Operation Cast Lead and the Civilian Front: An Interim Assessment INSS Insight No.

87, January 7, 2009 Elran, Meir

Already by the second week of Operation Cast Lead, a number of initial insights about Israel's civilian front have emerged. First, the statistics: In the first six days of the operation, 182 improvised Qassam rockets and 65 standard Grad katyusha rockets were launched against Israel – an average of 41 rockets per day (compared with an average of nine rockets per day in all of 2008). In addition, 277 mortar shells were fired. These numbers are far fewer than what was expected in Israel before the operation. They represent about 30 percent of the daily average of rockets launched by Hizbollah during the Second Lebanon War. The rockets fired at Ashdod and Beer Sheva reflect a significant upgrade in Hamas’ range capabilities. This expanded capability relies on standard katyusha rockets smuggled into the Gaza Strip, some probably during the recent six-month lull. Thus far, four people in Israel were killed (eight in all of 2008) and a few dozen wounded by Gaza Strip fire. These figures are important in evaluating the performance of the civilian front after the first week of warfare. There is no belated Hanukah miracle here. The relatively low number of launchings and hits is a combined result of the air force’s attacks and the relatively limited supply of launching equipment possessed by Hamas and the other organizations in the Gaza Strip. The relatively few losses also result from proper conduct by the home front in response to the threat, in accordance with the instructions of the Home Front Command. The conclusion is that the threat to the home front in the south has so far been limited. While the routines of hundreds of thousands of civilians under the threat have been disrupted, this does not approach what Hizbollah achieved in 2006 in terms of severity, extent, or results. It is also far from representing the potential threat to the Israeli home front in the event of a large scale conflict. It is important to keep the current limited nature of the threat in mind while drawing initial conclusions about the home front. Utmost caution is required before the current experience becomes a basis for overall decisions for the future. At the same time, it is already clear that a number of areas require more updated thinking once the shooting stops. The first is the need to reinforce effective tactical defense. Until now, Israel has devoted most of its efforts and investments to strengthening its attack capabilities (mostly from the air), and to a lesser degree to strengthening its effective long range strategic defense, mostly against the Iranian threat. Regarding the tactical counterpart, the process has been slower and more hesitant. The result is that as of now, and probably also in the near future – barring a decision to switch from developing an independent defense system to purchase existing systems on the market – Israel lacks a defensive military capability that can reduce the number of rockets that reach the home front. This is not only a question of budget: the source of the hesitation is conceptual and requires rethinking. The second concerns passive defense. Not long ago the government decided after much hesitation and repeated postponements to spend NIS 600 million on expanding the shelters and fortifications in the Gaza Strip envelope. It is obvious that this decision had no significant effect on the current conflict, and that its

implementation will take a long time. There have been interesting improvisations related to temporary shelters at distant sites where protection was clearly lacking, but not enough has been done in this area. This effort demands extensive investment and is aimed at strengthening a personal and community sense of security, beyond actual physical defense. The third involves the function and responsibility of the Home Front Command. Overall the Home Front Command is earning justified praise for its deployment and management in the field, both in terms of the extensive and qualitative instruction to civilians, and for direct assistance to the local authorities, mostly through the important innovation of IDF liaison units with local authorities and direct assistance to civilians in distress. At the same time, until now the challenge to the Home Front Command has been limited. It is evident that as to advanced preparation, the Home Front Command naturally spent most of its efforts on the communities located near the Gaza Strip. The larger and more remote areas such as Beer Sheva and Ashdod reached the current conflict at a lower level of readiness, despite talk before the outbreak of warfare about the expanding threat reaching them. Beyond this, however, the main question is to what degree the Home Front Command should and can be the authorized entity to manage the emergency routine in Israel (as per the current law, which dates back to 1951). For example, is it appropriate that IDF officers decide when to close the schools? Clearly the Home Front Command's expertise must constitute decisive input in the general considerations, but questions of this sort that have major civil, economic, and social ramifications should be decided by a civilian authority. The fourth involves the local authorities. Displaying major improvement over past performances, the local authorities are more prepared, function more effectively, and above all, project to civilians an appropriate level of confidence, stability, and efficiency. This is of decisive importance in an emergency. The way the local authorities behave as the entity responsible for coordinating all activities among the many state and volunteer groups operating in the field is the principal key to success or failure. Local leadership has been particularly prominent over the past week – not only in providing an appropriate solution for most of the problems facing it, but also in building and leading the local civilian public’s steadfastness. This is important on the national level as well and constitutes a vital contribution to national resilience. The fifth deals with the Israeli media. Even in an era of competitive commercial media, there is room to demonstrate responsibility and restraint in extreme portrayal of home front damage. What the media shows has a strong impact on the national mood – often more so than other factors. Thus in terms of the limited threat evidenced thus far in Operation Cast Lead, all elements of the home front functioned reasonably. The important result has been the maintenance of a high degree of national resilience and public morale in Israel, as illustrated by the demonstration of broad support for the civilian and military leadership, with no expression of any desire for a restriction on the government’s freedom of decision and the IDF’s operational space. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that this essential element is potentially very volatile; changes on the battlefield are liable to have a rapid effect on it.

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