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Updated Special Report-Inside Israel: Preparations for a strike on Iran?

Rhonda Spivak, August 23, 2012, updated August 30, 2012


[Editor's note: Since initially writing this article a few days ago, there are two other new reports that suggest to me Israel is seriously preparing its population for a strike on Iran:

The Times of Israel has reported that the Haifa municipality plans to use the Carmel Tunnels as public bomb shelters and managet he city from a massive command centre:

Reuters was the first to report that about  a new emergency pamphlet being distributed nationwide using the face of a muppet on the cover. The booklet issued by the IDF says Israelis will have only between 30 seconds and three minutes to find cover between the time air raid sirens sound and rockets land.The 15-page pamphlet has begun to appear in mailboxes across Israel, instructing Israelis how to prepare a safe room or shelter for emergency situations. The Israeli muppet on the cover of a new emergency pamphlet being distributed nationwide puts a happy face on some grim warnings in a country preparing for possible war with Iran. See the complete article is worth a read] 

Netanya-August 23,2012-
There are a few developments on the ground here that suggest Israel is seriously preparing its population for a possible strike on Iran, which most analysts indicate will be prior to the American elections if it happens. If this is the case, it is expected that the home front will get showered with missiles-from Iran affiliates Hezbollah, and Hamas-that would be aimed not only at Tel-Aviv but major infrastructure points such as the airport, and power plants.

Here's a list of visible preparations:
 1. Home Front SMS Messages-Last week, Israelis received an SMS message in Hebrew on their cell phones: “Home Front, testing cell phone warning system.” The test was the final preparation made in order to declare the new warning system operational next month. The mechanism is thought to be an effective way to transmit messages during wartime.
It [the Text Message Alert System] is aimed at narrowing down the missile alert warnings “just to people who are within a specific area that is going to be hit,” explained a Homefront Command spokesperson to Israel National News.
Interestingly enough, none of the major Israeli newspapers that I saw ran this story,  about the Text Message Alert System--possibly, I think, not to have overly publicized it.
2. The city of Tel Aviv, has released a map detailing the locations of all 241 public shelters, with room for a total of 40,000 people. “Of these, 111 are equipped with an air-filtration system against chemical warfare,” officials said in a statement. While the municipality may stress that it is always planning for an emergency situation, I think the timing can't be co-incidental.
3. Matan Vilnai, the outgoing Homefront Minister told the Jerusalem Post last Friday that educational commercials will start airing soon on Israeli television about choosing the best place to go in an emergency. Vilnai was asked by the Post, "What about reports that one-third of the population has no shelter of any kind? Building shelters for the entire population is important, but it is a project of dozens of millions of shekels that I don’t think we should invest in. If people listen to our warning systems and get to the most protected place possible, that is what should be done. Educational commercials will start airing soon about choosing the best place to go in an emergency.
4. Vilnai himself is leaving his position to take a posting as Ambassador to China. There are different theories as to why he is leaving. It could be because he likes Chinese food (who doesn't?)--or more seriously, it could also be because the home front is in a state of disrepair and he was eased out by the government to enable someone more effective to take over and plug as many holes as possible before a possible strike on Iran. It could also be that Vilnai guesses that there will be a war, and that he doesn't want to be the one blamed if there are Israeli lives lost due to lack of preparedness of the home front. China is good and far from the front lines.
 5. Avi Dichter, the former head of the Shin Bet is now taking over as Minister of the Homefront. The troubling thing is that there were many others who were offered the job before him - Uzi Dayan, Tzachi Hanegbi, Dan Meridor, Moshe Yaalon, Benny Begin, and others. No one was rushing to take the job--who wants to be blamed if things go wrong, if there are more casualties than expected, or if the home front is underprepared? 
 A couple of other points to consider
1. Reports are that the kitchen cabinet of eight Israeli ministers are evenly divided on whether or not to launch a strike on Iran, with Netanyahu and Barak being in favour (along with Liberman, and Ya’alon) and Steinitz, Yishai, Meridor, and Begin against. Some reports suggest that Avi Dichter, the new Minister of the Homefront  may cast the deciding vote-and influence the final decision. Reports are that Dichter is undecided. I'm skeptical about those reports because I think it is hard to believe that Netanyahu would have appointed Dichter to take over if he wasn't in favour of a strike as Netanyahu is.
But -if it turns out that Dichter can't make up his mind about a strike, then it's hard to know who will make the final decision.
My bet is Sara Netanyahu, that's who.
I'm joking---- but only half joking.
2. On a personal note, although I am scheduled to leave the country soon, I have managed to get my hands on a gas mask, through no doing of my own and in a completely unforeseeable way. A friend delivered me one as a result of the fact that an Israeli American friend of hers tried to commit suicide--but was unsuccessful (honestly, I couldn't make this story up). As a result of the unsuccessful attempted suicide, and after being in the hospital, the woman is going to return to the United States to be taken care of by her family. "Since my friend is going back to live in the States she won't be needing this," my friend said as she handed me the women's gas mask."
These masks are in short supply. I'm scheduled to leave here soon--and when I do, I have no doubts that I'll be able to pass on the mask to a needy individual. And I do wonder to whom Matan Vilnai is leaving his gas mask when he leaves for China.
And I do wonder what Vilnai's fortune cookie will say.
Update:  August 23-My cab driver in Tel-Aviv today told me that he thinks there will be a strike against Iran and "I have gotten ready." I asked what he meant, and he explained that "My apartment is on the fourth floor of my building but there is no elevator, so I will have to move quickly to get to the shelter in my building. I have packed up some canned food and a pack with clothing, so I am not having to do this at the last minute. I think there will be a strike-sooner or later"
"You are serious," I said.
"Yes. You are lucky you are going back to Canada."
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.