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Ron Ben-Yishai  

 

Time to boost home front

Well-protected home front would bolster Israel's power of deterrence

Published: 07.20.07, 00:08 / Israel Opinion

The home front's preparedness to sustain attacks is not only a social-humanitarian issue, as we usually approach it around here. It is a strategic issue of the first order that has direct implications on Israel's deterrent power, its ability to make full use of its military power, and its ability to win a war and determine the diplomatic results as well.

 

There are two reasons for this: Firstly, the radical Islam coalition has identified civil society and Israel's large population and industrial concentrations as a sensitive vulnerability within our national and military strength. Secondly, the simplicity of using missiles, rockets, and explosive devices carried by "martyrs" and the ability to produce or purchase them cheaply and in almost unlimited quantities provides terror groups, as well as Syria and Iran, with an effective and cheap means for engaging in an effective war of attrition against Israel's civilian population and industrial centers.

 

The IDF has no effective tactical or strategic response against this strategy, with the exception of embarking on a war or at the very least a wide-scale operation aimed at taking over launch sites. However, the government of Israel is not quick to adopt such moves and cannot do it often.

 

Under such circumstances, the issue of protecting the home front and its preparedness to sustain blows is of the utmost importance.  A system that can care for the afflicted population and minimize damage boosts the sense of security among civilians and the readiness of reserve soldiers to join their units while missiles and rockets land on their homes and families.

 

Moreover, the mere realization on the other side that it cannot inflict severe damage to the home front and undermine its morale may serve to deter it, or at least make it think twice before taking the risk of an Israeli response to massive missile and rocket attacks. This will be even truer once Iran, and possibly other countries in the region, possess nuclear weapons and will have to consider whether to make use of them or keep them stored away.

 

In addition, the knowledge that the home front is protected enables the government and IDF to manage the war in a sensible manner and without panic. Even those who back an offensive approach, which calls for an all-out Israeli offensive, both aerial and on the ground, the moment missiles and rockets are fired at Israel, know that such an offensive requires several weeks before we see results. Meanwhile, the home front cannot be abandoned and bombarded and left to the mercy of donors and volunteers.

 

These facts have been well known for quite some time. Our first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, made sure on the eve of the Sinai campaign that the French Air force would provide an aerial umbrella to the Israeli home front, which at the time was threatened by the Air Forces of Arab states. Only once this umbrella was guaranteed, did he agree to embark on the offensive along with Britain and France.

 

Yet ever since the Israeli Air Force grew stronger, the various Israeli governments have neglected the handling of the home front, even when it became clear that missiles and rockets have turned into a problem that has no response.

 

Multi-system failure

The state comptroller's report regarding the failures in taking care of the home front during the Second Lebanon War is grave, but there is not much new there. Many state comptrollers before him already warned that the Israeli home front is unprepared for sustaining attacks and the latest report merely proved they were right. Those who did not read the previous reports experienced in the last war the national fiasco that is euphemistically referred to as "the failures in handling the home front."

 

What is particularly frustrating and troubling when reading the findings of the latest comptroller's report is the fact that we are not talking about a few failures by a specific government ministry, military unit, or rescue organization. We are also not talking about a failure or malice on the part of one person or another.

 

The Israeli home front was abandoned in the last war as a result of a multi-system failure of all the bodies tasked with handling it. This failure grew worse because of the great split between these bodies, the lack of coordination between them, and the flaws in government decision-making processes. Each one of these bodies and their directors acted as they saw fit, thus hindering each other.

 

The government and IDF claim that they drew the lessons of the war and the Home Front Command boasts of the measures that have been taken to fix the flaws and the ones still due to be taken. Still, we can assume that should we face another war soon, the situation would not be much different because the divided home front powers and lack of coordination have remained intact.

 

The defense minister and his deputy are responsible for fortification, emergency-time economy, and the development of systems for intercepting missiles, while the minister for strategic threats is responsible for God knows what. The internal security minister activates the police in areas hit by missiles while the welfare and interior ministers are responsible for evacuating residents and providing services through municipal heads. We can see the grim results every day in Sderot and Gaza-region communities.

 

This state of affairs can only be cured in one way: Reorganizing the handling of the Israeli home front. We need one body, a government ministry, which would be in charge of preparing the home front for war and activating the emergency system during a war. This organization should be headed by a minister, a cabinet member who will hold all the powers and particularly all the budgets that pertain to fortifying the home front and preparing it for emergencies.

 

During a war, this body will coordinate the activation of all emergency forces including the Home Front Command, police, rescue services, and local authorities; the minister heading such ministry will be the one that will propose a policy and modus operandi to the government and cabinet.

 

Recently, some have called for Knesset Member Ami Ayalon to assume such a post. This is no doubt a proposal that should be seriously weighed both because of the need and because of Ayalon's personality and skills.

 

Yet this is not the end of the story. The prime minister must ensure that the various government ministries would be willing to hand over powers and funds to the new ministry and the person heading it while coordinating their activities with him.

 

Should this happen, Israel's deterrent power may be boosted, and in the next war, if we need to face one heaven forbid, the home front would be handled properly.

 

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