Awareness campaigns necessary to prepare nation for war, says IDF's Home Front Command

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Some elements in the military have expressed dissatisfaction with what they see as unnecessary fear-mongering by the IDF's Home Front Command and its campaigns to prepare the nation for future wars, but a senior IDF Home Front Command official believes the stress caused by the campaigns would pay off in the long run. "Our vision is to see the country ready for emergency situations," Dr. Col. Chilik Soffer, head of the Population Department at the IDF's Home Front Command, told The Jerusalem Postrecently. "In the army, some have asked why these campaigns of awareness are needed. Some don't like it," Soffer conceded. "In the short-term, it does increase stress, but I believe this is a healthy stress, because people will function in a better way during an emergency," he added. Unlike recent wars which affected specific regions of the country, future conflicts are likely to see the whole Israeli home front affected, which is why the Home Front Command is seeking to ensure nationwide readiness, Soffer explained. "We know there are rockets in Gaza with 60 kilometer ranges. We know Hizbullah has 50,000 rockets in Lebanon. We know Iran has missiles that can reach Israel. If these things exist, what are they for? They are not for looking pretty. So we're better off getting ready," he added. The last time Israel faced the threat of a country-wide missile attack was during the 1991 Gulf War, Soffer noted. "We had six months to prepare beforehand," he added. One year after Operation Cast Lead, the Home Front Command is in the midst of a major program designed to get local councils, government ministries, and private corporations ready for potential conflict. "We have 60,000 soldiers in our reserves," Soffer said, but added that more were needed. Soffer is fond of looking to 1940s-era Britain as an example of good civilian organization in the face of enemy fire on the home front. "During the Blitz, teenagers acted as lookouts on the rooftops, and helped firefighters," he said. Today, the Home Front Command is implementing a program to turn tens of thousands of high school pupils into local volunteers who can help local councils. Charity organizations that carry out vital services, like Ezer Mizion and Yad Sarah, are being connected to local councils too, he said. And regional councils are being instructed to set up headquarters in every area, in buildings such as high schools, that can help deliver essential services, information, food and clothing during times of emergency. "We have declared 2010 to be the year of readiness for regional councils, out of an understanding that the councils are a foundation for the home front," Soffer said. By March, all of Israel's regional councils will have taken part in in-depth emergency training exercises. The councils are visited by Home Front Command officials and graded on their performance, Soffer said. As part of the preparations, local radio networks are being set up that will keep all emergency services and regional council staff in touch and broadcasting on the same wavelength. Local Communications Units (LCU), made up of high-ranking reserve army officers who are assigned by the Home Front Command to city councils, are now able to broadcast a live Internet feed to the Home Front Command and update their superiors on events on the ground. "We saw how vital the LCUs were during Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War," Soffer said. "They are force multiplier for mayors during wartime." Within the private sector, the Home Front Command was working with many corporations, from supermarkets to electricity providers, to ensure they continue to function during an emergency. A select number of companies have been identified by the Home Front Command as being vital to sustaining the national economy, and must thus remain operational at all times. "After coming to power, Winston Churchill gave his 'blood, toil, tears, and sweat' speech," Soffer said. "He told the truth to the nation. "Telling the truth is worthwhile," he added.