We learned lessons from the Blitz, says Home Front

By Anshel Pfeffer, January 15, 2009

The IDF Home Front Command studied the wartime Blitz while overhauling its operational plans before Operation Cast Lead.

It concluded that, if the people of London could continue working despite repeated nights of aerial bombings, there was no reason for Israel’s southern region to be paralysed by Hamas rockets.

Like the other major units of the IDF, the Home Command also underwent a comprehensive process of reassessment following the second Lebanon war.
Its specific failure was that for 34 days, 500,000 Israelis in the north of the country were stuck in air-raid shelters with little outside contact.

“The network of shelters was outdated,” said Colonel Hilik Soffer, head of the Population Department in the Home Command.

“They were built when the main threat was from bombers. But at that time there was at least 15 minutes of warning before bombs started falling. With missiles, you have two minutes at best.”

The realisation that the current threat is from missiles began in the 1991 Gulf War, after which the Knesset passed a law which demanded the building of a “secure space” in every new home.

“We understand now that we have to make sure there is a balance between guarding lives and allowing normal life to continue so that the economy isn’t ruined and people can feel that they are not helpless,” said Colonel Soffer.

The Blitz was one of the inspirations in the new thinking. “In the Blitz, people suffered from bombings every night. They went to sleep in Underground stations but they still got up to work in the morning as usual. Every night, 200 tons of explosives fell on London.

In the entire Lebanon war, only 30 tons fell on the north and in this operation the south has been hit by barely two and a half.”

This caused him to believe that schools and businesses could be allowed to resume operations.

“We developed a system of differential defence,” he said, “whereby every area, every school and every place of business has its own guidelines.”

So far, since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, three Israelis have been killed by Hamas missiles. According to Col Soffer, the three who died did not follow the guidelines to take cover when the warning was sounded. “Warning is crucial and, if you take the warning seriously and take cover, your chances are good.”

The Home Command took a risk by enabling people to resume their daily lives. On Sunday, schools and kindergartens were able to resume limited operations.

“We didn’t even tell people to stop going shopping, because we believe that if they follow our guidelines, the chances of getting hurt are minimal.”

Rozita Goldschmidt, head teacher of the Comprehensive H school in Ashdod, which resumed some lessons on Sunday, said: “I feel that it’s pathetic to stop teaching because of a few Grad missiles and it’s safer here for the kids than to be roaming the streets.”

Home Front Commander Major General Yair Golan told the students: “This might seem to you like a small thing, going back to school, but for us you are a symbol that we can’t be frightened.”

Home Command officers have highlighted the actions taken by Sderot’s new mayor, David Buskila.

Mr Buskila, the first mayor to insist on sending children back to school, staffed the local alert station with civilian employees from the town and even turned away donations of toys and sweets from commercial companies, saying that Sderot “is not a charity case.”

Last updated: 10:04am, January 15 2009