Is the Israeli home front prepared to handle every eventuality, including war?

An investigative report conducted by Channel 2 News suggests that despite talk of a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear sites and even all-out war, the home front is far from ready.

The Friday night report concluded that although Israel has learned some lessons from the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and is more prepared for war on many fronts, its enemies have improved their capabilities. According to current estimates, in future wars Israel could face an onslaught of up to 10,000 rockets per day – more precise, more technologically advanced and capable of causing more damage than before.

The Iron Dome system in action near Ashdod (photo credit: Flash90)

The Iron Dome system in action near Ashdod (photo credit: Flash90)

Will Israeli citizens be able to protect themselves against the torrent of rockets? Brig.-Gen. (retired) Ze’ev Zuk-Ram told Channel 2 that around 500,000-600,000 Israelis don’t have access to a bomb shelter – meaning that at best, they would be able to protect themselves in case of an attack by standing under the doorpost.

Some older neighborhoods, such as South Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood, known for its population of refugees and migrant workers coupled with low-income families, do not have bomb shelters at all. In northern Israel, more likely to bear the brunt of rocket attacks, residents have stopped relying on public shelters and have placed their trust in “residential secure spaces” – protected rooms within houses, known in Hebrew as mamadim.

Israelis sit near a bomb shelter in the southern city of Netivot during operation Cast Lead in December 2008 (photo credit: Roni Schutze/Flash 90)

Israelis sit near a bomb shelter in the southern city of Netivot during operation Cast Lead in December 2008 (photo credit: Roni Schutze/Flash 90)

In Haifa, meanwhile, Mayor Yona Yahav has decided to devise his own plan for the protection of the city without waiting for the government to do the same. “I’m not waiting for the government, these events don’t wait,” he told Channel 2.

Yahav said that if Haifa were to come under attack, four war rooms would be set up in the city; the municipality would help evacuate tens of thousands of residents to a safer area, and those who wished to stay would be able to use the Carmel Tunnels as a bomb shelter over six kilometers long.

While the Home Front Command set out several years ago to fortify stairwells and buildings, the TV report revealed that little has been done to that end; instead, the Home Front Command has devised a plan to provide citizens with sandbags with which they would be able to fortify their virtually unprotected places of residence in times of danger.

With regard to the current campaign promoting the acquisition of gas masks, the report revealed that production at the main gas mask factory in Kiryat Gat, capable of manufacturing 5,000 units per day, has virtually ceased in recent months due to a lack of government funding.

“The resources weren’t provided, the government did not allocate funds,” said Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel, the former deputy chief of the General Staff, adding that the country’s leaders would have to choose between manufacturing the necessary amount of gas masks and stopping production altogether. “You can’t do it halfway,” he said.

An Israeli child is trying a gas mask, part of a chemical protection kit in a distribution center in 2010. Amid growing fears that terrorist groups may inherit Syria's unconventional weapons, Israelis are flocking to distribution centers to receive new gas masks. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash 90)

An Israeli child tries on a gas mask, part of a chemical protection kit, in a distribution center in 2010. Amid growing fears that terrorist groups may inherit Syria’s unconventional weapons, Israelis are flocking to distribution centers to receive new gas masks. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash 90)

MK Ze’ev Bielski (Kadima) warned that when the time came, the government wouldn’t be able to provide enough gas masks for its citizens. The resulting situation would force families to split an inadequate number of gas masks among their children. “They will say, ‘figure it out on your own,’” Bielski said.

According to the TV report, while the government has invested billions in strengthening the home front, setting up ministries and authorities dedicated to that goal, and putting the Iron Dome missile defense system into operation, there remains much to be done.

Although Iron Dome proved to be effective in intercepting incoming rockets in the past months, the report warned that the statistics do not necessarily reflect how well the system could cope in the context of all-out war, with thousands of rockets raining down all at once.