Home front defense minister: Israel's poor are at highest risk from rockets

Yadlin downplays homeland defense, says deterrence is the key; slams "intolerable gap" between rich and poor.

Gaza terrorists launch rockets 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesmans Office)
Gaza terrorists launch rockets 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesmans Office)
Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan slammed on Thursday the “intolerable gap” between those who have access to rocket-protection structures in the form of safe zones in modern apartment buildings, and poorer people who do not even have access to nearby, functioning bomb shelters.
Erdan was speaking during a conference on homeland security held by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv.
“A third of Israeli residents have no protection at all – no safe zones in their apartment, no bomb shelters in their buildings, and no functioning public shelters nearby,” Erdan said.
“Thirty percent have safe zones in their apartments. This is an intolerable gap. We are searching for creative solutions. We’ve set up an interministerial committee to overcome budgetary and bureaucratic hurdles to finding solutions,” he added.
Erdan described the gap as a socioeconomic “time bomb,” noting that those who live in buildings built from 1992 onward have protection from rockets.
“Who lacks protection? The weaker sections of society,” he said.
The minister said he was working to ensure that the poor would not suffer more casualties than other Israelis in any future war.
“There is a governmental and moral obligation to deal with this gap,” he said.
Erdan lamented the fact that the gaps in rocket protection have remained unchanged since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Solutions include government subsidies to install protective measures in apartments or stairwells, he said.
Erdan also expressed doubt that the IDF Home Front Command would be able to adequately deal with civilian emergency needs across the country during a full-scale war.
“The enemy will try to fire a maximum number of rockets in the first days. It knows the IDF will try to extinguish rocket fire very quickly. I don’t think the Home Front Command can respond in many local council areas [at the same time]. It’s the local councils that must do this. Hence, they have a very important role in preparations,” he said.
Any conflict would involve incoming Hezbollah projectiles with an increased range and ability to inflict damage, with some carrying warheads of hundreds of kilograms of explosives, Erdan warned.
“There’s a different [higher] level of accuracy in a growing number of projectiles, and there is no effective way to stop the development and arrival [to Hezbollah in Lebanon] of these weapons. We have to take vital infrastructure into consideration, otherwise it will be difficult to maintain operational continuity in a future war,” he said.
Erdan cited regional instability and cautioned that the level of instability is “very, very high.”
He added that the IDF didn’t always like thinking about the new threat to the home front, as this “forces budgetary changes” and the directing of funds to home front defense.
“The home front is still not ready – neither physically, nor budget-wise, nor in terms of legislation or regulation – for the scenario that the IDF is talking about. Even after we activate all our capabilities and our active defense, many missiles will still fall on the home front,” Erdan said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will soon need to decide whether to grant Erdan and his ministry greater authority to institute changes and increase preparations, he added.
“I don’t know of a model in which a minister has public responsibilities but no authority to take decisions,” Erdan said, criticizing the lack of powers in the hands of the Home Front Defense Ministry.
Earlier, Erdan had a disagreement with the director of the INSS, former Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, over the scope of the rocket and missile threat.
While Erdan said that the risk was extensive and very large, Yadlin said the figure of 200,000 rockets and missiles pointed at Israel overhyped the threat, noting that most of the projectiles were short-range and inaccurate.
“We must put this threat in proportion,” he said.
“It’s wrong to invest billions in home-front defenses. This is not how to win a war,” Yadlin added.
The best defense against rockets and missiles is deterring Israel’s enemies from firing them in the first place, Yadlin argued.
“Israel has very strong deterrence. The 200,000 missiles aren’t flying at us, and that’s not because our enemies our Zionists,” he said.
Early warning systems are also a key feature, Yadlin said.
“If the public is disciplined and receives an early warning, the chances of harming us decreases two-fold.”
The IDF should focus on building its versatile capabilities, Yadlin said.
Addressing the threat of chemical weapons, he said, “I’ll repeat what I was thinking in 1991 and in 2003. Gas masks are a waste of money. The money would be better used in education and health. I don’t know of any use of chemical weapons against a side that can respond with great force.
Equipping ourselves with gas masks legitimizes the firing of chemical weapons against us.”
Missile expert Prof. Uzi Rubin, who was the first director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization in the Defense Ministry, said that Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 may have been the first conflict in history that will be defined as a “war of buttons.”
Israeli operators sat in bunkers pressing buttons (to attack targets) in the Gaza Strip, while Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket-launchers pushed buttons to fire projectiles at Israel, Rubin said.
“Ground forces didn’t move. This might change the paradigm,” he said.