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Last update - 02:58 22/08/2006

Interim report finds failures in preparing home front for war

By Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondent

The investigative committee appointed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz last week suspended its work Monday, and an interim report by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee stated there were serious flaws in the preparedness of the home front for the war. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss also announced Monday that he was opening an investigation into the war in the north.

The committee, headed by former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, did not give an official reason for the suspension of its activities. However, there are two likely reasons: the establishment of the state commission in the offing, in which case the Lipkin-Shahak committee would be disbanded, and a demand by the army, still unapproved by the Justice Ministry, that officers giving testimony to the committee have immunity. Security sources said Monday they believed that public pressure would close down the Lipkin-Shahak committee in favor of establishing a state commission.

The state comptroller's office also said Monday said the process of collecting data and documents had begun for an investigation into the war in the north.

Meanwhile, the Knesset interim report, now being drafted by the home front subcommittee, said the Home Front Command had only been in a state of partial operation and had not called up its reserves, numbering in the tens of thousands.

"In the first weeks of the war, there was a feeling that the government had disappeared from the north," the report states. "Government ministries and institutions like banks, post offices and the National Insurance Institute (NII) closed immediately with the outbreak of the war on the order of the local branch head and without supervision on a national level."

The report concludes that, in an emergency, one body should have overall authority for dealing with the home front.

The report points out that in a meeting 10 days after the fighting started, Defense Minister Amir Peretz decided not to declare a state of emergency, although the state comptroller had in 2001 determined that "it is correct to consider instituting the state of emergency not only in case of mass disasters, but also in various interim situations."

Evacuation procedures to move up to 25,000 citizens were not employed, nor even discussed in the cabinet. According to the procedures, approved by the cabinet in 2001, citizens are to be evacuated in a scenario of "injury to population resulting from a missile attack on the home front." As part of this preparedness, contracts were signed with hotels and hostels in various areas for the use of their facilities.

The upcoming report also notes that while numerous voluntary organizations worked to assist residents of the north, there was much redundant activity, because of the lack of a coordinating body.

Subcommittee chair MK Ami Ayalon (Labor) said Monday, "There is no doubt the state seriously failed in everything having to do with dealing with preparedness of the home front for war."

A majority of the members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday supported establishing a state commission of inquiry into the way the war in the north was handled. Only Kadima members, committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi and MKs Shlomo Breznitz and Otniel Schneller, opposed the move. Hanegbi blocked the committee from issuing a statement calling for the establishment of the commission on the technicality that the meeting's purpose was to discuss the commission's modus operandi.

MKs Danny Yatom, Ami Ayalon, Ephraim Sneh and Matan Vilnai (Labor), Effie Eitam (National Union) Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beitenu), Yuval Steinitz and Limor Livnat (Likud) and Ran Cohen (Meretz) said there was no choice but to establish the commission. "We are in a crisis similar to that after the Yom Kippur War from the point of view of the behavior of the army and intelligence," said Vilnai.

Hanegbi said a commission should not be established because past experience showed that such bodies dealt mainly with firing people. He gave, as an example, the Or commission inquiry into the deaths of 13 Arab Israelis in riots in the Galilee. As a result of the inquiry, many senior police officials lost their jobs.

At the end of the discussion it was decided that the commission would provide continual supervision of the government and the Israel Defense Forces to ensure the readiness of the security establishment for any possible development. A team headed by Hanegbi, Steinitz, Yatom, Vilnai, Ayalon and MK Amira Dotan (Kadima) will consult on how the commission will work until a decision is made as to which commission will be responsible for investigating the war.

This article can also be read at: <http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/753171.html>