Desperate housewives count days, not rockets

Are our civilians ready for a sustained war?

May 30, 2010 05:18
Desperate housewives count days, not rockets

bomb shelter 298 AJ. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])


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Compared to the scenario that Turning Point 4 drilled last week, the events that occurred here in 1991 can be thought of as a piece of cake.

Back then, Saddam Hussein fired some 30 Scuds into the Dan region, and even though millions lived in a state of fear, only one person died – of a heart attack. Since 1948, some 60,000 rockets have been fired into Israel, killing 80 civilians. Compare that to 2006, where Hizbullah lobbed over 80 tons of explosives in 33 days of war, killing 43 civilians, while four others died of heart attacks.

In this week’s drill, some 220 (imaginary) tons of explosives (theoretically) hit the Israeli home front in the first four days of (imaginary) war. But that’s where the theoretical ends. Turning Point 4 is an exercise based on very realistic assessments of what Israel can expect in the next round of war with Hizbullah, Hamas and possibly Syria and Iran.

The next time around, the enemy rockets will be deadlier and more accurate – and they’ll come in concentrated blitzes of hundreds at a time. They’ll come day after day, not sporadically like in 2006 and 2009, but in barrages, timed and coordinated by an axis of enemies from the north, south and east.

Next time around, our enemies will coordinate their attacks, divvy up their target banks and share their intelligence in real time. If in 2006 and 2009 Hamas and Hizbullah’s strategic imperative was simply to survive the IDF’s punishment, this time they’ll act as a coordinated fighting machine, hitting us on three different fronts with strategic plans on which targets to hit on which days, and who fires at which targets.

Next time around, the dumb scuds whose main purpose was to scare the living daylights out of us in 1991 will be replaced by larger, smarter rockets targeting our national resilience and military infrastructure. They’ll hit hospitals, energy and water facilities, hazardous chemical depots, army, navy and air force bases, and of course, densely populated cities.

Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran are preparing for a conflict that could last somewhere in the vicinity of two months. The Second Lebanon War, 33 days in the summer of 2006, was Israel’s longest. A million residents of the North were confined to bomb shelters for over a month, while many residents fled to the Center and the South, and some local authorities collapsed entirely. Can the Dan region, the heart of the country’s economic life, sustain a similar, or worse, situation for two whole months or more? The planners of Turning Point 4 believe the country is ready for a two-month barrage; that the Home Front Command and local authorities are sufficiently resilient to weather this storm; and that civilians will be largely safe from harm if they adhere to Home Front Command instructions.

But their confidence borders on hubris. Israelis have never been tested in this way before. Sustained barrages of hundreds of rockets a day on the central region, which includes 22 cities from Netanya in the North to Ashdod in the South, would seriously impede and might even shut down commerce, transportation and all other aspects of normal life – something this country has never experienced before, not even during the War of Independence in 1948, where recently revealed archive film footage shows café-goers in Tel-Aviv enjoying the sun even while their brethren fought tooth and nail at the front.

Are our civilians – especially those in the central areas, who are not battle-hardened like their counterparts in the North and South – ready for a sustained rocket war? This is the question, and the equation, that will ultimately determine the outcome of the next war – a new kind of war where Israel’s enemies effectively lift the front line over the heads of advancing IDF battalions directly into the cities in the central Dan region. The idea behind this is to pressure Israeli civilians into pressuring the government into making pressurized decisions. National resilience – just as much as the IDF’s performance behind enemy lines – will be what determines the length and outcome of the next round of fighting.

The Israel Defense Forces is an army built to fight short, decisive wars. It is a fighting force designed to bring massive firepower to bear on selective targets and destroy them with pinpoint accuracy in the shortest amount of time possible.

The Israeli civilian population as a whole is not yet built to sustain long, withering wars on its cities. Bomb shelters in private, old buildings in the North and Center are not of a high standard. While there is nothing wrong with fleeing danger zones, it is unknown how many Israelis will choose to flee to outlying areas such as the Arava, the Dead Sea, Eilat and the Jezreel Valley, how many tent cities will need to be established, and whether the local authorities there can sustain the influx and provide these internal refugees with the necessary services.

In the next war, IDF ground troops will have to go deeper into enemy territory as Hamas and Hizbullah, which have acquired and developed longer-range missiles, place them further inside their home fronts, especially within densely populated urban areas.

In the next war, Israeli civilians will have to dig deeper into their resilience, their courage and patience, and place immense trust in their local authorities and the Home Front Command.

The average Israeli housewife will become desperate the longer the war drags on as her kids don’t go to school; she can’t feed them war rations for months on end; her husband is off fighting behind enemy lines; shops and factories are closed, and she can’t get to work. A desperate housewife doesn’t care if 60, 70 or 80 rockets a day fall around her. She’s not counting rockets; she’s counting the days until the rockets stop falling.

The answer to that depends not only on how quickly and well the IDF fights, or how effectively the Home Front Command can help maintain normal life, but also on how desperate our housewives become.

Amir Mizroch's blog

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