDF was deployed in quite a large part of Gaza, the shooting of rockets into Israel went on, but on a minor scale. If Gaza is to be controlled by Israel, the production, hiding and firing of rockets would be a serious challenge. Israel, since 2012, also has the Iron Dome to intercept rockets.
On March 7, 2015, defense minister Moshe Ya’alon claimed that if Israel had conquered Gaza in 2014 it would have cost Israel up to NIS 10 billion a year and the fight would have continued.
Furthermore outside the Gaza Strip the Israelis are behind a fence, waiting to foil assaults that came from inside the Strip.
While deploying inside Gaza Israeli troops would be exposed to attacks from all over, particularly when on patrol to search for weapons, enforce law and order, etc. Israeli troops would be attacked by IEDs, snipers, suicide bombers, etc. The same would happen if Israel were to seize territory in Lebanon as part of a war against Hezbollah.
In July 2014 the IDF did not prepare a military rule and civilian administration for the Gaza Strip. If Gaza is taken, such lack of readiness would cause Israel difficulties considering the huge economic and other problems existing there. Israel would also absorb international criticism for occupying Gaza, and there would be tension with Arab states. Inside Israel there might be growing public protest, calling to withdraw.
All of that would cause pressure on the government.
Israel could seize the Gaza Strip, topple Hamas and then leave the hornet’s nest, but then the area would sink into chaos with rival factions clashing not only with each other but with Israel as well, including by firing rockets at it.
All in all there is no silver bullet. Israel has to find a compromise between building enough shelters to deterring Hamas and Hezbollah. As part of the latter, Israel should make it clear that in spite of all the difficulties of occupying territory in Lebanon and Gaza, Israel is still willing to do so if necessary.
Israel must emphasize both officially and indirectly that its enemies will pay a much higher price than it if they choose to start a war.
The author is an analyst of Israel’s national security, and used to work for the Israeli military.