The major Home Front drill held earlier this week was important and necessary. There is no arguing that. There is also no doubt that the drill displayed the great progress made in the past four years, since the Second Lebanon War, in preparing for missile and rocket attacks on Israel’s home front.
However, this year’s drill, as was the case with the three previous ones, has one major drawback: It produces a dangerous illusion among Israeli civilians, making them feel that the intensive preparation of the national emergency establishment prevents or minimizes the physical danger faced by each and every one of us in the next missile and rocket offensive.
This is an illusion because the casualties and damages caused by the missiles that will explode in our territory will be first sustained by civilians. The people whose homes and places of work will be hit or the ones who will find themselves exposed on the streets. Only later will the Home Front Command and emergency services go into action. They will rescue the wounded, save the lives of those who can be saved, neutralize hazardous substances, ensure that civilians have their vital needs met, and minimize the damages to the economy. Should the offensive continue for days or weeks, emergency officials will be able to remove civilians to less dangerous areas.
Such moves are significant and may minimize the damages and casualties, but not prevent them altogether. Those who can truly prevent the initial losses (which are the most severe) in case of a missile and rocket attack are the civilians themselves, as well as the soldiers at IDF bases to come under attack.
Next war will be different
The experience accumulated by Israel in the past three “home front wars” (the 1991 Gulf War, the Second Lebanon War, and the rocket strikes from Gaza) proves that civilians who followed the Home Front Command’s instruction were largely unhurt. Homes and property were damaged, yet those who rushed to secure rooms or even laid down on the road usually survived, even in case of a direct hit nearby.
Yet the public’s complacent conduct during this week’s drill creates the impression that most of us have not yet internalized this insight. School children indeed rushed to bomb shelters when the siren went off, and this was the case at large companies too. Yet most people continue as usual. Only few people made sure to identify the closest secure area in the vicinity and prepare an emergency food and water kit. Even fewer people asked themselves what they should be doing and where they would flee had this been a real-life siren.
We must understand that emergency drills are meant to correct the flaws in respect to coordination and functioning revealed during the Second Lebanon War. We’ve seen great improvement thanks to the dedicated work of top defense officials – had the Second Lebanon War broken out today, the emergency establishment would have functioned more effectively and minimized the damage, suffering and inconvenience.
However, the next home front war will be different. The missile and rocket threat faced by the Israeli home front today is fundamentally different and graver than what we faced in 2006. Today, this threat covers virtually the entire country and not only the north. Most major population centers will sustain – for days and even weeks – barrages of rockets and missiles that are more accurate and carry heavier warheads with much greater destruction potential than Hamas’ Qassams and the heavy rockets used by Hezbollah before.
While the emergency establishment would be able to offer a better response in assisting civilians, this does not absolve us of responsibility. Each and every one of us must understand that national emergency services cannot prevent the initial blow, which we shall have to sustain on our own along with our loved ones.
Hence, the next emergency drills must focus on the preparedness of individuals. They must be prepared, mentally and physically, to adopt emergency means that would enable them to function properly and save their lives and the lives of others under any circumstances in the next home front war.