The Jerusalem Post
Should IDF, NSC, RAHEL or another body manage national crises?
The Israeli Forum for the Struggle with Emergency Situations and Commanders for Israel’s Security hosted a debate on Wednesday about who should lead efforts to cope with national emergencies and how they should go about it.
The backdrop of the debate was the coronavirus pandemic and a variety of postmortems about stronger and weaker decisions and moves, but the top national security officials present also addressed earthquakes, massive rocket attacks, mega fire incidents, crippling cyber attacks and the concept of crisis on the home front in general.
Current Deputy National Security Council Chief Eitan Ben-David started with the one point where there is consensus, “that the issue needs a lot of work.”
He warned that “the home front will always be secondary” in many Israeli officials’ eyes compared to preparing to combat foreign invasions, rockets and terror.
Despite that reality, Ben-David said that a stronger home front helps the governmental decision-makers make better decisions as they can consider complex issues on a more rational basis rather than in a state of panic.
At the cross-over point between military issues and the home front, in dealing with rocket attacks (as opposed to earthquakes, pandemics or fires which are not necessarily military in nature), he said a stronger and more prepared civilian home front can also deter foreign enemies from attacking.
The deputy NSC chief said it is crucial for the state to have all the necessary data about where home front security has gaps so it can provide all the resources needed to close those gaps.
Ben-David also warned that many of the national mega threats will only grow due to the pace of climate change and the increasing number of actors with offensive cyber and other technologies.
His view was that the prime minister and the cabinet must directly manage national emergencies.
He also advocated an inter-ministerial body to coordinate different ministries’ efforts to form a coherent whole. Ben-David did say that he thought the NSC functioned well during the corona crisis, especially in assembling data from similarly situated foreign countries, to compare notes on what tactics were working and what were not.
However, many other top security officials disagreed.
IDF Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Arik Moran pressed for the creation of a new non-political body focused on professional expertise – a Center for Managing Civilian Crisis.
He said that before the corona crisis, Israel was “not ready for a civilian emergency – we are very ready in the IDF for war, but every crisis is unique” and there is a need for an agency which can roll with new twists and be quick to adjust.
He said this new crisis center would help bridge gaps between the different ministries which emerged during the corona crisis. finding a common language to define problems and phenomena as well as a standard data set which everyone would use as the basis of their strategy and operations.
Moran also said that this new crisis center would help reduce the influence of short-term political considerations.
Former National Emergency Authority chief (RAHEL), deputy NSC chief and Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Ze’ev Tzuk-Ram said, “Israel was not ready for the emergency that was put on the table,” adding that there were problems with the IDF Home Front Command being a tactical organization by nature.
In contrast, Tzuk-Ram favors the return of the Home Front Ministry as a civilian organization to set strategy and to coordinate tactics with local municipal authorities, which he said had the best understanding of the dynamic needs of their differing populations.
He said that back in 2009 this “synergy connecting all the ministries, districts and localities” was effective until “it was broken,” implying that the Defense Ministry and the IDF viewed the Home Front Ministry as an invasion of their turf.
Tzuk-Ram said that the IDF Home Front Command does not and cannot assume the same level of responsibility or develop all of the relevant civilian expertise.
Instead of constantly shifting responsibilities between agencies involved in national emergencies, he said the Home Front Ministry should be restored.
“It needs to be taken away from the Defense Minister, who ... must focus all of his attention on the IDF,” he said.
Furthermore, he said that future challenges stemming from pandemics, earthquakes and other major disasters could well exceed the threats posed by foreign countries and “require civil language.”
Another formal RAHEL chief, Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Betzalel Traber slammed the idea that the IDF should be handling so many obviously civilian issues.
Rather, he said there is a need for a civilian-style focused NSC, since the current NSC is focused more on military issues.
Former home front minister, Forum President and CIS President Matan Vilnai said, “The best thing to do at this time is to prepare. Facing the state are a series of threats, some of which struck us in the last year and are impacting all of our lives…everything must be done to prevent other threats from” harming Israeli resilience.