Event Recap: Civilians Under Rocket Fire: How to Enhance Their Resilience
by Daniela Rincón Reyes, Business Development & Content Strategist, GRI
On June 16, 2021, GRRN partner, Dr. Meir Elran, led the online panel discussion on the unique case of Israeli resilience, where societal resilience has been tested and challenged by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Elran served in the Israel Defense Forces as a career officer for 24 years in senior command and staff positions, primarily in the Military Intelligence Directorate. He is now the head of the Homeland Security Program at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University and a professor for the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago.
Dr. Elran started the discussion by providing a brief historical and geopolitical background on the tumultuous period of instability in Israel. This latest round of fighting in May 2021 was the fourth major battle between Israel and the Palestinians since 2008, which revealed new dynamics of Israeli defense, including assets, shortcomings, resilience manifestations, and lessons for future rounds of conflict in the Gaza strip.
“Gaza is a continuous ‘bone in the throat for Israel,’” Dr. Elran says. Most Palestinian refugees and their descendants now reside in Gaza and the West Bank, which are both governed by two opposing Palestinian regimes despite the two groups working towards the same goal of building a Palestinian state. Today, the West Bank is controlled by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority while the Gaza Strip is governed by the Islamist party, Hamas.
Since Israel was established back in 1948, Gaza has been occupied by Israel, then by Egypt and since 2005, it was declared a semi-independent state after the Israeli unilateral withdrawal, which was supposed to ease the tension between the two sides, he explains. Essentially, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over who gets what territory – because there was never a peace agreement, more wars and fighting occurred in the following decades. More specifically, with Hamas in power since 2006, there have been four consecutive rounds of hostilities: 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2021.“Since the inception of these rounds, we have pretty much a similar pattern and similar results,” he says. “we’re not making any progress, they are not making any progress.”
Dr. Elran continued the discussion explaining what happened in the latest round in May, which consisted of 11 days of fighting in which Hamas launched 4360 projectiles of different kinds against Israel with a daily average of 400 – leaving 12 civilians dead and 1800 injured. “It’s not just the warning. It’s not just the danger that you are hit with this kind or other kind of projectile, it’s mostly the environmental damage,” Dr. Elran says. “Besides being a real weapon, it’s also a psychological weapon. It really affects the targeted people in a mental severe way.”
Most projectiles were fired against the civilian localities of “Gaza Envelop” and 1100 of them were intercepted by Iron Dome, an Israeli anti-rocket air defense system designed to eliminate drone threats. People in the Gaza envelope, which is the immediate area in direct proximity, have 15 to 20 seconds between the time that it’s launched and the time that it hits its set target, which is also the time to look and find shelter. The rockets can reach 60% of the Israeli population who live close to the Gaza Envelop.
Counter-measures have thus become essential to both the resistance and resilience factors of the Israeli defense. The trilateral resistance system, for example, is a structured scheme of counter-measures units consisting of the air defense, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and the Civilian Conduct. These units provide several emergency services including, an early warning system of 15-20 seconds for people to find shelter, information messaging that provides updates through phones, radio, and TV on the situation of a particular zone, and massive home sheltering for about 60 to 70% of the homes in Israel.
However, sometimes destruction happens, which brings us to the issue of resilience as a complementary strategy to resistance. Dr. Elran explained Israel has developed a reasonable “functional continuity” during rocket assaults, which essentially means the ability of all systems to stop functionality, go to a shelter, return home once cease-fire was achieved, and bounce back 24-48 hours following the end of the “round”. This high level of resilience can be attributed to several factors: first off, there is a sense of personal security as the Iron Drome is a very sophisticated and efficient system with 90% of success in the interception of enemy rockets; secondly, there is a strong community-based resilience model built from long experience and awareness of security disruptions, and lastly, volunteerism of local people leading agencies of resilience like the Emergency Community Team and First Independent Response along with Resilience Centers that provide emergency response and physiological assistance.
Resilience thus needs to continue being recognized and enhanced in a differential manner as a complementary strategy to resistance. However, as there is not a political solution yet, security threats prevail and need to be addressed systemically. “Despite the success that I am pointing at in my presentation, we have to prepare ourselves for different scenarios which are much more severe – both man-made and natural,” Dr. Elran explains referring to the Israeli response to Covid-19. Their Covid-19 response has been characterized by medium- to low-preparedness, reliance on improvisation, lack of civilian compliance to instructions, and issues with societal solidarity and trust. “There is a need to shape and construct the response strategy to the emerging threats – man-made security and natural – which is lagging, mostly due to lack of sufficient political awareness and will,” he said.