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November 2, 2021 1:57 pm

IDF Home Command Imagines ‘Worst-Case’ War Scenario as Third of Israelis Lack Bomb Shelters

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avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Israeli soldiers stand guard on the road leading to the Rosh Hanikra border crossing with Lebanon, northern Israel, Oct. 14, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.

As Israel’s army prepares its readiness for war scenarios from several fronts, including Lebanon and Syria, about one third of the country’s population lacks functioning bomb shelters for protection.

“We prepare for war, but we hope there will be peace, so we won’t need all this preparedness. In this drill, we are dealing with the protection of the northern border and the lack of shelters for civilians,” Israel Defense Forces Col. Yaniv Wolfer, who is heading the Home Front Command’s physical protection department, told The Algemeiner in an interview Tuesday. “We are talking about 30 percent of the population who lack shelters. That means only 70 percent of civilians have a place to be when a missile attack hits Israel.”

The Home Front Command, together with the Defense Ministry’s National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), kicked off a training exercise on Sunday along the country’s northern border, simulating responses to various conflict scenarios. Joining the week-long drills are emergency bodies including the fire brigade, the police, Magen David Adom and local government authorities.

Previous Home Front Command drills have dealt with the Gaza Strip, which Wolfer said concerns threats that are more limited and smaller in magnitude compared to those presented by Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

“It is like you have another army with a big capability against you,” Wolfer said. “All the time, they will try to surprise us. We try to get into their heads to try to imagine what the surprises can be. We try to exercise not the strong points but the weak points — now, when the missiles are not falling yet, so it will be easier when it will happen.”

“We train for the worst-case scenario ever, with many missiles coming our way, hits in shelters, many wounded and dead, cyber-attacks, direct missiles falling on electricity and water factories, and so on,” Wolfer continued. “We can test if what we have prepared is good enough or not.”

During the current drill, bolstering shelter infrastructure and the training of the public — in particular in the country’s north —  is seen critical for civilian resilience in the next conflict. Civilians are being told to use alternative protection spaces, including an inner room of an apartment, the staircase, or public shelters.

“We do our best, but we can’t build new shelters out of nowhere,” Wolfer explained. “We have moving shelters we can put up but they are not enough. It is a problem, but you can’t build in one day or in a week what you haven’t done in 70 years.”

Wolfer, who is in charge of the building regulation and improvement of bomb shelters in apartments and buildings in Israel, noted that although the shelter is the safest place to be during a missile attack, it is not a foolproof guarantee of protection when faced with a barrage of directed rockets.

Another of the drill’s goals is to improve the instructions for civilians, providing practical tools for dealing with questions from the public, local authorities and the press. Specific locations are also being sought to place mobile shelters — for example, Wolfer noted, in grocery shops, so that civilians are also able to buy water and groceries.

Wolfer is also responsible for the protection of hazardous materials, as well as products in factories like ammonia, fluorine, and bromine.

“We are there to make sure that in a case of a missile attack, hazardous materials will not be released to the atmosphere and affect the population,” Wolfer said. “In the Haifa Bay, there are a lot of other materials factories, and we protect them to prevent hazardous materials events.”

Commenting on the goals of the week-long exercise, Wolfer said, “at the end of this drill, I want to be in a place that I know exactly what to say to the population when missiles directly hit in shelters — to have announcements ready that we can use in wartime.”

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