Home Front Command prepares for increased rocket threat from Syria

"I encourage individuals and families to prioritize investing in safe rooms," senior officer tells the ‘Post.'

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December 17, 2015 00:57
4 minute read.
Quneitra

A UN observation tower is seen overlooking Syria, next to the Quneitra border crossing between the Golan Heights in Israel and Syria.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The IDF Home Front Command is in the process of setting up a subdistrict on the Golan Heights, in response to the proliferation of terrorist organizations and projectile threats from neighboring Syria, a senior military source told The Jerusalem Post.

The high-ranking officer, from the command’s northern district, said the subdistrict on the Golan Heights will operate alongside an older subdistrict that operates in the Galilee serving border communities.

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“The Golan is a very important component of our preparations,” he said. “The subdistrict has its own commander and headquarters. It is already fully operational, but will hold its first full headquarters at the end of 2016,” he added.

The subdistrict will be under the command of the recently established 210 territorial Golan Division, and is part of the Home Front Command’s adaption to a “multiple-front reality,” the officer said.

“We are trying to produce a culture of readiness. This is healthy,” he said. “I encourage [all] individuals and families to ensure they have safe rooms ready. The state does not know how to prepare this for citizens.

I recommend they set up proper fortified rooms. Future conflicts will see rocket fire for lengthy periods. I’d suggest they prepare a routine, including a television, Internet, and a small generator,” he added.

“We assess that the future war will have many aspects aimed at public perception. There will be a reality here that will not be simple, but Hezbollah will try to make us interpret this in a way that is worse than it really is. Our challenge will be to not to fall for that, and to know that we can deal with this,” he added.

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A combination of timely, area-specific alerts, Home Front Command safety instructions, discipline on the part of the civilians, functioning local councils and government ministries, and active defense systems together mean the northern district can cope, even under an onslaught of shortrange Hezbollah rocket attacks, he said.

“Investing in a safe room should be at the top of [all] citizens’ priorities. Even more important is the alert we provide through sirens and a range of other means,” the officer said.

Asked by the Post to comment on Islamic State’s reported use of low-grade chemical attacks in Syria, the source said that overall, there has been a “significant decrease in the chemical weapons threat, due to the Assad regime’s surrender of [its] chemical weapons program.”

But on a tactical local level, groups like Islamic State, which has used chlorine in Syrian battles, could deploy such weapons in a projectile attack on the Golan Heights in the future.

“This could happen,” the source said. “We are preparing.”

Despite that assessment, the risk level has not yet risen to the extent that the Home Front Command feels a need to redistribute gas masks.

“We will know how to provide local solutions if necessary,” said the source.

“We are following what is occurring around us all of the time. The northern district is the most complex, due to the level of the threat and geographical features,” he added.

“We are monitoring Hezbollah in the North all of the time.

This is a dynamic area, with many changes that necessitate preparations.”

The command’s northern district has been busy preparing civilian authorities and giving them the tools to cope with emergencies, which include both armed conflict and natural disasters.

Local authorities that are located near the northern borders, such as Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya and Shlomi, are under the jurisdiction of the IDF Northern Command, but a Galilee Home Front Command subdistrict of forces still serves this area, just as a second subdistrict serves the Golan Heights.

“The dilemma we faced is, how do we serve these areas in emergencies? We needed to combine between classic defense plus civil defenses,” said the source.

The northern district deploys its own search and rescue battalions, which also are trained to provide assistance to residents under extreme circumstances, while also assisting local authorities and strategically important industry installations in formulating emergency responses.

“We have significantly expanded training of civilian bodies in the past year,” said the officer.

“We are building up the tool of evacuating northern communities under heavy fire, though it is not clear we will end up using this tool. Any decision would be a product of assessments made during war,” he said.

The Home Front Command’s northern district is made up of a 55 percent Arab population.

The source said the command provides equal service to all local residents.

“We have identified a lot of cooperation among Arab local authorities this year. Arab regional councils are preparing, they are concerned. We helped them set up response teams – these are first-responder assistance teams. They have basic tools, vests and an understanding of how to react. This is the reserve force of local councils.”

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