One year ago, this reporter covered the war in the north of Israel when 4,000 rockets fell on population centers of more than 1.4 million Israeli citizens. As the father of a young man who served in a sensitive Israeli army combat unit on the northern border between 2001 and 2004, a period when time the Hezbollah showed every sign that it was preparing for war, the attacks came as no surprise. However, the majority of the Israeli population in the north was taken by complete surprise and, amazingly, – the Israeli government was even more surprised and totally unprepared to meet the challenge of protecting its population during a time of war.
For the past year, more than 500 staffers of the Israeli government’s State Comptroller’s office have worked hard to evaluate the dysfunctional behavior of the Israeli government during last summer’s conflict.
The conclusions were released this week by the Israel State Comptroller in a scathing report of 692 pages.
The bottom line: the State of Israel gets a failing grade in everything having to do with the treatment of the home front. This includes Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, his ministers, the police, the IDF and the agencies responsible for taking care of the average citizen during an emergency.
No Israeli governmental agency emerged clean from the state comptroller’s report. The cabinet ministers did not take the home front into consideration when they decided to go to war, resulting in the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command failure to arrange for armored protection; to the Police, which it was determined operated without the proper tools.
The Army and the Police
The Israeli Army’s Home Front Command failed because some of the shelters for civilians were not prepared while others were unusable. In fact, broken alarm sirens were repaired belatedly, while others were not used because of a shortage of operators. Also, most of the hospitals in the north are still not fortified. The report holds the Chief of Staff and OC Home Front Command responsible for not having called up enough reservists in time.
From 2003 to July 2006, Israeli police did not update the order that coordinates operations in emergencies for a scenario of rocket fire upon Israel even though the Home Front Command provided updated data on the subject.
Hazardous Materials: Contradictory Assessments, Inept Treatment
The report determined that treatment of hazardous materials was inept, problematic and duplicated. Substantial disagreements erupted between the Ministry of the Environment and the Home Front Command and contradictory assessments were provided, inter alia, about risk assessment, determining a treatment scenario and the required protective equipment.
Health System: Lack of Preparedness and Late Response
During the war 7,439 soldiers and civilians were injured, and the report shows that the health system was inadequately prepared for war. The role of the Supreme Authority for Hospitalization and Health during Emergencies is to prepare the health system for multi-casualty events, but in the existing situation it does not have authority to give orders to any health institution, which could harm its performance.
High number of trauma casualties.
Another matter that received inadequate treatment was that of the large number of emotional trauma victims, who numbered approximately 62 percent of the war casualties and overloaded the emergency rooms. Only after eight days of fighting was it decided to operate the emergency medical support system.
The hospitals also had difficulty providing the best treatment for shock victims. One example cited was at Nahariya Hospital where it was said that the psychiatric reinforcement teams from the Mizra Mental Health Center and from the local center for mental health showed a lack of experience. The clinics were not opened. The state comptroller writes that during the first weeks of the war, many community clinics were not opened, while others were opened at hours not made known to the public. It was also written that those staying in shelters, including people who were chronically ill, helpless, handicapped or elderly, had difficulty obtaining their medications.
The Local Authorities: Lack of Coordination and Absence of Procedure
The level of preparedness for emergencies in general and for prolonged rocket attacks in particular gives an especially gloomy picture of the local authorities.
The examination reveals that there was vagueness regarding the Home Front Command’s duty to provide aid to the population, and emergency operating procedures were not set, and detailed information was not gathered regarding the needy.
Problematic food supply.
Food distribution operations were not carried out, nor was there any preparation whatsoever for food distribution to communities not on the confrontation line.
It was also found that the Mayors of Acre and Nahariya did not participate in the Emergency Administration drills, while some of the Mayors who did participate in the drills did not attend them from beginning to end. Another sign of defective preparation may be found in the fact that some of the emergency warehouses contained particularly outdated equipment, such as combat bandages from World War II.
Postal Service, Banking and Transportation: Contradictory Instructions, Slow Response
No decision was made whether the postal service should work to provide routine services or whether, in light of the circumstances, it should provide only basic services. The Home Front Command’s instructions were not unequivocal and even contradicted the orders of the Northern Command. Despite orders, bank accounts were restricted. The Supervisor of Banks asked that the inhabitants of the northern region be given special consideration, particularly in providing funding sources for special needs, but these requests were granted only partially. Also, the order that checks without funds would be covered in an emergency for the purposes of sustaining bank accounts went into effect only three and a half months after the war, which led to irreversible damage to businesses and customers.
Public Transportation: Unprotected Passengers
During the war, it turned out that there were no shelters in several workplaces of Israel Railways, and passengers could not be protected at train stations. Therefore, people could not work there. Likewise, there was no coordination between the Home Front Command and the public transportation establishment. The Ministry of Transportation and public transportation operators had no joint working procedures.
Firefighting Services Shortage of Firefighters and Scattered Authority
The organizational structure of the firefighting establishment (which is subordinate to approximately 25 local authorities) creates difficulty for the Home Front Command’s preparations, since during emergencies it must be in contact with a large number of local authorities. It also turns out that during the war and contrary to agreements, more than 30 firefighters were called up for military reserve duty, and the Commissioner responsible was unable to have them released.
The Home Front Command published no working procedure for cooperation with the firefighting service, nor had the firefighting officer in the reserves of the Home Front Command been summoned to ongoing meetings since August 2003. The organization’s orders state that the number of firefighters shall be according to a key number of reservist firefighters per regular firefighter. In practice, there were 208 firefighters on the home front, as opposed to 345 regular firefighters.
The Ports Authority: Overload at Ashdod Port
By order of the Home Front Command, ships were not permitted to enter Haifa Port, the quantity of hazardous materials at the port was reduced, and all ships anchored there were evacuated. They were all taken to Ashdod Port, which caused an overload and a shortage of workers at the southern harbor.
Although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert thanked the Israel State Comptroller for a thorough report after he officially received it on a Wednesday, Olmert’s staff convened a press conference on Tuesday – before the report was issued- to say that the report represented a personal attack on the Prime Minister and that all of the conclusions of the report were being applied, in case of a new sustained attack on Israel. However, when this reporter asked why it was that 25 of the 57 public shelters in Sderot, near Gaza, were still unfit for human habitation, Olmert’s director general, Ra’anan Dinor, dismissed the question, saying that he is only dealing with the preparations in the north. That response does not relate to the fact that Sderot remains ill prepared for the likely scenario of sustained missile attacks from Hamas-ruled Gaza in the near future.
Israel State Comptroller responds:
Shlomo Gur, Director General of the State Comptroller’s Office, rejected the Prime Minister’s allegations against the report, that it seriously criticizes the state’s performance on the home front in the Second Lebanese War.
Gur said: “Every word that was said there was weighed up and examined by professionals of the first rank. For this reason it is very important that we pay attention to what the report says and not try to divert the discussion into side alleys.”
Meanwhile, the Israel Knesset Parliament State Control Committee is expected to oblige the Prime Minister to establish a state commission of inquiry in the wake of the state comptroller’s findings. Committee Chairman Member of Knesset Zvulun Orlev is pushing for this, on the basis of the authority with which the law invests this committee.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ISRAEL’S SUPPORTERS ABROAD
During the conflict on Israel’s northern border, Israel’s supporters throughout the world provided funds for the emergency services for Israel’s population then under siege. The follow up to the Israel State Comptroller’s report will undoubtedly examine the whereabouts of those funds, and how these philanthropic funds are being administered. Unfortunately, it would seem the word “accountability” does not translate into Hebrew.