A Home Front Command soldier fires an automatic grenade launcher during training.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
One of the brilliant operations of the Israel Air Force at the start of the Second Lebanon War is commonly known as “Fager Night.”
Within 34 minutes many of Hezbollah’s long- and medium- range missiles were eradicated. Authorizing the operation was challenging, due to its confidentiality and since the missiles were stored in the homes of Lebanese citizens, adding to the potential of high collateral damage. Finally I decided in favor of the operation, since those who sleep with a rocket in their home are doing so at their own risk.
This kind of activity reflects the intelligence, technological and operational superiority of the IDF and the creativity and courage of its soldiers and commanders.
These will guarantee Israel’s existence and victory in any future war.
However, in the same war the home front was severely hit, with 120-250 missiles thrown at northern Israel every day. The damage done is first and foremost measured in human lives, but also in the blow given to the economy and to social and national morale. In light of this it became clear that Israel’s security approach must be completely overhauled, as it is clear that our enemies – from Iran through Hezbollah to Hamas – treat the home front as our Achilles heel.
Prime Minister Ben-Gurion founded the IDF on three pillars: deterrence, early warning and decisive victory. In 2007 a fourth pillar was added – defense of the home front. Along with upgrading the instruments of passive defense, with shielding of public facilities and funding residential secure spaces (commonly known in Hebrew by the acronym “mamad”), I authorized the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system, alongside the mid-range and anti-ballistic systems David’s Sling and the Arrow. In addition to that, we established a decade ago the National Emergency Authority, mirroring the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
In 2014 the home front was hit with almost 5,000 mortar shells and rockets launched by Hamas. Cities like Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and Sderot might have ended up like London after the Blitz, but the integrated approached of passive and active defense and investments in emergency readiness have made the difference. The political and military leadership could focus on the enemy, without reports and images from the home front of the kind we saw during the Second Lebanon War (or worse).
Since then military and civic exercises have taken place regularly and national infrastructure and public facilities have been protected. The supply of drugs, fuel, food and water in emergencies is managed properly.
Academic research is conducted and there is vital international cooperation on the matter, especially concerning new challenges such as the threat of cyber terrorism.
One of the key priorities for the subcommittee on home front preparedness, which is chaired by me, is the development of a common language to be shared by all executive arms that deal with the issue (including the IDF Home Front Command, Magen David Adom, the fire and rescue services, and the police), as well as the clear division of authorities and responsibilities.
In addition, we are closely monitoring how gaps in shelter availability are being addressed.
The reality, however, is frightening: despite detailed plans from the IDF, the National Security Council and the National Emergency Authority, and notwithstanding positive declarations made by cabinet members and government ministers – essential budgets are missing and everything moves too little and too slowly.
Addressing the home front becomes a priority only after the occurrence of a tragic event.
Without specifying the number of missiles, their accuracy and the extent of the damage anticipated in the probable scenarios ahead, it is clear that the home front will be at the core of any future war, to a degree that was hitherto unknown.
The government’s conduct, the cabinet’s and especially that of the defense minister and prime minister on the issue has been fundamentally irresponsible.
There are many sensitive matters that await executive decisions and budgets, such as 150 market-essential facilities of which only 10% are shielded. The State Comptroller warns that every third citizen has no adequate shelter to rely on. The government finally approved an evacuation plan for citizens during times of emergency, but its implementation would require funds that are so far not being granted.
Instead of dragging its feet, the government should embark upon a marathon to catch up on the deficits and bridge existing gaps to defend the home front.
This race requires that the government advances the Home Front bill and approves crucial private legislation, such as that of MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) to shelter residents under threat and that of myself and MK Avi Dichter (Likud) to encourage every citizen (including in the big cities) to build a residential secure space on his/her own, with a fast-track approval from the government, a subsidized loan and an exemption from municipal taxes.
The special day that would be marked in the Knesset today, January 16, is intended to shed light on progress made, but also and mostly on the gaps and the targets that have yet to be reached. The day would be on the agenda of most Knesset committees and its plenary, which would sound an alarm to the prime minister and defense minister – before the next military confrontation, when civil defense sirens are heard throughout the country.Former defense minister Amir Peretz chairs the subcommittee on the readiness of the home front in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.