The home front—comprising all available human and material resources: the population, factories, commercial centers, financial institutions, economic organizations, governmental institutions, and national infrastructures—is the state's vital territory and the foundation of its existence. The home front has two main roles in times of emergency: to demonstrate resilience and to support the war effort. The home front's strength and resilience are key components of Israel's overall power and ability to prevail in the face of adversity.
From its early days, Israel's security doctrine has been predicated on three key components: deterrence, early warning, and decisive victory. Since the nature of the main threat has changed from large-scale wars against conventional armies to asymmetric warfare against terrorist organizations, encounters of recent decades have not allowed for a clear-cut victory. This, in turn, necessitates the addition of a fourth component to the national-security doctrine: the home front's resilience.
Israeli home-front resilience depends on a number of factors:
- Public belief that war is unavoidable.
- The IDF's battlefield exploits.
- Success in protecting the home front (e.g., effectiveness of the Iron Dome anti-missile system).
- Minimizing material damage and civilian casualties.
- Keeping down battlefield casualties.
- The war's brevity as resilience can erode over time.
- Civil defense infrastructure, including warning systems, shelters, civilian guidance, etc.
- Effective performance by the IDF's Home Front Command, hospitals and emergency services, government agencies, local authorities, etc.
- Sustained economic functioning and the provision of public services.
Since Israel's establishment in May 1948, its Arab enemies have viewed the home front as the Jewish State's "soft belly." Over the past decades, terror organizations in Lebanon and Gaza have been amassing vast quantities of rockets and missiles that can hit population centers, national infrastructures, and strategic home-front targets with a view to causing civilian deaths and inflicting mass destruction, hoping to bring popular pressure on Israeli policymakers to end the conflict on unfavorable terms.
During the 2021 Gaza war, Israel's Muslim citizens complemented the rocket and missile assault on the country's population centers. They engaged in wholesale violence against their Jewish compatriots, creating mayhem and destruction that included the torching of synagogues and business establishments, the blocking of central transportation arteries and beyond. Beyond its material and human costs, this disrupts delicate Jewish- Muslim relations in Israel and hampers the wartime functioning of the home front.
The tardy and haphazard response by police to this domestic threat underscores the urgency of establishing a national guard capable of swiftly containing future such eruptions. Fortunately, most official elements in Israel are amenable to accelerating such preparations at the national level.
At the same time, surprise and fear of the unknown adversely affect public morale and resilience in any emergency situation. Public resilience can be strengthened by acknowledging the greater lethality and longer duration of the likely next war on the northern front with Lebanon, along with its possible expansion in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel's Muslim community. The greater the public's awareness of future problems, the greater its resilience becomes.
Israel's historic striving for a quick and decisive victory reflected doubts about society's ability to endure prolonged wars involving substantial battlefield losses (e.g., the 1969-70 Attrition War) or civilian casualties (e.g., the 2006 Lebanon War). It is worth noting, therefore, that despite the much greater rocket and missile threat—perhaps because of it—the IDF and the home front are far better prepared today than in 2006, and that the Israeli public can successfully withstand the next confrontation provided it receives the necessary support from the national systems, and the IDF scores significant achievements on the battlefield.
Brig. Gen. (Res.) Hilik Sofer is former head of the Home Front Command Population Division and a civil defense expert.