According to various reports, the preparedness of the Israeli home front for war is “mediocre plus” only, and the National Emergency Authority reports serious gaps in the preparations of the rear area. What can be done to properly prepare for the next round of fighting?
Shortly before the opening of the National Emergency Week last May, a source identified as “a senior official in the defense establishment” defined the level of preparedness of the Israeli home front as “mediocre plus.” A subsequent report (Amos Harel, Ha’aretz, August 1, 2016) claimed that the National Emergency Authority warned of “…serious gaps in the preparations of the Israeli home front for war, and that just for its own activities, an additional amount of 2.5 billion ILS will be required over the next five years in order to overcome the gaps in the protection of strategic infrastructure installations and the preparedness of the local authorities and welfare and health systems.”
This article attempts to examine the implications of those troubling statements, ten years after the failure of the preparations of the Israeli home front in the Second Lebanon War and following three rounds of fighting against Hamas in the Gaza Strip (2008/9, 2011 and 2014). Additionally, we will present our evaluation as to what should be done so that the Israeli preparedness for expected scenarios of a violent confrontation will improve to the point of meriting a grading of “good” or even “very good.” The citizens of the State of Israel deserve a higher level of preparedness for the next confrontation. The home front is highly important in this context, as it is complex, vulnerable and more sensitive compared to the military front.
The Primary Threats to Civilians
Firstly, we should remind the reader that the prevailing reference threat consists primarily of attacks against the home front, directed at all of the populated areas of Israel, using steep-trajectory weapons of which Hezbollah and Hamas possess massive amounts, along with the threat of the underground tunnels and the possible attempts to dominate border settlements. While the amounts of statistical weapons (whose chances of hitting their targets are fairly low) continue to grow, the newest and most significant threat is the lethal combination between a missile and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) – platforms that possesses a guidance system and are capable of hitting their targets very accurately, and the employment of offensive cyber warfare systems against civilian and military command, control and communication capabilities in Israel. This current threat, as presented, at least in part, in recent open source publications (1,000-1,500 rockets and missiles per day of fighting) could produce a risk level that is higher than anything we experienced in the last four rounds.
These scenarios also involve fighting on both fronts simultaneously. The implication of this assumption is not just more extensive damage and a higher number of casualties that we never experienced in the past (hundreds of deaths), but also the possibility of a prolonged confrontation, possibly even longer than the 51 days of fighting of Operation Protective Edge. A situation of this type will present new and substantial challenges to the over-all defensive layout of the State of Israel. It will require, first and foremost, an extended active defense capability – the ability to defend population centers, vital civilian infrastructures and IDF bases (both operational and logistic). The formative “IDF Strategy” document of August 2015 addresses this dilemma and rules, in fact, that the more difficult and complex the military confrontation – the higher the priority assigned to the IDF installations with regard to active defense, even at the expense of the ability to actively defend the population centers. The public and its leaders should pay attention to this ruling.
An Exaggerated Sense of Security
As the scenarios of the military threat facing the home front are clear and detailed, why is the civilian preparedness for those scenarios rated so poorly (“mediocre plus”) by the leaders of the system? Our political and military leaders are fully aware of the severe damage that might be inflicted on the home front. They have been speaking about it frequently and making considerable efforts, over the last decade, to raise the level of preparedness of the civilian system with regard to several vital issues. Nevertheless, officials of the National Emergency Authority still claim that major government ministries and local authorities are not sufficiently capable of preparing for the task of handling the population and primary infrastructures under a prolonged attack by steep-trajectory fire.
The most prominent and successful effort intended to improve the preparedness of the home front has been reflected in the establishment of the active defense layout. Its short-range tactical element, the Iron Dome system, has proven its effectiveness beyond any doubt. The combined defensive layout, which is based on three defensive tiers (the improved Iron Dome system at the tactical level, the medium-range David’s Sling system at the operative level and the Arrow 3 system opposite strategic-level ballistic missiles) is currently being constructed through substantial US assistance – both technological and financial. At the same time, in the absence of open source information regarding the manner in which the operational systems are being developed and deployed, one thing that emerges very clearly is the fact that the tactical layout should be substantially expanded, up to twice the size of the present OrBat, in order to provide reasonable protective coverage for all of the expected missions. At the moment, the IDF is not there yet.
In this context, it is important to stress that the success of the Iron Dome system during Operation Protective Edge might create among the public an exaggerated and unfounded sense of security that could adversely affect its alertness and the extent to which it complies with the instructions of IDF Home Front Command under circumstances of extensive enemy attacks. This pertains to the importance of the progress recorded with regard to the early warning layout, which is currently being developed with intelligence and sound judgment. This layout should make a substantial contribution so as to improve the defensive capability of the home front and especially to maintain an “emergency routine” in places that do not face a direct threat. But even that is not enough to provide a sufficient degree of security, as required vis-à-vis the evolving offensive capabilities of the enemy. A reminder: there is nothing really new in the basic field of passive defense, as the “sheltering” potential has remained essentially unchanged. Another highly important element in this picture of the gaps involves the inadequate protection of the vital national infrastructures, notably the vulnerability of the electrical power system. An accurate hit sustained by this system could result in extensive and possibly prolonged damage not just to the general public but also to the military and civilian infrastructures – like hospitals, for example.
So, what do the national leaders think about the existing gap, which does not seem to grow any smaller, between the offensive capabilities of Hezbollah and Hamas and the defensive capabilities and preparedness of the Israeli home front? Also, what guides them in developing the force build-up policy for the home front?
Apparently, the prevailing assumption among the decision makers is that Israel possesses sufficient integrated capabilities to prevent extremely destructive situations on the home front. Evidently, in their view, the Israeli public is capable of withstanding a threat on the scale we experienced in the past. They assume that the Israeli deterrence, which they keep stressing publicly and which has endured for about a decade opposite Hezbollah and for the past two years opposite Hamas, continues to exist (alongside other important considerations of both opponents, owing to which they both avoid an initiated confrontation). Moreover, it is expected that if strategic deterrence has run its course and the situation should (once again) deteriorate into a violent confrontation, the constantly-improving offensive capability of IDF, in maneuverability and fire, will succeed, within a reasonable period of time, in substantially reducing (if not completely eliminating) the offensive capabilities of the enemy’s steep-trajectory weapons (“No hermetic protection will be available,” according to the former commander of the IDF Air Defense, IDF Radio, August 3, 2016).
Several basic assumptions are at play here, whose validity should be questioned. The first assumption involves the long-term effect of Israeli deterrence, particularly opposite scenarios of sudden escalation. The second one involves the ability of IDF to accomplish an outcome of near-overbalance by means of a major offensive and maneuverability, in combination with the massive employment of fire (which was not accomplished in the four previous rounds). The third one assumes that IDF will be able to successfully implement their active defense capabilities even opposite intensive and continuous barrages of steep-trajectory fire (“massive blows against urban areas”), including the employment of precision-guided missiles against strategic targets, which could disrupt the functional continuity of IDF and the home front. According to the fourth basic assumption, the next round will be significantly shorter than the previous ones, owing to prompt military accomplishments that would lead the enemy to accept a ceasefire under terms that would be convenient to Israel. The fifth assumption is that the general public will demonstrate a high degree of resolve, similar to the one demonstrated during the previous rounds, even under circumstances of increasingly severe pressure over a long period of time.
It is not clear what the scenario of the next round will actually look like, with the exception of the frequently-voiced certainty that it will definitely take place. Under conditions of uncertainty, the preparations of the home front should be adapted to severe risks, at least to those that match the statements made by the top officials of the defense establishment, which maintain that the next confrontation could position the civilian population under a threat on such a scope and of such an intensity that Israel never experienced in the past. This is the basic duty of the government and its leader. They are responsible for improving the level of preparedness of the home front. This can and should be done through budget allocations and by enhancing the active defense capabilities, through US assistance. But beyond that, investments in strategic thinking, in systemic planning and in cooperation are equally important. So far, the State of Israel does not have an accepted doctrine for defending the civilian front. Such a doctrine is required so it may serve as a basis for consolidating a binding, integrative, long-term work plan backed by a budget, for all of the relevant elements, and first and foremost – the relevant government ministries. The on-going efforts notwithstanding, this is not the situation at this time. Despite the widespread recognition of the urgency of this need and ten years after the Second Lebanon War, too many of the basic faults have remained unchanged: no national-level concept; no binding state-issued work plan; the cooperation between the elements operating on the ground is still unsatisfactory – at the national as well as at the local level. The stronger local authorities constantly improve their preparedness and mainly their budgets, while the less fortunate ones remain behind. Additionally, most of the vital infrastructures are not sufficiently protected.
This situation must change. For this purpose, a change of consciousness is required: from a lenient assumption according to which during future confrontations the civilian public will stand firm and demonstrate a sufficient degree of social resolve that would allow IDF to operate effectively even over a prolonged timetable, to a new basic assumption. This new assumption should determine that the preparedness of the home front is insufficient, that it must be substantially improved and that this improvement may be accomplished by revising the national scale of priorities, so as to enable the Israeli public to demonstrate a high level of social resolve even in circumstances of severe challenges, the likes of which we never experienced in the past.