Analysis: Feud should not obscure vital need for home front reform

Lindenstrauss report could and should be turning point in how gov't prepares for civilian disasters.

Lindenstrauss AJ 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Lindenstrauss AJ 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The publication Wednesday of the State Comptroller's report on the home front during the Second Lebanon War was not even an anticlimax: Everyone knew that it would be a coruscating attack on the entire chain of command from the prime minister downward, and that Ehud Olmert would once again accuse Micha Lindenstrauss of pursuing a personal vendetta against him. And that, of course, is precisely what happened. Whether or not there is any truth behind the vendetta claim, Lindenstrauss's conduct over the last year or so has given his detractors ample ammunition. And his decision to add to the 582-page report his own personal summary, written in much stronger language than the main text, once again left him open to attack - not only by the prime minister's people but also by senior IDF officers who claimed that the comptroller was playing to the gallery. The result: Those who have been saying for the last year that Olmert should resign said the same again on Wednesday; everybody else is keeping quiet and waiting for the Winograd Committee's final report on the war, and the comptroller's contribution will almost certainly be forgotten in 24 hours. This is a great pity, for the Olmert-Lindenstrauss feud should not allow us to lose sight of the central message of the report. We didn't need the comptroller to tell us that there was a total system failure in dealing with the home front last summer, but the report could and should be a turning point toward a fundamental reform in the way the government prepares for large-scale civilian disasters. The IDF Home Command was set up in the early 1990s as part of the response to the lessons learned from the poor national response to the Scud missile attacks on Israeli cities in the first Iraq war. The Home Command built an impressive search-and-rescue capability for use in destroyed buildings, but the military proved less successful in coordinating the various civilian agencies needed in a national emergency. The vacuum so visible during the Second Lebanon War and over recent months in bombarded Sderot also proves that the Home Command just can't be in charge of everything in a disaster area, especially when the local government, in charge of social services, has essentially ceased to exist. "We found that due to problems of corruption and mismanagement, nobody knew who was in charge of the most basic services during times of emergency, and the resources to deal with the situation were lacking," says Ilya Tzur, the head of Lev Ehad, a volunteer organization that was active during the war and lately in Sderot. "This wasn't a result of lack of planning for emergency but of the general level of corruption within the local authorities. In the end, the government just seems to be planning to rely on volunteers instead of doing its job in times of peace." There has been talk in the past of moving most of the Home Command's functions to a more civilian framework, under the auspices of the Public Security or Interior ministries, but the Defense Ministry has proved intransigent on moving the necessary budgets. The shortcomings of all levels and departments in dealing with the situation in the North and Sderot should have given new impetus to the founding of a truly national agency, to coordinate all the civilian and military functions during large-scale emergencies. The total failure of most local authorities should also boost efforts to crack down on corruption and incompetence in local government. Ronnie Bar-On as interior minister began doing this, firing an unprecedented number of council heads and mayors who had failed their constituents, but then he got promoted to the Treasury, and it remains to be seen whether the more conciliatory Meir Sheetrit will continue Bar-On's policy. These are the urgent tasks on which we should be focusing following the State Comptroller Office's report, not the bickering between Olmert and Lindenstrauss.