By Brig. Gen. (Res.). Hilik Sofer — civil defense expert and formerly head of the Home Front Command Population Division
Since the day the state was established, our enemies have looked on the home front as the "soft underbelly" of the State of Israel. Over the last decades, the terror organizations from north to south have been equipping themselves with rocket sand ballistic missiles that threaten every inch of the country. Those missiles are positioned to hit civilians, infrastructure, and strategic home-front targets in order to cause civilian deaths, disrupt daily life, and — as the intended consequence — achieve their goals by generating civilian pressure on the administration and the decision makers.
The Israeli home front is the state’s vital territory and the foundation on which its existence rests. The home front contains all the state’s available human and material resources: the population, factories, commercial centers, financial institutions, economic organizations, governmental institutions, and national infrastructures. The home front has two main roles in times of emergency: to demonstrate resilience, and to support the war effort by providing people and resources for the front lines. The resilience of the home front is a key component of Israel’s power and of its ability to prevail in conflicts. The home front’s strength and resilience are affected by many factors, including the degree of national consensus regarding the given conflict, the degree of readiness and preparations among the emergency agencies and other authorities, and the number of casualties on the home front and on the battle front.
Israel’s security approach, since the days of Ben-Gurion, has been grounded on three components: deterrence, early warning, and decisive victory. Because the threat and the enemy have changed, from war against a traditional army to the struggle against terrorists and guerillas, the conflicts of recent years have not allowed for a distinctly defined victory. Therefore, a fourth component must be added that was missing from the security approach: the resilience of the home front. It consists of the civil defense system and the continuity of economic functioning.
Can the home front withstand the next war, and how will the public conduct itself?
The resilience of the home front depends on a number of factors: The public’s belief that the war was unavoidable and that it was imposed on us by the security situation;the achievements of the IDF in battle and in air defense (Iron Dome and more);efforts to minimize casualties and damage on the home front; the number of casualties among soldiers at the battle front and civilians on the home front;the war’s length, which may, if substantial, erode resilience as the first days recede into the past; elements of civil defense (systems of warning, shielding, and civilian guidance); the performance of the Home Front Command and of the emergency agencies, government ministries, and local authorities; and the continuity of functioning in the economy and in the provision of services to civilians. Such continuity provides the feeling that the country is strong and is not abandoning the common citizen.
During Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, the threat of missile fire against the home front was accompanied by a new internal battlefield in the form of violence from the Arab public against Jews in mixed cities and on transport arteries in the Negev. The response from the police (the Ministry of Internal Security) was tardy and incomplete. The State of Israel must build and train specialized forces for this kind of scenario. Over and above the price in human life and in long-term harm to the delicate fabric of Jewish–Arab relations in Israeli society, nationalist disturbances will hamper the functioning of the home front during wartime and will help the enemy toward its goals.
The war in Ukraine has underscored the importance of social solidarity and national resilience, showing how a small, weak country can successfully confront a power dozens of times stronger despite lacking such resources as the Iron Dome, a warning system, offensive weapons, and trained personnel.
Most of the influential factors are responsive to advance preparations at the national level. Even the public can be forearmed with readiness, including coordination of expectations regarding the greater ferocity and greater length of the next round of fighting in the north. The Israeli home front — and the preparedness of the civilians, the local authorities, and all the vital services — have an important role in the home front's own resilience and in its ability to withstand the enemy. If expectations are coordinated with the civilians and they are made ready, then there will be fewer gaps vulnerable to the element of surprise. In any emergency, surprise affects the civilians’ morale, their ability to function, and their resilience.
In the theory that short rounds of fighting are preferable to a long war, there echoes the national leadership’s fear that the public may lack the endurance for a long war with many casualties on the battlefront and on the home front, such as the Second Lebanon War. At the same time, it bears noting that despite the increased threat from missiles and rockets, the IDF and the home front today are better prepared, many times over, than in 2006, and there is no doubt that the public can stand firm during the next confrontation if the systems of the state are well prepared, if they support the citizens on the home front, and if the IDF scores significant achievements on the battle front.