Home Front commander: Israel too prone to send civilians to shelters

Says their use by residents in the North was exaggerated during Second Lebanon War.

The Defense Ministry does not expect civilians to move full time into bomb shelters in a future war, even though only one-third of the population lives in apartments or homes with reinforced safety rooms, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i told the Knesset State Control Committee on Monday. The committee met to assess progress in preparing the home front for a future war, in accordance with the State Comptroller's report on the government's handling of the home front prior to and during the Second Lebanon War. Maj.-Gen. Ya'ir Golan, O/C Home Front, agreed that there was no reason for civilians to move full time into public or apartment-block bomb shelters in a war in which enemy missiles are fired at the civilian population. "The fact that civilians spent 33 days in bomb shelters during the Second Lebanon War was not good," said Golan. "We have to understand that by taking a civilian and making him completely passive harms his resiliency." Golan added that he had studied the statistics of the 2006 war and found that the largest number of missiles that fell in one day on Kiryat Shmona, the hardest hit city during the war, was 49. "How many does that work out to per hour," asked Golan, indicating that even in Kiryat Shmona there was no justification for residents to live in bomb shelters throughout the war. Golan pointed out although 51,000 had died in the London Blitz during World War II, residents did not live in bomb shelters then. The general's comments appeared to be at odds with the philosophy of making bomb shelters as habitable as possible for fear that residents might have to spend long periods in them during future conflicts. Golan said that the local authorities would remain the backbone of the system for looking after the civilian population. However, the home front was in the process of establishing liaison units for each of the approximately 250 local authorities in Israel. These would connect local authorities and the Home Front Command. So far, 183 local authorities have already been assigned such units and another 20 are to be established by the end of the year. On another subject, Golan said the army had decided to redistribute gas masks to the civilian population but did not yet have the budget to go ahead with this. Ze'ev Zuk-Ram, head of Rahel (the National Emergency Authority) also updated the committee on its progress in the wake of the State Comptroller's Report. He emphasized efforts to coordinate among different institutions involved in caring for the home front. He added that a law codifying the hierarchy of command between the various institutions is currently being formulated. MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union-NRP) told The Jerusalem Post that based on the reports delivered in the meeting, "not only are we not better prepared for the next war, we are more poorly prepared." He rejected the army's assessment that the civilian population would not move to bomb shelters in case of missile attacks. "The situation would be exactly the same as it was in 2006," he warned. He also said that the institutional changes that have been made to cope with another assault on the home front will not make a difference. "It must be clear to the decision-makers that it is not enough to establish another committee. The government and the army must understand that [in order to protect the home front] we must win the war immediately. The army must understand that its mission is to stop the missile attacks. That was not made clear in the Second Lebanon War. If it is made clear in the next war, the IDF will carry it out successfully."