Security and Defense: Gaining standing
By a href="http://www.jpost.com/Authors/AuthorPage.aspx?id=78">http://www.jpost.com/Authors/AuthorPage.aspx?id=78> YAAKOV KATZ
In the past, when an officer was appointed head of the Home Front Command,
it usually meant that he was on his way out of the IDF. But with 200,000
missiles pointed at Israel, that is no longer the case.
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Shortly before the end of the First Gulf War in 1991 and after Saddam
Hussein had fired nearly 40 Scud missiles into Israel, the IDF General Staff
convened. The discussion was focused on what to do in wake of the
development of this new threat to Israel: the threat of one of missiles and
rockets.A decision would later be made to establish the Home Front Command
(HFC) but at that specific meeting, director-general of the Defense Ministry
David Ivry issued a warning that continues to resonate in the Kirya Military
Headquarters until today.
"What we are currently seeing with 40-something Scuds is nothing compared to
what we will see in the future," Ivry, who had commanded the Israel Air
Force when it bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor a decade earlier, warned IDF
For Ehud Barak, who was sitting in the room and was just weeks away from
taking up his appointment as IDF chief of staff, Ivry's warning continues to
strike a chord today - particularly in light of the increasing threat Israel
faces from the rocket and missile arsenals that surround it.
"Ivry was right and the threat today is greater than what we ever would have
thought it would be back in 1991," Barak said recently, referring to
Hezbollah's estimated arsenal of nearly 50,000 rockets and missiles.
The problem is that the threat to Israel is not just the quantity of
missiles but also has to do with the change in the quality of the missiles.
Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, current head of Military Intelligence, calls this
process "fire-by-6," a reference to the six changes that have occurred to
the various missile arsenals in Iranian, Syrian, Hamas and Hezbollah hands
in recent years. According to Kochavi, there are 200,000 missiles and
rockets pointed at Israel on any given day.
In comparison to six years ago - before the Second Lebanon War - today's
arsenals have 1) longer ranges 2) larger warheads 3) larger quantities 4)
greater accuracy 5) the tendency to be launched from deeper inside enemy
territory and not just along the border and 6) are in some cases even buried
underground in heavily fortified launchers and silos.
To counter this threat, the IDF's strategy consists of three primary
elements: a counter-offensive aimed at impairing the enemy's ability to fire
missiles into Israel, defensive systems like Arrow, Iron Dome and David's
Sling and passive defense such as bomb shelters, protected rooms and air
The missile threat has in recent years turned the HFC into one of the IDF's
most important branches. This, however, was not always the case and, until
the Second Lebanon War in 2006, if an officer was appointed head of the HFC,
it usually meant that he was on his way out of the IDF.
That is no longer true and since the war, the IDF has appointed top
officers, perceived as having the potential to one day become chief of
staff, as head of the HFC. After the war, Maj.-Gen.
Yair Golan was appointed head the HFC. He is now head of the Northern
Command. The current HFC chief, Maj.-Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, previously served
as commander of the Gaza Division, one of the most complicated postings in
As Israel moves closer to the point of having to decide whether it should
attack Iran's nuclear facilities, the HFC is now more important than ever,
particularly in light of assessments that in the first days of an
Iranian-Hezbollah- Hamas-Islamic Jihad retaliation, Israel could see close
to 1,000 rockets a day fired into its cities.
Putting damage to infrastructure aside, there are various predictions
regarding how many people would be killed in such a scenario.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak famously said a few months ago that the number
would be somewhere around 500 and while the Israeli public has a hard time
imagining such large casualties, the estimate is based on comprehensive
studies and analyses conducted by the HFC.
For that reason, the HFC is undergoing one of the most extensive changes in
its short history. On Monday, the command held its largest draft ever,
recruiting hundreds of youth to fill the ranks of its two standing
search-and-rescue battalions as well as the third that it is now
It plans to establish a fourth battalion by the end of next year.
In addition to establishing new battalions, the soldiers are also receiving
new skills, such as becoming certified firefighters as well as learning new
search-and-rescue and combat techniques.
A similar process is taking place in the command's reserve units where
reservists are being provided with with upgraded combat qualifications and
The HFC speaks of three different roles in a future war: 1) assisting the
IDF in maneuvering through enemy territory 2) saving lives with searchand-
rescue teams 3) and supporting local councils and municipalities so they
will be capable of continuing to provide services for their constituents.
"We are better today than we were a few years ago but this is a work in
progress," deputy HFC commander Brig.- Gen. Zviki Tessler explained this
Tessler is an example of the change. A helicopter pilot, he left the air
force a few years ago to take up one of the command's senior positions. A
few years ago, it would have been unheard of for a pilot to switch from the
IAF to the HFC.
Another change, demonstrated during the recent round of fighting between
Islamic Jihad and Israel, was the HFC's ability to sound sirens only in the
precise city - sometimes even the precise neighborhood - where the rocket
fired from Gaza was going to land.
This is the result of two developments. The first was the establishment in
mid- 2011 of a joint command center at the Hatzor Air Force Base near Gedera
where IAF and HFC officers sit together to track missile launches into
Israel and to sound sirens based on the radar's projections of where they
are going to land.
The second development was the HFC's decision to divide the country up into
hundreds of different sections that can independently be warned of incoming
missile attacks without needing to scare the rest of the neighboring towns.
In the coming year, once the IDF receives approval to begin sending warnings
to individual cellular phones, people will only be required to enter a bomb
shelter if they receive two warnings: hear a siren and get a text message to
These changes are critical in these uncertain times. While the performance
of the Iron Dome counter-rocket defense system in the recent conflict in
Gaza amazed even its operators, it is not something that Israelis can rely
on as being there to protect them in the next, bigger war.
This is because there are currently only four batteries and there is a good
chance that these will need to be used to protect strategic national assets
or even IAF bases to preserve operational continuity.
That is why the HFC stresses that the best equation is a combination of the
active defense (Iron Dome) with passive defense (bomb shelters).
With Iran not changing its course, this equation might be put to the test
again sooner rather than later.