MK Ze’ev Bielski, chairman of the Knesset’s Subcommittee for the Examination of Home Front Readiness, warned on Saturday that Israel hasn’t learned the necessary lessons from the Second Lebanon War and said millions of Israelis do not have the protection they need in case of a war.
“Israel has failed to learn from the Second Lebanon War,” Bielski (Kadima), a former mayor of upscale Ra’anana, said. “The bomb shelter situation is still dire for millions of Israelis… They don’t have protective devices [gas masks], nor will they have them in the foreseeable future,” he added.
Bielski said he hopes the country’s leadership will take such factors into account before a possible strike on Iran.
The public’s anxiety about a possible war has risen as speculation about an Israeli strike on Iran continues. Israeli media has reported widely about the possibilities of an imminent Israeli strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities and the likely Iranian responses — including missile attacks from Tehran, and from its allies Syria, Hezbollah in south Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
A TV report earlier this week included a detailed assessment of the likely Iranian-led missile response to an Israeli attack. While Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah in 2006 saw 4,500 rockets and missiles fired into Israel, an Israeli attack on Iran would prompt the firing of 50,000 missiles into Israel, the Channel 10 report said, citing what it said were “assessments in Jerusalem.” The death toll would be estimated at 500 Israelis, it said, citing a figure mentioned in the past by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Hezbollah claims to have rockets that could hit any target in Israel. Hamas has gradually extended the range of its rocket fire, from initially reaching only areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip to more recently encroaching on the southern parts of Israel’s central Gush Dan region, which includes Tel Aviv and much of the Israeli population.
Outgoing Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said during an interview with Maariv Wednesday that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program could trigger a bloody month-long war on multiple fronts, killing hundreds of Israelis or more.
The reports have prompted a dramatic upsurge in Israelis collecting government-issued gas mask protection kits.
Ethan Arkbi, in charge of the distribution of gas masks, told Channel 10 on Tuesday that there had been a “100% increase in the distribution of gas masks,” but that there are only enough gas masks in warehouses for about 60% of the population. Building engineers are also reporting that they are unable to cope with the influx of requests for building and bomb shelter inspections.
The Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command said a quarter to a third of regional authorities are not prepared to deal with an emergency. Home Front Command sources estimate that the Gush Dan area is better prepared than outlying authorities.
According to the Home Front Command, only 53 percent of the population has gas masks and only 30% of households have a reinforced safety room. A quarter of the population does not have a bomb shelter in their building or even close by.
The inclusion of a reinforced safe room to provide protection against missile and bomb attacks has been a requirement in all new residential buildings since the 1990s. This replaced the former arrangement of installing bomb shelters beneath buildings or in communal locations.
Meanwhile, Tel Aviv has prepared dozens of underground parking lots and garages throughout the city to serve as bomb shelters for hundreds of thousands of people in the event of missile attacks on the home front. The city designated 60 privately owned garages and underground lots, with a total space of 850,000 square meters, for use by up to 800,000 citizens.
Greg Tepper contributed to this report.