Troubled Times - Interim Reckoning

During Operation Protective Edge, the market and the citizens of Israel demonstrated resolve and determination. Asaf Ashkenazi in a third, special article in preparation for the HLS Israel conference in November 2014

Troubled Times - Interim Reckoning

About three months ago, the Minister of Defense decided to cancel the annual nation-wide emergency exercise, designated "Nekudat Mifne 8" (Turning Point 8). Instead, the citizens of Israel received a "wet", real-life exercise – Operation Protective Edge. At the bottom line, it appears that the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip did not present any unusual challenges to the emergency services and the elements involved in preparing for national emergencies. As always, we had prepared for the previous war and that was the war we ended up with. A little bit of luck never hurt anyone.

Operation Protective Edge was a painful but limited confrontation. A confrontation of this type poses a significant challenge – how to prevent complacency among the public generally and among the people entrusted with the preparations for national emergencies in particular. As far as the civilian arena was concerned, the weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip were more like a "wet" training exercise than a real war.

The citizens of the State of Israel, the public, we – normally conducted ourselves responsibly. The number of casualties sustained as a result of curiosity and complacency was minimized. This accomplishment should not be treated lightly or taken for granted, as it was achieved primarily through high technology (yes, the Iron Dome system) and to a lesser extent through the media, headed by the news channels, which kept irritating us endlessly. Just when it was important to maintain a normal routine and the functional continuity of the citizens and the state, we found ourselves riveted to hysterical television.

The current situation is detrimental to many of us. The overzealous broadcasting efforts of the general channels instill in many people unnecessary anxiety of the paralyzing kind, the kind that rivets you to the screen in anticipation of salvation. It happens among those who are prone to it, the more sensitive ones, whose fear draws them to the screen just to make sure, continuously, that the situation has not worsened, that things are still under control and that the danger is kept in a secured cage.

So what do we do? We manage the situation. We set a goal, we plan, we prepare and we produce an alternative – a TV channel that provides a status picture, facts only, in a concise format and with minimum pressure. If the market forces have failed to provide this important service, the government should offer it through public broadcasting. The "Silent Channel" was launched during the Gulf War. Now, a "Humble Channel" is required.

The social networks are a powerful tool. During the recent confrontation they became notorious as they had been abused by irresponsible (or evil) individuals as a vehicle for spreading unfounded rumors. On the other hand, the public initiatives on behalf of the soldiers at the front also swept the new media in a surge of unity the likes of which have not been seen here for a long time. The presence of the establishment on the web calls for improvement and we still have a long way to go before we can realize the potential of this new world. A message to the nation: the private sector should lead the activities and preparations for national emergencies on the web, which would save us a lot of time and money.

The IDF Home Front Command made sure that the presence of their people on the ground will be highly visible to everyone. Their orange-colored vests dominated every scene where a rocket had dropped, as small and negligible as it may have been.

It is important to verify that the municipal authorities, which have definitely benefited from the readiness of the people of IDF Home Front Command as far as handling their inhabitants was concerned do not neglect their own investments in preparing for emergencies. In the event of a nation-wide crisis such as an all-out war or an earthquake, it would no longer be possible to assign an orange serviceman to every house and community center.

The first responders – the Fire & Rescue Service, Magen David Adom, Israel Police and various volunteer organizations all operated tirelessly around the clock. As stated, however, they did not encounter any enormous challenge – neither on the operational side, nor with regard to the logistic solution required in order to accomplish their tasks. Generally, these organizations also necessitate in-depth work in preparation for extensive crisis situations, mainly with regard to their ability to provide end-to-end logistic solutions to the forces on the ground, which would be employed in the most intensive manner in any future crisis situation.

The Second Sector

Long-term planning and the consolidation of a broad perspective are undoubtedly the key to minimizing wartime and crisis situation damage to the private sector. The current situation represents outdated consequential concepts, where only the physical rehabilitation organ known as "Property Tax" (a catchy but unclear name) produces a reasonable output. Instead of offering incentives to effective investments in solutions for business continuity, we always enter the spin of compensation claims, some of which – to put it mildly – are not clear at all. Protecting and stabilizing critical production layouts, preparing alternate operating sites, devising Disaster Recovery Plans (DRP) and providing mutual backing solutions within certain sectors – all of these will significantly reduce the need for compensations.

Small businesses require their own set of solutions, such as trade fairs held at a dedicated center for businesses from the settlements around the Gaza Strip, spotting of clients through the web and an extensive range of other possibilities, all well-known and effective. The thing is – these tools can and should be developed in advance, so that they may be promptly activated at the next crisis. On the sidelines, it is possible to seek and find in crisis situations an opportunity for conveying a clear and unequivocal message against black market economy. For everything you "forgot" to enter in your accounting ledgers last year, you will not be compensated after this year's crisis. That's how it works.

The Third Sector

As stated, the number and scope of claims for compensations were highly prominent pursuant to the last round of hostilities. The claims made by the southern kibbutz settlements, which had become the home for thousands of soldiers, are clearly justifiable. Other claims are less justifiable. In preparation for the next crisis, a clear procedure should be devised and presented for cooperation between the government and the various NGOs and associations, mainly with regard to the part that determines the party responsible for the actual costs. The establishment has been working in a commendable manner to coordinate the activities of the Third Sector, but that does not mean that philanthropist activities during a crisis situation should be financed out of the state budget.

Meanwhile, back on the ground in the south: the intensive enemy fire inflicted damage on Bedouin settlements, too. Some of those settlements are unofficial, unrecognized settlements that the government wishes to evacuate. Additional operations are likely to take place before the fate of those settlements is decided. That's the way it is. There is no escaping, however, some investment in the temporary deployment of basic protective measures: concrete pipes, for example, until better days have arrived. Additionally, an Arabic language "silent channel" should be set up, along with similar channels in other languages spoken by various resident groups. When peace has come, this channel may be used as a public address channel calling the faithful to prayer, instead of the loudspeakers on the mosque minarets.

We should conclude with a salute to the troopers and commanders of the IDF: thank you for the determination, self-sacrifice and devotion which you demonstrate in your operations, one and all, so that we may live quietly and securely. As may be expected, there is also one small request. In embarking on the offensive, IDF inflicted serious damage on areas close to the border with the Gaza Strip. A substantial part of that damage, to agricultural fields, infrastructures and natural landmarks, could have been prevented by advance planning and more strict supervision, without compromising the safety of the soldiers. In preparation for the next confrontation, the right thing to do would be to use the knowledge and experience already available to the IDF about coordinating activities on the ground (for example, the knowledge of the IDF training centers) in order to plan in advance, in cooperation with the civilian authorities, the required temporary deployment on the ground. 

Asaf Ashkenazi leads a multidisciplinary think-tank that serves government ministries and large corporations. He specializes in leading projects that involve the development of multidisciplinary knowledge and cooperation between government organizations. Ashkenazi had established and managed the Sharvit Division of Rotem Industries

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