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Home front command throughout the years

On the day the State of Israel was declared, David Ben Gurion coined the phrase: "The entire nation is an army, the entire country the front line." Forty-three years later, on the eve of the First Gulf War (January 1991), we have deepened our idea of the home front as an integral and inseparable part of the conflict.
About a year later, at the end of the war, the Home Front Command, "Pikud Haoref," was created. Thereafter, it would be commanded by the assistant head of General Staff Branch GHQ, Brigadier General Ze'ev Livneh, who was promoted to the rank of General.

It began back in 1948, when the well-known HAGA (Civil defense) was established under the name "Bombardment Defense Services." The service was created following a heavy Egyptian air raid on Tel Aviv that resulted in many casualties, both killed and wounded, and the destruction of many buildings. Mordechai Nimtza-Bi was its first commander.

In 1951 the Knesset passed a law defining HAGA's legal status. The law specified HAGA's mission as: "to take all measures required to protect the civilian population against attack by hostile forces, or to limit the results of such an attack, with emphasis on the need to save lives."
Before 1967, no particular stress was placed on civil defense. Home Front units were neither equipped nor organized for the eventuality that the war would reach the civilian population at the rear. During the 1967 Six Day War, the Jewish New City of Jerusalem was bombarded for several hours and the city of Netanya was attacked by a lone Iraqi plane. Mortars and artillery hit Kfar Saba and the outskirts of Tel Aviv. These events brought about a sea change in the way defense of the home front was to be organized.

Six years later, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the need became apparent to guide the public in preparation and behavior in time of emergency. Israel learned that under certain circumstances the rescue forces could not always reach disaster areas immediately, so that each individual and household would need to be organized in such a way that it would be able to initiate emergency rescue operations on its own.
It can be said that the organization of the Home Front is dependent on the potential of its civilian population and that it is from this population that it will draw whatever it needs for its rescue operations (people, equipment, vehicles). Together with the local civilians and the public agencies, the police and other security forces, the Home Front Command will deploy its forces to overcome all emergencies and save lives to the greatest extent possible. The objective is to create a solid infrastructure for protection of the general public, while simultaneously preparing a professional, mobile rescue force capable of arriving at any location quickly to save lives and reduce personal injury and property damage.

In addition to HAGA, units of HAGMAR, the Israeli Home Guard, were also active in the rear. Initially, this quasi-military arm was formed to protect the newly established agricultural communities around the country and a defense organization was set up to protect the settlements. In the wake of increase violence and attacks against the Hebrew settlements, the idea of a regional defense force began to take shape. To all intents and purposes the defense forces organized within the settlements constituted the main shield against cross-border invasions by neighboring Arab countries in the 1948 War of Independence.

Up to the time of the Six Day War, the settlements were organized within a framework of blocs that were directly subordinate to the regional command; their operations were overseen by a HAGMAR officer. These operations were planned and coordinated according to calculations of a possible breakthrough by an invading enemy. After 1967, the blocs were eliminated and the various regions were placed under the command of the regional or district brigades deployed around the country.

In the years following the Yom Kippur War, the IDF decided to reinforce the HAGMAR settlements, especially those located along the confrontation lines. The investment of intensive efforts turned the settlements into fortified camps armed with up-to-date weapons, enabling them to organize and engage in combat instantaneously. In the event of a surprise attack, the settlements would serve as the primary force blocking the enemy attack along the country's first line of defense. According to one description, "The regional defense settlements and their people make up a kind of regular army for defense of the country's borders."

In August 1977, a decision was taken to incorporate HAGMAR, which until then had been subordinate to General Staff Branch GHQ, within the HAGA (civil defense) command. This integration led to the formation of the office of Commander in Chief of HAGA and HAGMAR, known by its Hebrew acronym, MAKHELAR. Units of HAGMAR operating within the framework of the Home Front Command are responsible for the security of settlements in rural areas and for insuring that their economic activity can proceed undisturbed. The Home Front Command is responsible for assuring the security of the settlements through a variety of means, including the erection of fences and peripheral lighting, patrol roads and weapons stores.
In 1988, the first nationwide defense exercise was held in Israel's educational institutions. Children throughout the country were drilled in entering air raid shelters and putting on gas masks. Sine then, drills of this kind are held once a year in all of the country's schools.

As stated above, until the formation of the Home Front Command, the responsibility for security on the home front rested with MAKHELAR, the Command Headquarters for HAGA (Civil Defense) and HAGMAR (Regional Defense).
On August 2 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and annexed it. Following the failure of a series of sanctions imposed on Iraq by a coalition of Western countries, the United States was authorized by the United Nations on November 29 1990, "to use any means necessary" from January 15 1991 on, to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. The Americans attempted to open a parallel diplomatic channel to Iraq, but to no avail.
On January 16, with the expiry of the ultimatum deadline, Saddam Hussein, the ruler of Iraq, declared that Iraq would not give up Kuwait, even at the price of war. The United States prepared its land and sea forces for attack. War was unavoidable.
On January 17, the United States, as leader of the coalition, initiated an air attack on Iraq, since Iraq had not withdrawn her forces from Kuwait by the deadline set by the ultimatum. The war continued for 42 days, with the United States maintaining clear supremacy and acting with great intensity to defeat the Iraqi army and destroy sites of vital strategic importance. The war ended with the total defeat of Iraq and the retreat of its forces from Kuwait.
The Gulf war was a different kind of war, a war in which the rear was forced to defend itself and became a new front in its own right. It was a media-dominated war, in which the fall of bombs was broadcast live, a war that contributed to a basic change in international relations and the initiation of an organized peace process.
Before the fighting began, Iraq tried to draw Israel into the crisis by issuing an official claim by the Iraqi army's Chief Spokesman's Office that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had played a secret role in the American task force, followed by an Iraqi threat of aggressive reprisal against Israel, if the United States should take military action against Iraq or hurt Iraqi interests in Kuwait.
Israel responded, saying that while Israel was in fact an American ally, it did not consider itself to be a partner in the crisis. Israel had maintained a "low profile" ever since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and played no part in the diplomatic contacts between Iraq and the United States. Yet, despite the "low profile" approach, the IDF undertook a number of measures, carried out by HAGA, whose main purpose within the framework of civil defense was to frustrate any attempt to harm Israel through the use of conventional or non-conventional weapons.

During the course of the war, the IDF initiated several actions related to the home front:

1. The distribution of personal gas mask kits to all Israeli residents for protection against non-conventional weapons
2. Widespread use of the communications media for purposes of both "hasbara" (presentation of Israel's case to the world) and instruction in the use of the masks and proper behavior in the event of an alert
3. Dissemination of instructions for the preparation of sealed, secure rooms in every home as well as in public buildings and places, and the avoidance of large gatherings of people.
4. Cooperation between medical and rescue teams on the home front

These actions, coupled with conclusions drawn by the civilian and military leadership from the war, quickly led to a decision to form the Home Front Command. The experience acquired in 42 tense days made it clear that only such a step could result in improved preparedness for Israel, with regard to three considerations:

The legal consideration – Prior to the Gulf War, the home front was comprised of three separate entities that were subordinated to the north, south and central regional commands. Command responsibility for them was placed in the hands of the generals who headed these regional command units. The rear command – the professional and organizational entity – had neither authority nor responsibility of any kind in the field. This situation ran counter to the Civil Defense Law of 1951, which granted autonomy and extensive authority to the Home Front Command.

The operational consideration – In various situations protection of the home front must be organized in parallel with the war being waged at the battle lines. In such cases, the Home Front Command "frees" the generals heading the north, central and southern commands from concern over the home front, enabling them to focus on the operational needs of the fighting forces at the front.

The organizational consideration – formation of the Home Front Command paves the way for greater efficiency in the existing units, insuring closer coordination with all of the civilian organizations and emergency forces. As far back as 1975, a number of committees examined the organizational arrangement for civilian preparedness and recommended the creation of a Home Front Command. The potential threat against the home front in time of war along Israel's borders increased awareness of the home front, bringing to prominence the need for a single body that would coordinate home front activities in times of emergency.

On February 2 1992, the Home Front Command was established as the fourth IDF command entity.

As stated, prior to the creation of the Home Front Command professional responsibility for the home front in Israel was divided among the separate HAGA home front commands, which were subordinated to the generals of the northern, central and southern military command groups. The home front commands were assigned to the various regions as follows:

1. The northern home front was placed under the Northern Command and included the regions of the Galilee, Tabor and Haifa.
2. The central home front was placed under the Central Command and included the regions of Sharon, Ayalon, Dan, Jerusalem and Lachish.
3. The southern home front was placed under the Southern Command.

With the formation of the Home Front Command, Israel was divided into four command districts (North, South, Center and Home Front), in place of the earlier tripartite division. The area placed under full responsibility of the Home Front Command extended from Acco in the north to Ashkelon in the south. Its eastern border is the boundary line surrounding the Judea and Samaria regions. This is Israel's most densely populated area.

The area of the Home Front Command was divided into districts as follows:

1. The Haifa District (separated from the Northern Home Front and established as an autonomous district)
2. The Central District (separated from the HAGA civil defense districts of Sharon and Ayalon)
3. The Dan District
4. The Jerusalem District
5. The Lachish District

The northern and southern home front regions were subordinated to the Home Front Command, but only with respect to professional considerations. Operationally, they remained subordinate to the southern and northern home front commands because of the need for control over access to the roads by the generals in charge of these regions, in times of emergency. In 1998, the southern home front was subordinated to the Home Front Command. It was merged with the Lachish district command and a new southern district unit was established within the Home Front Command. In 1999, the northern home front was subordinated to the Home Front Command and a new northern district unit was established within the Home Front Command.


The Home Front Command is presently divided into six regions. Each region is subordinate to the Home Front Command for technical and command purposes, but each is completely autonomous within its own area. In addition, the Home Front Command includes a separate district in which it maintains four regular rescue and evacuation battalions (Shahar, Kedem, Ram and Tabor), the Home Front Training Battalion – the training base at Zikim. The Home Front Command area is divided into the following regions:

1. The Northern District
2. The Haifa District
3. The Dan District
4. The Jerusalem District
5. The Central District
6. The Southern District