Special report blasts Israeli home-front as gravely deficient, vulnerable to rocket attacks

Comptroller blasts Ya'alon for ending home-front ministry, then doing nothing; Defense Ministry: we've achieved great changes.

Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, July 13, 2014 (photo credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, July 13, 2014
(photo credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Wednesday blasted the home front’s readiness for mass rocket attacks as “gravely deficient” and zeroed in on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon as bearing special responsibility for the problems.
While the report covered a range of war and natural disaster- related issues the home front could face, it focused on defending against “massive rocket fire” that “could last several weeks,” since “according to the IDF, in any future conflict the home front will be a central target” for Hamas or Hezbollah.
The comptroller’s criticism regarding home-front readiness for rocket attacks broke down into several areas.
A major area of criticism concerned the continued failure of Ya’alon to take a big-picture view of defending the home front from rocket attacks, despite what should have been lessons learned following the 2014 Gaza war.
The report cites him for failing to streamline cooperation and the assignment of roles to disaster-relief organizations under the state’s umbrella.
For example, the National Emergency Authority still lacks the authority to direct a wide range of ministries and local authorities in a unified fashion to achieve better home-front safety, it said.
Ya’alon was also hit in the report for ignoring homefront defense in favor of a single- minded focus on attacking those firing rockets.
Shapira even quoted Ya’alon in 2014 stating that, in light of the fact that the defense establishments’ primary mission was to “win the military conflict... it should also set the priorities in an emergency,” including how much resources are diverted from fighting the war to defending the home front. The report noted that a Home Front Defense Ministry had been created in 2011 following past comptroller reports and expert recommendations, implying that the new ministry was prevented from carrying out its mission by Ya’alon. When the ministry was disbanded in 2014 – in no small part following public statements by Ya’alon that the Defense Ministry should have authority over the home front – the government declared Ya’alon responsible for providing a new framework for defending the home front by November 2014, noted the report.
Ya’alon’s deadline was then extended until February 2015, but the Defense Ministry still has not produced the framework.
While Ya’alon took the most heat, the report also criticized the Public Security Ministry for not upholding its responsibilities.
Regarding the railway line running between Ashdod and Sderot, Shapira wrote that there were “substantial deficiencies in the transportation authorities’ readiness for emergencies,” including the failure to provide a means of defense for the line and for its workers in general.
Moreover, the report urged the Defense Ministry, Transportation Ministry, Israel Railways and Netivei Israel- National Transport Infrastructure Company Ltd. to provide a means of defense for the railway line “without delay.”
Another sector that faced repeated damage due to rocket fire during Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014 was the country’s electricity supply, with power lines hit dozens of times. According to a July 2014 to March 2015 audit of the Israel Electric Corporation and the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry, the IEC had neither finished readying its emergency meeting spaces nor fully implemented its conclusions relating to power grid glitches that occurred during the operation, Shapira said.
Although the Energy Ministry said in April 2015 that it had implemented “an organized process for learning lessons” from the conflict period, the state comptroller called upon the ministry to update its emergency procedures to clearly reflect these lessons.
Shapira also criticized the absence of instructions for large industrial areas as to how to conduct themselves while under rocket fire as well as the fact that emergency inventory of essential products, including food, does not meet the quotas that the state set for itself.
The report also called on the Transportation Ministry to build a second large international airport so that if Ben-Gurion Airport were under rocket fire, the state would be able to continue international flights, unlike during the 2014 Gaza war when many foreign airlines stopped flights for about two days.
The Defense Ministry responded to the report stating that since authority for the home front was returned to it in June 2014, “the National Emergency Authority along with the Home Front Command have completed a framework for dividing their authorities” for protecting the home front. The division of authority “will be anchored in the Home Front Law, which will empower the NEA to direct cross-ministry and local authorities’ activities in the middle of a disaster.”
The ministry continued that the NEA just this week sent to Ya’alon a proposed plan for addressing a variety of disaster situations, a plan that served as the basis for “a recent drill by government ministries and emergency- response groups” regarding home-front readiness.
This plan will serve as the basis of the multi-year plan, requested by the comptroller, which the ministry “is working on during this period” and regarding which it “has invested and will continue to invest tens of millions of shekels” in “recent years as major change” was achieved on the issue.
The IDF also issued a statement late Wednesday saying it had completed a successful military exercise, which included all the IDF branches, including the Home Front Command.
Responding to the criticism of a failure to defend the Ashdod-Sderot railway line, the defense establishment said that the main responsibility for the issue belongs to Israel Railways, including designing, financing and implementing various methods of defending the line.
Israel Railways said it “acts in complete coordination with defense, IDF and Transportation Ministry officials... and will take all measures within its powers in order to protect its train lines,” including unspecified “additional protections” at an unspecified time.
In reacting to the state comptroller’s criticism, the IEC said that, during Operation Protective Edge and other emergency events, its employees worked around the clock in order to ensure that electricity continued to flow and that the company has since launched a variety of emergency preparation programs. As to the recommendation of building a second international airport, the Transportation Ministry said that it already uses the Israel Air Force field at Uvda, near Eilat, as a second airport at times and that a new major airport at Timna, also in the South, is in the works.
Sharon Udasin contributed to this report.