Israelis fear homefront vulnerable

2012-02-21 10:00

Jerusalem - Despite its confident sabre-rattling, Israel's concern is growing that the country is vulnerable to a devastating counterstrike if it attacks Iran's nuclear programme.

An announcement this week that a mobile rocket-defence system will soon be built just outside Tel Aviv, where Israel's sprawling military headquarters sits smack in the middle of office towers, museums, night spots and hotels, caused some jitters.

Israeli officials cite intelligence reports that Tel Aviv would be a main target of any attack.

Increasingly, the debate in Israel is turning to whether a strike can do enough damage to the Iranian programme to be worth the risks. Experts believe that any attack would at best set back, but not cripple, the Iranians.

Scepticism about Israel's ability to defend itself runs deep here. Israelis still remember Iraqi Scuds landing in the centre of the country 20 years ago.

In 2006, the Lebanese Hezbollah militia seemed able to rain rockets at will during a monthlong conflict with the Jewish state. A scathing government report issued months ago suggested the homefront is still woefully unprepared.

New type of peril

In a questionably timed move, the Cabinet minister in charge of civil defence in recent days resigned to become the ambassador to faraway China.

Vice Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who also serves as minister of intelligence and atomic energy, indicated on Saturday that Israel was facing a new type of peril.

"Whereas in the past, there was a battlefield where tanks fought tanks, planes fought planes, there was a certain push not to see the homefront affected. Now the war is mainly in the homefront," said the normally tight-lipped Meridor.

"The whole of Israel [is vulnerable to] tens of thousands of missiles and rockets from neighbouring countries. So of course we need to understand the change of paradigm," he continued. "If there is a war, and I hope there isn't a war, they are not just going to hit Israeli soldiers. The main aim is at civilian populations."

Both Israel and the West believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb - a charge Tehran denies. Israel believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its very existence, citing Iranian leaders' calls for its destruction.

Iranian retaliation

Israel has welcomed international sanctions imposed on the Islamic regime, but it has pointedly refused to rule out military action. In recent weeks, top leaders have sent signals that patience is running thin.

An Israeli military strike would very likely draw an Iranian retaliation, experts believe, which would involve either Iran firing its long-range Shahab missiles or acting via local proxies of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza or even Assad loyalists in Syria.

Experts believe the experience of the 2006 war against Hezbollah, in which the guerrillas rained 4 000 rockets onto Israel, is just a small taste of what could lie ahead. The chief of military intelligence recently said that Israel's enemies now have around 200 000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.

But this time, Israel's main population centres are believed to be possible targets. In the past, rockets fired from Gaza or Lebanon have been directed at smaller, marginal communities, the largest being regional centres like Haifa in the north or Beersheba in the south.

Leaders believe that Israel's main cities would be targeted by more sophisticated, longer-range missiles.

Jerusalem is considered relatively safe because of its Islamic holy sites. But the Mediterranean coast, home to most of the country's population, with Tel Aviv as the gleaming target at its centre, seems like a very attractive target.

Memories of war

The business and cultural capital of the country, with a metropolitan population of over 2 million, Tel Aviv is critical to Israel's image of itself as a modern place with a Western lifestyle. Israel happily markets the city as a high-tech, fun-loving hub.

Aside from a spate of Saddam Hussein's rudimentary Scud missiles in 1991, the city has never truly been tested before. Although the Scuds caused little damage memories of that war are vivid; the strikes caused widespread panic and tens of thousands of people fled to safer areas of the country or left altogether.

A prolonged siege on the city today could likely fuel another exodus.

Israeli defence officials warn that Syria, a close Iranian ally, is believed to possess GPS-guided missiles and chemical weapons. Hezbollah has greatly improved its arsenal since the war, and militants in the Gaza Strip, to Israel's south, are believed to be smuggling powerful warheads from Libya.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a sensitive security matter, said intelligence reports indicate that Tel Aviv military headquarters will be targeted and an alternative site for military headquarters is being prepared.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak has estimated that an Iranian attack would claim fewer than 500 Israeli casualties - a statement intended to calm the nation, but which has achieved the opposite effect.

More work

The concerns for the homefront have dovetailed with fears around the world that an attack could unhinge the global economy and spur terrorist attacks against the West.

For the past five years, Matan Vilnai - a veteran Cabinet minister and one-time deputy military chief of staff - has been responsible for preparing such scenarios. Vilnai recently announced he was stepping down, leaving for China as Israel's new envoy.

On Sunday, he gave Cabinet a progress report on homefront preparations. His comments were not made available to the public and Vilnai did not respond to requests for an interview by The Associated Press. But Israeli media quoted the former general as being outraged at insinuations that he was "running away".

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged after Vilnai's presentation that more work must be done in "an era of threats to the Israeli homefront".

Israel's performance in the 2006 war was widely seen as a disaster, particularly because of the military's inability to stop the barrage of Hezbollah rockets on northern Israel. The country's military chief and defence minister at the time were forced to resign; a government report found "serious failings and flaws" by politicians and the military.

Five and a half years later, Israeli air defences are vastly improved.

Approaching threat

Its multilayered shield includes the "Iron Dome" defence system, which shoots down rockets fired from short distances, the "Magic Wand", aimed at stopping intermediate-range missiles, and the "Arrow" missile defence system meant to protect Israel from Iran's expanding array of missiles.

The Iron Dome has already proven effective in knocking down Palestinian rockets from the Gaza Strip. But only three Iron Dome batteries have been deployed, while expert say 14 are needed to cover the country.

The system is expected to be deployed in central Israel for the first time in the coming days. The military insists the timing is part of an annual training plan for the system, but the deployment in the nation's heartland has added to fears that Israel was approaching a threat it has never encountered before.

The Arrow, built by state-run Israel Aerospace Industries Limited and Chicago-based Boeing Company for more than $1bn, has been designed specifically to intercept Iran's Shahab ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and whose range of 2 000km easily covers all of Israel. The Arrow has not yet been tested in combat.

There are signs that budget cuts threaten some preparations.

A report in December by the State Comptroller, the government's internal watchdog agency, found local authorities failed to properly conduct homefront emergency drills and that hundreds of thousands of Israelis did not have functioning gas masks or a designated bomb shelter. The government pledged two decades ago to distribute gas masks nationwide.

More ready

The military would not confirm a report that the country's annual national homefront drill had been cancelled due to a financial shortfall. "A variety of measures are being assessed in order to avoid harming the operational readiness of the Home Front Command," it said in a statement.

Uzi Rubin, a former director of the Arrow project in Israel's Defence Ministry, said the Israeli homefront is far more organised, co-ordinated and prepared than it was in 2006.

"Given the circumstances, we are more ready than in the past. But we still need to do so much more," he said.

  • Nasser - 2012-02-21 11:40

    I'm with Fidel on this issue. Israel was Palestine before the Jews were relocated there from Russia and Europe. Israel is a colonial experiment no different to Rhodesia, SWA and apartheid SA. The clock cannot be turned back, so the Jews can stay and live in harmony with their cousins under Palestinian Arab rule! Maybe Israel is waiting for a Jewish version of FW to dismantle the colonial experiment and hand over power to the Palestinian people! Right now they're pursuing the PW scenario of total onslaught! The apartheid situation was unsustainable, to have a little European enclave in the heart of the Arab lands is as unsustainable. They think they can brazen it out but it will implode. Fortunately FW saw it coming and chose the high road. Hope the Israeli leadership have the same foresight! Maybe they should hire FW as a consultant and Archbishop Tutu also!

      Fidel - 2012-02-21 11:47

      At what point do the Israelis and their cheerleaders, realise that when you are in a hole the first thing you do is stop digging?

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-02-21 11:52

      You'll struggle with the historical arguement considering Jews were inhabitants of the area for many centuries before the birth of Christ. The only realistic option is a two-state solution, (ironically the solution of Apartheid philosophy) .Do you think that the Palestinians would have their own state if Isreal wasn't attacked for anything else but religious dogma?(Which is the real reason for the conflict and has nothing to do with territories). Indeed it would but the Palestinians are pawns used by neighbours for their own purposes of Religious hegemony in the region. Every other country accepted their border states after the disssolution of the Ottoman empire post ww2 during the mandates (Lebanon,Syria,Jordan),except when Isreal was created.

      Che - 2012-02-21 11:56

      You have no idea what you are talking about. The Hebrews settled in today Israel long Before common era, they built their holy city Jerusalem. All though it was ransacked by the Romans 70 AD. After that there was another Holy War between mainly the Franks Christian (knight templar) and Saladin (Arab Caliphate)... then the Ottomans came and then Turkey lost it in the First World War.. Please don't try and compare what happend in apartheid which was racial to the middle east which still is religious

      Fred - 2012-02-21 21:46

      The Israelites were in the area at the same time as the other tribes. This is fact. Deal with it, and stop lying.

  • Fidel - 2012-02-21 11:54

    Vilnai recently announced he was stepping down, leaving for China as Israel's new envoy." A clever move on your side as China will be a safer place for you and your family should your right-wing likudnist engage in a war with her neighbours. You must know something the majority of your citizens don't know.

      Nasser - 2012-02-21 12:05

      Fidel, you've got to be kidding me? That's the man's real name - Vilnai? Come on - you made that up! He should have gone to Pretoria as Ambassador. We'd have a field day with him! Can you imagine the headlines in The Voice and Die Son!

      Fidel - 2012-02-21 12:13

      The Voice would have had a field day indeed!

      Fred - 2012-02-21 16:36

      Fidel, are you going to answer the questions: what did you mean when yiu said Isral is a refuge for the Jews, and it is a giant bulls eye?

  • Larry - 2012-02-21 12:04

    The above article informs me of only one thing. Israel will defend itself from massive rocket bombardment by retaliating with improportionate firepower response. Its attackers will be obliterated and some countries will cease to exist with whole populations vaporised. There are not enough virgins in heaven. Message to the Islamic countries in the Middle East. Leave Israel alone.

      Larry - 2012-02-21 12:06

      BTW, some will see the above comment as if I wish this to be so. Wrong. It is my wish that Israel is left in peace. Do not blame Israel for the actions of her enemies.

      Che - 2012-02-21 12:11

      I agree with you Larry, I'm not rooting for any side. If they can accept that Israel as a country, this fighting would stop.. but in the end it seems inevitable

  • Nasser - 2012-02-21 12:28

    The colonial experiment in Israel will come to an end - this is the unstoppable tide of history. Time and pressure, to quote from Shawshank Redemption. There are more Jews in the USA than in Israel and hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews have US passports as a back up (the smart ones who know what's coming). Why not give the Jews a homeland in Orlando Florida! Those who want to remain in Palestine and live under Palestinian rule are of course welcome to live in harmony with their Arab cousins!

      Fidel - 2012-02-21 14:07

      How about Arizona? A semi desert, it has borders with Mexico, big walls of separation, brown people to shoot at, they will be happy in there!

      Jaba - 2012-02-21 14:38

      I trust you understand that the TRUE Palestinians are the Jews. The Arabs co-opted the name (and the identity) in 1966. I remind you that during the Mandatory period, the British referred to Jews as "Palestinians." The Arabs were just always referred to as "Arabs." During World War Two, when the call went out to form a Palestine Brigade, the only people who signed up were -- you guessed it -- Jews. The Arabs were aligned with the Nazis, in case you didn't know. That said, the ersatz "Palestinians" prompted six wars -- all started by the Arabs and won by Israel -- and have engaged in seven decades of unrelenting terror, visited both against Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora. They come from the Hejaz in the Western Arabian Desert. Their stories of lush orchards and olive groves are just so much fantasy. If you want to know what Israel looked like before the Jews of the First and Second Aliyot came and made it verdant, just read Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad." He speaks of a Palestine that was desolate and abandoned, a bleak and horrible place. It was not until the Jews came and fought back the desert in the south and drained the swamps in the north that the Arabs decided to invent a history to which they have no right. They're still inventing themselves.

      Fred - 2012-02-21 16:40

      You can say what you want, but Israel is not going anywhere. The Israelites have been in the area as long as the other tribes. The violent, despotic regimes of the Middle East are, one by one. When they're all gone, which won't be long now, the Palestinians will have a land of their own.

  • Aaron - 2012-02-21 13:00

    the end is near for the apartheid zionist entity called isreal. i hope that isreal attacks iran, so that the curse of the middle east called isreal can be wiped out

      Fred - 2012-02-21 16:43

      You're a rotten anti-semite and a heartless human being. It is the chauvinistic, despotic, tyrannical regimes of the Middle East that are being dismantled, by the people of the region, one by one, the regimes that you love. Lastly, the Iranian regime is on its way out too, once Assad is gone.

      Fred - 2012-02-21 21:52

      Patrick, genocidal intent must be called for what it is. Aaron has called for that in his post. Because of this, he is a rotten anti-semite and a heartless human being. The former is a figure of speech; the latter is a physical reality. He must be heartless to call for the death and destruction of so many people. You are a BIG hypocrite. On the one hand you throw everything at the so-called West for its very limited civilian casualty rate, and you turn a blind eye to the horrendously violent despotic regimes and their enablers. It's obvious, and its weird. You're also a liar because you know which parties are really responsible for the vast numbers of civilians casualties in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

      Fred - 2012-02-22 21:15

      Another superficial, meaningless epithet Patrick.

  • Jaba - 2012-02-21 14:41

    The State of Israel has packed more history into her 62 years on the planet than many other nations have in six hundred. There are many surprising things about this tiny, feisty, brave nation the size of Wales, but the most astonishing is that she has survived at all. The very day after the UN declared Israel a country in 1948, five Arab countries attacked, and she has been struggling for her right to life ever since. Israel's right to self-defence is inherent in all legitimate countries.

  • Jaba - 2012-02-21 14:41

    From Morocco to Afghanistan, from the Caspian Sea to Aden, the 5.25 million square miles of territory belonging to members of the Arab League is home to over 330 million people, whereas Israel covers only eight thousand square miles, and is home to seven million citizens, one-fifth of whom are Arabs. The Jews of the Holy Land are thus surrounded by hostile states 650 times their size in territory and 60 times their population, yet their last, best hope of ending two millennia of international persecution, the State of Israel has somehow survived

  • Jaba - 2012-02-21 14:42

    When during the Second World War, the island of Malta came through three terrible years of bombardment and destruction, it was rightly awarded the George Medal for bravery; today Israel should be awarded a similar decoration for defending democracy, tolerance and Western values against a murderous onslaught that has lasted twenty times as long.

  • Jaba - 2012-02-21 14:42

    Jerusalem is the site of the Temple of Solomon and Herod. The stones of a palace erected by King David himself are even now being unearthed just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Everything that makes a nation state legitimate-- bloodshed, soil tilled, two millennia of continuous residence, international agreements ,argues for Israel's right to exist, yet that is still denied by the Arab League. For many of their governments, which are rich enough to have economically solved the Palestinian refugee problem decades ago, it is useful to have Israel as a scapegoat to divert attention from the tyranny, failure and corruption of their own regimes.

  • Jaba - 2012-02-21 14:43

    The tragic truth is that it suits Arab states very well to have the Palestinians endure permanent refugee status, and whenever Israel puts forward workable solutions they have been stymied by those whose interests put the destruction of Israel before the genuine well being of the Palestinians. Both King Abdullah I of Jordan and Anwar Sadat of Egypt were assassinated when they attempted to come to some kind of accommodation with a country that most sane people now accept is not going away.

  • Jaba - 2012-02-21 14:44

    "We owe to the Jews," wrote Winston Churchill in 1920, "a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all wisdom and learning put together. The Jewish contribution to finance, science, the arts, academia, commerce and industry, literature, philanthropy and politics has been astonishing relative to their tiny numbers. Although they make up less than half of one percent of the world population, between 1901 and 1950 Jews won 14% of all the Nobel Prizes awarded for Literature and Science, and between 1951 and 2000 Jews won 32% of the Nobel Prizes for Medicine, 32% for Physics, 39% for Economics and 29% for Science. This, despite so many of their greatest intellects dying in the gas chambers.”

  • Jaba - 2012-02-21 14:45

    Civilization owes Judaism a debt it can never repay, and support for the right of a Jewish homeland to exist is the bare minimum we can provide. Yet we tend to treat Israel like a leper on the international scene, merely for defending herself, and threatening her with academic boycotts if she builds a separation wall that has so far reduced suicide bombings by 95% over three years.

  • Jaba - 2012-02-21 14:46

    After the Holocaust, the Jewish people recognized that they must have their own state, a homeland where they could forever be safe from a repetition of such horrors. Putting their trust in Western Civilization was never again going to be enough. Since then, Israel has had to fight no fewer than five major wars for her very existence. She has been on the front line in the War against Terror and has been fighting the West's battles for it, decades before 9/11 or 7/7 ever happened. Radical Islam is never going to accept the concept of an Israeli State, so the struggle is likely to continue for another sixty years, but the Jews know that that is less dangerous than entrusting their security to anyone else.

  • Adam - 2012-02-22 17:54

    amazing how undereducated and over brainwashed like of patrick and fidel fail to take out of this article what any normal rational person would.... the israelis value life while your submissive buddies who follow the will of ALLLAAAAHHH dont give 2 hoots about it. nothing new. if they wernt behaving this way then islam simply wouldnt be islam. where have you ever brought something positive to the table? pathetic victim mentality when is so obvious all of your problems stem directly from your filthy behaviour. go play in traffic

  • Pur - 2012-02-22 18:46

    Iran and Hezbollah will provoke a war with Israel and that war may well be the end of Israel. One thing is certain, and that is in generations to come people will talk of the 2012 Arab attack on Israel, and their children will ask "Daddy, what is an Arab?"

      Fred - 2012-02-27 05:35

      Interesting perspective, but I think you should look at the relative power of the Israeli side, versus the rogue regimes (distinct from their populations). There's no doubt that if it came to that, which I very much doubt and would not want, the Israeli side is far stronger. And the rogue regimes know it or they would have triEd what they tried unsuccessfully in the 1960's.

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