There are significant defects regarding physical protection, early warning systems and the evacuation of the population, which would increase the risk of civilian life during a war.
Tens of thousands of rockets are expected to rain down on the Israeli home front in the country’s next war. Yet, Israel will face a lack of bomb-shelters, defective warning systems and an incomplete evacuation plan for civilians in critical areas, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira reported Tuesday.
According to the report, more than 2,090,000 civilians were without any form of protection or bomb-shelter in 2012.
Many expected the report to include sections on the defective handling of Hamas’s tunnel threat during the 2014 Gaza war or the IDF’s alleged questionable compliance with the laws of war during that operation, but these sections were absent.
The report briefly suggests that those sections were put off until later due to the intensity of the threat to the home front. Although, weeks ago, the absent sections were expected to be included and the threat to the home front has not changed since then.
The report is based on the comptroller’s comprehensive audits between September 2014-October 2015 on issues related to the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. The publication included review of the Home Front Command, especially in areas related to the protection of civilians.
According to the comptroller report, there are several significant defects regarding preparations in the fields of physical protection, early warning systems and the evacuation of the population, which would increase the risk of civilian lives during a war.
In addition, there has been increased criticism of shortcomings in the coordination between the various government bodies which deal with the home front, including the Defense Ministry, the IDF and the National Security Council.
The most glaring lack of bomb-shelters, or at least specially outfitted shelter-rooms, was in the Beduin sector in the South. The report found that despite a High Court of Justice petition demanding equal protections for Beduin communities, there has basically been no progress in increasing the safety of the populace there.
In July 2015 and March 2016 hearings before the High Court, the Beduin slammed the state for ignoring “unrecognized” Beduin villages. The High Court noted that rockets do not skip over villages simply because Israel does not officially recognize them.
Though the Defense Ministry in March responded that private citizens have a duty to build their own shelter-rooms, Shapira said that Beduin building plans are rarely approved – meaning essentially that they cannot build their own shelters.
Another common refrain from the state is that the Beduin are only one of many groups near the border who are still unprotected and that other villages are in even greater danger. The Beduin have responded that Jewish villages who are in the same rocket range as the Beduin have gotten far more new shelters than the Beduin have.
The report states that the IDF expects northern residents who love within 15 kilometers from the Lebanese border to spend an extended period of time in bomb-shelters during the next conflict with Hezbollah, since they are within reach of short and medium range rockets – which Hezbollah possesses in high volume.
A 2014 IDF survey found that even as most Golan residents had some form of nearby bomb-shelter, only half of investment properties did and the majority of residents near the Lebanese border did not have a nearby bomb-shelter.
As a result of the gaps in bomb-shelter coverage, the National Emergency Authority (RACHEL) decided on June 23, 2015 to establish a special unit to increase the volume of bomb-shelters in the North. As of October 2015, the new unit still did not exist. In November 2015, the head of RACHEL told the comptroller that he was only acting-head and that forming the new unit would need to wait for a more permanent head of RACHEL to take over and appoint leaders of the new unit.
The head of RACHEL also published an operational plan for increasing the volume of bomb-shelters. The plan was due to be complete by the end of 2015, but by March 2016, it still had not started. The IDF and RACHEL responded in early 2016 that private citizens or the Education Ministry were primarily responsible for the issue. The comptroller said he disagreed and placed primary responsibility with the Defense Minister.
Shapira said it is unrealistic to expect all private citizens to have the funds to build their own private shelter-room at an approximate cost of NIS 100,000 when the median income is NIS 6,707 per month and the average income is NIS 9,317 per month.
In the Gaza corridor, the comptroller said that the Defense Ministry must outfit nursery schools with bomb-shelters so that parents of the children can work. In contrast, the Defense Ministry policy has been that many nursery schools should simply be closed during periods of rocket attacks, which would make building bomb-shelters unnecessary.
On the positive side, Shapira complimented the state on outfitting Gaza corridor communities within seven kilometers of the border with special shelter-rooms.
Besides having bomb-shelter protection once rockets start landing, the report said that the early-warning system in the Gaza corridor did not function adequately to give the residents the stated 15 seconds to get to a shelter which it was supposed to give them.
Shapira complimented the defense establishment for improving the speed of the early-warning system for parts of the border, but said that it has still failed to improve the speed of warnings for other parts of the border.
Similarly, the report criticized the North’s advance-warning systems for failing to sound any warning or to go-off fast enough when short-range rockets were fired on Israel.
Next, the report blasted the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry for allocating only 78% and 30% of the set NIS 60 million per year budget toward improving advance-warning systems.
Another practical issue that the comptroller flagged is that the Defense Ministry has complained that local authorities are not supplying them proper structures on which they can fit the advance-warning systems, slowing down the improvement process.
Additionally, the comptroller said that plans to evacuate up to 300,000 civilians living in border areas close to rocket threats have moved forward, but far too slowly.
The “hotel guests” program for finding temporary quarters for evacuated citizens was approved in 2012, but neither the Interior Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the IDF nor local authorities have moved the program forward at anywhere near a pace which would enable 300,000 citizens to actually evacuate to new quarters.
Focusing on the big picture, the report said there was no collaboration between relevant government bodies and the army to examine the overall preparedness of the country against various threats until June 2016. It was also noted that the Ministerial Committee for Preparedness for Civil Emergencies was only established in October 2015 and only met once between then and July 2016.
And while the state comptroller noted that the IDF had offensive and interception capabilities that would reduce the rocket fire into Israel, he was not sure that the IDF was prepared for the scenario where tens of thousands of missiles and rockets could be fired into the country.
In March 2016, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told the comptroller’s office that “the complexities of…the civilian arena in different emergencies is unclear in regards to the distribution of powers and responsibilities between the government departments and the bodies which deal with the Home Front Command, making it difficult to properly prepare.”
The state comptroller noted that although, according to the IDF chief-of-staff and defense minister, they had formulated a multi-annual plan for the home front, the plan was formulated without the consultation of Erdan, calling this and other poor coordination a “fundamental flaw.”
Regulation of authority between the Defense Ministry and the Public Security Ministry. and approval of plans for preparing the home front for emergencies by the government, are conditions for the exercise of resource allocation and implementation of plans. Therefore, the report noted, “any delay means a delay in emergency preparedness of the home front command.”
“Therefore, the level of preparedness of the home front at the national level not only shows the vulnerabilities in the country’s national preparedness,” but it does not allow for the best determination of action and priorities to improve the country’s preparedness level, the report stated.
According to a statement released by the defense establishment on Tuesday, there is coordination with the Public Security Ministry, referring to the wave of fires which hit Israel two weeks ago. The statement said that “despite the Public Security Ministry not declaring [the fires] a national disaster, all government ministries were present to help, and Home Front Command forces were in full coordination with the Israeli police.”
The statement noted that the defense establishment and Home Front Command along with RACHEL have formulated detailed plans in the event that residents from the North must be evacuated.
“Operational plans are updated every few months according to demographics in each community, under the supervision of an inter-ministerial steering committee. At the same time, government agencies have helped RACHEL make a significant leap forward in their ability to realize the plan, hotel guests, and extensive evacuation of the population in case of war and mass disasters,” read the statement.
Original article: The Jerusalem Post