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Fearing Hezbollah rockets, Defense Ministry reinforces northern Israeli communities

Government expands program that began last month, will install home bomb shelters in 3 more communities along Lebanon border, with plans to eventually place them in 21

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An undated photograph of a newly installed bomb shelter in the community of Kfar Yuval along Israel's border with Lebanon. (Defense Ministry)
An undated photograph of a newly installed bomb shelter in the community of Kfar Yuval along Israel's border with Lebanon. (Defense Ministry)

The Defense Ministry on Monday announced that it was expanding its effort to reinforce the defenses of the Israeli communities closest to the Lebanese border, which are most likely to be hit by rocket fire in a future conflict with the Hezbollah terrorist militia.

The effort — dubbed Shield of the North — officially began last month, when the ministry’s Engineering and Construction Division, along with the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command, started installing new bomb shelters in homes in the community of Kfar Yuval, northeast of Kiryat Shmona.

On Monday, the ministry said it was expanding the Shield of the North program to three more communities: Metulla, Shlomi and Shtula, all of which lie directly along the border with Lebanon.

“In the coming days, [the Engineering and Construction Division] will begin setting up dozens of bomb shelters in private homes in the three additional communities,” the ministry said.

Ultimately, the ministry intends to carry out its “Shield of the North” reinforcement plan to the 21 communities closest to the northern border. (Shield of the North is not to be confused with the IDF’s Operation Northern Shield, in which the military uncovered a number of attack tunnels dug into Israeli territory by Hezbollah.)

“The civil resilience of the residents of the north is a central part of our preparedness for war scenarios. I laud the Engineering and Construction Division and the IDF for advancing this project quickly… We will continue to reinforce the communities of the north and we will make home front preparedness a top priority for the defense establishment,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement.

In the coming weeks, the ministry said it plans to expand the program to four more communities: Avivim, Margaliot, Misgav Am and Manara.

This reinforcement plan came after years of promises to improve the shelters in northern communities, which were regularly found to be lacking, despite the high probability that these areas were most likely to be hit by barrages from Hezbollah. In the past, the Defense Ministry blamed this on the lack of a national budget from 2019 until earlier this year.

Israeli security forces inspect damage to a house after a Katyusha rocket attack by Hezbollah from southern Lebanon in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, July 15, 2006. (Pierre Terdjman / Flash90)

A 2020 comptroller report found that nearly 30 percent of Israeli citizens do not have access to functioning bomb shelters near their homes, including over a quarter of a million people who live near the borders with the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

According to some national security experts, Israel relies more heavily upon its offensive and active defense capabilities, like the Iron Dome and other missile defense systems, to quickly neutralize threats instead of building up its physical fortifications and preparing to more safely absorb an attack.

In its 2020 report, the comptroller warned that by not providing sufficient bomb shelters and other physical defenses, the government was risking civilian lives.

“The State Comptroller’s Office warns that not carrying out government decisions to defend the home front in time and the fact that for years there has not been comprehensive legislation regarding the home front have delayed and harmed the preparation of the home front for an emergency, a matter that is likely to have an impact on human lives,” the authors of the report said last year.

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