Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Israeli Home Front:

The INSS article (The Civilian Front: In Search of the Right Positioning)  by Meir Elran about the home front in Israel raises a very important issue, but it also shows that the author, and perhaps the government, have not learned all the real and somewhat unpleasant lessons of the Second Lebanon War,
The problem was not just organizational and bureaucratic and budgetary as the author seems to think. It is not a matter of the right bureaucrats or the right gadgets only, and the problem is in large part not due to the new nature of the threat. The author hints at the real problem when he writes:
The absence of clear leadership of the civilian front is not just a matter of budget.
In general, the problem is indeed not just a matter of budget, nor is the lack of clear leadership limited to the civilian front, nor is it just a problem of bad government. Government reflects society though it also affects society. Israel lacks all the things that Meir Elran points out because of an underlying problem. The lack of progress in remedying problems since the Second Lebanon war is pervasive. It is not due to many coincidental single point failures. It indicates a more basic malaise.
The ability of citizens to withstand attack is a vital strategic asset, a lesson demonstrated in Britain and the USSR in World War II. For most of Israel's history, the staunch forebearance of Israeli civilianss has been one of our greatest and most important assets. Israel underwent bombing and shelling of civilian populations since 1948. The Egyptians bombed Tel Aviv , and the Jordanians and Arab irregulars shelled Jerusalem and many other places in the Israel War of Independence. Whole communities were wiped out, or withstood pounding by massed artillery and air attacks, but the spirit of the people never broke. On May 15, 1948, Ben-Gurion broadcast to the United States. The Egyptian bombs could be heard in the background. Afterwards, Ben Gurion toured Tel Aviv and watched the anxious subdued citizens cleaning up and looking for survivors. He said "Eyleh Ya'amdu" - these will stand.
During and prior to the Six day war communities in northern Israel were subject to massive Syrian bombardment. There was no question of panic. The Palestinians who planned the violence that began in 2000 were likewise convinced that a few suicide bombings would cause Israelis to panic and sue for peace. They found they were grievously mistaken. A good part of this exemplary behavior was due to the conviction that the Israeli government was doing everything possible to ensure the safety of its citizens and the defense of the country. This unwritten contract is the basis of every society in times of emergency.
Since then however, something may have changed. In the Second Lebanon War, there was a problem of morale that did not exist in any previous war, of a magnitude much greater than the reaction to Iraqi Scud attacks in 1991, the reaction to the "Intifada II" or any other other crisis.  This psychological problem was bigger than any objective issue. It became an objective issue.  Foreign observers pointed out that Israel's relatively low casualty rate was due in part to our excellent civil defense mechanisms, but Israelis complain about poor civil defense. We expect more from our government and our army than is customary in other countries. The complaint was not just about objective hardship, but about failure of the government and the IDF to live up to the contract.  
Of course, the shelters could have been better, and in some cases there really was a problem of negligence. But the big problem was fear and panic. FDR said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," and this applies to Israel as well. Because of the panic, municipal workers abandoned their posts, and this made it difficult to organize basic services and rescure efforts in some places. The panic was also spread deliberately by cynical media manipulation. One TV channel showed a hysterical woman getting into a taxi with her baby, crying and screaming. One time it was news perhaps. But the channel showed this footage over and over, creating the impression of massive panic.
The government, for its part, behaved irresponsibly. Because no war was declared (to save money evidently as well as supposedly to prevent panic) no emergency measures were in place. There was no plan to unite all the TV and radio stations into a single emergency network. There were no  emergency orders to keep municipal workers at their posts. In this situation, the only real resource should have been the fortitude and level-headedness of the Israeli people. Too many, unfortunately, lost their cool, perhaps because they sensed that the leadership was incompetent and insensitive.
Likewise in Sderot and all over the Western Negev, the government has failed to provide for reasonable civil defense and failed to take measures to eliminate the threat of rocket attacks. Pressure from civilians under bombardment forced the government to conclude a disadvantageous truce with the repugnant Hamas, a truce that could be broken at any time. Israel can't invade Gaza among other reasons, because the invasion would subject civilians to a huge rocket barrage, and the civilians are not physically or psychologically ready to withstand this barrage. As the Hamas is improving their armory, it is likely that when the fighting is renewed larger and more destructive rockets will target not only Sderot and kibbutzim, but large towns such as Ashkelon and Ashdod. In the absence of any realistic defense, the rockets will create an intolerable situation. Investing in military toys like the Iron Dome system is not a complete or adequate solution. Iron Dome is expensive and won't be effective for all types of rockets and for mortar fire.
It is really not possible to legislate and organize dedication, patriotism and calmness in a crisis, and allocating more money and making more committees can only be of limited use in this context. Nor is it possible to legislate courageous, wise and competent government.  However, clear legislation and efficient automatic mechanisms can help to prevent panic and can substitute for inexperienced, incompetent or faint hearted leaders. The population of Jerusalem in 1948 were not all steely eyed Zionist patriots. Their resolution was ensured by administrative measures and by the resolute leadership of Dov Yosef, mayor of Jerusalem and by the orders of Ben Gurion.
We are not always blessed with such leaders. The law should ensure that any such conflict is declared a war or emergency situation automatically, not as the result of an arbitrary government decision. The law should ensure heavy penalties and disbarment from further public employment for anyone who leaves their post. The law should ensure that all media are united in a single network, and should provide an efficient mechanism for correcting problems like the locked shelters of Safed, which mysteriously remained padlocked for many days despite repated compaints. Sometimes the "mechanism" needed is only a hammer and screwdriver to break open a padlock. Some initiative should also be shown by citizens.
The other very practical measures that Meir Elran recommends are very important. They require money. It is no secret that very little has been done to correct the problems uncovered over two years ago in the Lebanon war, or to reinforce the towns and kibbutzim around Gaza, because funds are allocated elsewhere and nobody really cares anyway. The ultraorthodox are more adamant about funding for their Yeshivot, so the Yeshivot get the funding that could go for shelters and civil defense measures. But even with the best preparation, the home front will only be as strong as the fortitude of the civilians and their resolution to keep calm in adversity.
All of the foregoing relates to wars that may occur with enemies who have relatively innocuous weapons, as was the case in the Lebanon War. It would be a grave error, though a common one, to prepare for the previous war. We have to assume that at the very least, as Mr. Nasrallah promises, Hezbollah rockets will be able to reach Tel Aviv and the center of Israel. If we are to be really prepared, we have to undertake the renovation or construction of tens of thousands of shelters.  Add to this the possibility of nuclear or chemical warfare, and the really huge potential demands of civil defense become obvious, and perhaps unmanageable. If large sums are expended on defense and their is no war, then critics will insist that money was wasted, as they did say regarding the distribution of gas masks in Israel. For that matter, when there was no war for a few years, people began insisting that defense is a waste of money, and the funds would better be spent on their own favorite projects. But really, it seems better to "waste" money on nuclear shelters and measures to combat chemical and biological warfare then to be caught without them when they are needed.
Elran wrote:
The prime minister was right in suggesting that "we do not have to frighten ourselves too much about threats." But at the same time, the present period of relative tranquility must be exploited to prepare for the effective response needed on the civilian home front as well as on the military front.
The Prime Minister doesn't seem to be worried about threats at all, and certainly there is no danger he will be too frightened. If he lived in Sderot or Kiriat Shmona, he might at least be frightened enough to do something about it.
Ami Isseroff
 INSS Insight No. 70, September 2, 2008
Elran, Meir

The Second Lebanon War led to an important if belated update of Israel's national security concept. The continual Hizbollah bombardment of Israeli population centers in the summer of 2006 was a wake-up call for the Israeli public and its decision makers, reminding them that the home front is an active front and to a large degree of equal significance to the military front. It is now more evident than ever before that the results of future wars between Israel and its enemies will depend not only on what evolves on the military front, but also on what happens on the home front. The growing strength of Israel's enemies (Hamas in the Palestinian arena, Hizbollah on the Lebanese front, Syria, and Iran further afield) has changed its nature and to a considerable extent now rests on different types of high trajectory weapon systems. The threat thus centers on the civilian front no less than on the direct engagement between armed forces. The question is whether Israel is preparing itself adequately for this different threat.

During an official visit to the IDF Home Front Command on August 19, 2008, Prime Minister Olmert underscored the government's recognition of the significance of the future threat and the necessary response: "Future wars . . . will be different than those of the past, even than the Second Lebanon War. There will no longer [be] a situation in which the war is handled on some distant anonymous front, while life goes on as usual in the big cities. The war will also come to the cities and homes of Israel's citizens, and our enemy's goal will be to attack the home front."


Preparing the home front requires a substantial investment of financial and organizational resources that, as they derive from a single pool of government resources, necessarily compete with those granted to the IDF for preparations on the military front. In the absence of public information about the makeup of the defense budget, it is not possible to suggest an alternate balance of allocations between the military and the home fronts. Furthermore, readiness of the home front requires large chunks of the defense budget, particularly in the area of active defense, as well as budgets from many other government ministries, local authorities, and NGOs. The strength of the traditional security concept, which continues to give priority to IDF capabilities on the military front, is reflected in numerous areas, including the ongoing disagreement over budget allocations for sheltering the Gaza periphery; the failure to implement the resolution on the redistribution in 2009 of protection kits against non-conventional attacks; and the controversy over the issue of national passive defense in general (bearing in mind PM Olmert's remark "we won't shelter ourselves to death," and the proposed cutback in the 2009 budget for civilian defense against non-conventional weapons).


Investments in traditional military fields have important implications for the strength of the civilian front. They contribute to the strengthening of deterrence and early warning elements and improve the capabilities to repel, attack, and force a rapid decision. As the prime minister noted in his visit to the Home Front Command, "Israel will focus on . . . as quick and as decisive a conclusion as possible of the battle. . . . So it is with any country that wants to attack us. What we will be responsible for is to bring about a quick conclusion, at minimal costs, while utilizing our relative advantages." Yet Olmert did not address the question of what will happen to the civilian population if the IDF is unable to achieve a quick and decisive victory. The answer to this question depends in part on allocations for strengthening civil defense.


Israel lacks a body with a professional capacity to recommend to the cabinet the proper balance of allocations needed for the wide spectrum of national security components, which include vital elements of civil defense that are dispersed among different ministries and agencies. This critical shortcoming demands a proper structural response. Until this happens, the numerous civil organs that are responsible for the home front will lag in the competition with the IDF on budget allocations and in closing the gap between legitimate needs and necessary investments.


The absence of clear leadership of the civilian front is not just a matter of budget. Israel lacks an established and recognized system to provide a suitable response to two key issues: the first, on the strategic level, is the lack of a mechanism to set priorities for preparing the home front for emergencies, including allocating appropriate resources, setting standards, and supervising their actual implementation, while creating a common language for all the agencies engaged in this field. In this context, the establishment of the National Emergency Authority (NEA) in the Ministry of Defense is an important step in the right direction, but it is still too early to say whether it will be able to command authority and impose its decisions on the other organs.


The second issue, on the operative level, is the lack of an effective control system on the ground, capable of deploying rapidly and managing disasters. This is especially critical, given the extensive damage likely in the absence of an orderly and accepted mechanism. The number of agencies involved in disaster management creates a serious problem in effective preparation, control, and response. There appears to be a great deal of confusion, particularly over who controls the local scene. There is still no consensus that the only body capable of leading this challenging task is the local authority. True, some local authorities are too weak and would in their current state find it difficult to rise to the challenge. Others have already assumed the responsibility and demonstrated impressive capabilities. Yet whatever the case, only those that deal with the citizens in routine times and are thoroughly familiar with the arena can manage the system during emergencies. The state must recognize this and translate this recognition into policy. This means placing the responsibility for handling a mass disaster on the local authorities, which must take charge of all other elements, including the Home Front Command, Israel Police, branches of government ministries, health systems, and volunteer organizations. Each of these entities has a vital role in handling the threat, dealing with the population, and making advance preparations, but there must be a clear coordinator. The local authority, notwithstanding its limitations, is the most suitable candidate for this position. Yet the PM's remarks that "during battle [the Home Front Command] will have to create the correct balance between providing services to the civilian population, creating the correct atmosphere of calm and activating the local administration" indicate  that the government has not yet embraced this approach.


Although the growing awareness of the centrality of the civilian front reflects progress towards a more balanced national defense concept, and although the establishment of the NEA and other practical measures serve as steps in the right direction, there is still a long way to go before the civilian front is properly positioned to deal with the growing threats. The prime minister was right in suggesting that "we do not have to frighten ourselves too much about threats." But at the same time, the present period of relative tranquility must be exploited to prepare for the effective response needed on the civilian home front as well as on the military front.


No comments: