National Guard Learns Lessons from a City Under Fire
Yona Yahav, mayor of Haifa, Israel, briefs National Guard Bureau Chief Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum about how his city responded to the 2006 Lebanon War.

HAIFA, Israel (Army News Service, Dec. 13, 2007) - In 2006, Haifa was a city under attack by terrorists. After visiting the city, National Guard leaders are now applying lessons learned on how to respond to sustained terrorist attacks against a U.S. city.

National Guard Bureau Chief Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum stopped here Dec. 4 during a four-day visit to bolster the Bureau's relationship with the Israeli Defense Forces Home Front Command and discuss joint exercises and other possible exchanges carried out under the aegis of U.S. European Command.

Lt. Gen. Blum's third official visit to Israel included meetings with Maj. Gen. Yitzshak (Jerry) Gershon, Home Front commander, and other senior IDF military leaders; briefings on lessons learned from the 2006 Lebanon War; and visits to military installations and historic and cultural sites including the Negev Desert, Masada, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

<b>The Home Front Command</b>

Israel's Home Front Command, equivalent to the National Guard, was established in 1992, following the Gulf War.

The National Guard and the Home Front Command are comprised mostly of reservists, who defend their homelands and stand ready to manage the consequences of natural or man-made catastrophes.

Home Front Command leaders even borrow a National Guard slogan: Always ready, always there.

"We're in the same business, just different 'neighborhoods'," Lt. Gen. Blum said.

"We the Home Front Command and the IDF benefit from this relationship," Maj. Gen. Gershon said. "In our unstable world where terrorists try to threaten us, we have no other choice except to exchange knowledge... to avoid their harming innocent people... no matter the country we are dealing with."

The Guard is an all-volunteer force; Israelis face mandatory military service at age 17; the Guard draws on 371 years of experience; the Home Front Command is in its second decade. Americans have largely dodged direct threats to the homeland; Israelis have fended off external attacks since the nation's 1948 independence.

"The Home Front Command did not always exist in Israel even though their country is in a rough neighborhood and has been fighting since the day it was born," Lt. Gen. Blum said. "The fight changed in 1990. The enemy stopped attacking the Israeli military and started attacking the civilian population. That's exactly what could come our way, and we better be ready for it."

The possibility that the relative tranquility of American cities could one day be shattered by sustained terrorism brought Guard Bureau leaders to Haifa, a city self-reliant in the face of a 34-day missile barrage.

<b>Under Fire</b>

About 270,000 Jews and Arabs live together in northern Israel's largest city, third largest in the country, a 1,700-year-old Mediterranean seaport north of Tel Aviv. Another 350,000 live close to city boundaries, officials said.

During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah terrorists fired about 4,000 Katyusha rockets into Israel. At first, Haifa sustained most of the attacks.

By the Aug. 14 ceasefire, 13 Haifa residents were dead, 50 injured and an estimated 500 affected by trauma similar to post traumatic stress disorder, according to Mayor Yona Yahav. Some residents spent a month in shelters, dodging missiles sometimes packed with ball bearings.

"The long-range rockets each contained 40,000 ball bearings, specifically designed to inflict civilian casualties," Mayor Yahav said. "Once the rocket hits solid ground, the ball bearings are dispersed for more than a mile."

Residents were told to take shelter behind concrete walls. Schools, clinics and pharmacies closed and tourism ceased.

"The whole city was on hold," Mayor Yahav said, "no weddings; no funerals; no shopping and no moving on the streets."

It was the way Haifa reacted that set it apart.

Mayor Yahav told the Israeli prime minister that Haifa didn't need anything. "We decided to do everything on our own," he explained.

City officials improvised. "We did it just from gut feelings," Mayor Yahav said.

"Haifa showed what strong, resourceful civilian leadership at the mayoral level can do to make normal an abnormal condition without the intervention of the state or the federal government or, in this case, the nation," Lt. Gen. Blum said.

Haifa's initiative may be part of a global trend of cities reacting to crises without waiting for outside help.

<b>Emerging Trend</b>

"The days of sitting back and waiting for national governments to act are becoming a memory," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote recently in The Economist.

The majority of the world's people now live in cities, Mayor Bloomberg noted. "A new urban global community is emerging in which cities are collaborating with each other on common problems."

Some ingredients of Haifa's success during the 2006 Lebanon War follow:

- Deliberately keeping the response local. Residents were invested in their own recovery.

- Morning brainstorming sessions by city leaders willing to work beyond the framework of formal disaster plans and to tap expertise from outside local government.

- Creative financing: The city took out a $15 million loan to cover initial expenses.

- Immediate damage repair, to include replanting trees within hours of attacks. "It passed on a message to the inhabitants that everything is under control," Mayor Yahav said. Eighty percent of Haifa's residents chose to stay during the bombardment.

- Tapping assistance from Israeli Home Front Command Soldiers.

- Finding solutions to problems as they emerged: Improvising a food supply chain and maintenance for shelters not originally designed for long stays; spending $500,000 to turn mall parking garages into children's kindergartens; and, organizing volunteers to deposit pensions in banks.

- Boosting morale: "We covered the whole area with Israeli flags, and it gave a tremendous drive to the people," Mayor Yahav said. "We learned from you Americans."

War or natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis remain threats to Israel. A thriving seaport with chemical production and oil storage facilities, Haifa also has a heightened risk of industrial accidents.

"We are preparing now," Mayor Yahav said.

City officials acted on after-action reviews of the 2006 crisis. They bought a mobile headquarters, improved property records to more easily identify owners of damaged apartments and invested in ongoing disaster awareness training. Leaders have increased their attention to continuity of services during a crisis, improved evacuation plans and increased cooperation between local agencies. They've held exercises and added surveillance cameras to monitor disaster or war aftermaths.

Like Haifa and the Israeli Home Front Command, the National Guard continuously prepares.

"We need to make sure we continue to maintain our outreach to state and local leaders and work in harmony with them in planning for, rehearsing, exercising and preparing for disasters or terrorism," Lt. Gen. Blum said. "It doesn't really matter from our point of view what causes a problem. We have to deal with the problem, whether it's caused by Mother Nature, God, bad people or an accident."

The National Guard's foreign outreach, conducted as part of the theater security cooperation program of U.S. combatant commanders and U.S. ambassadors abroad, includes partnerships among the U.S. states and 56 countries, and relationships such as that between the Guard and Israel's Home Front Command. Efforts in the Middle East include the pairing of the Colorado National Guard and the Kingdom of Jordan under the State Partnership Program.

National Guard military-to-military, military-to-civilian and civilian-to-civilian initiatives undertaken by the SPP are closely coordinated with the staff of the combatant commander and U.S. country teams to ensure consistency with other American interests.

The 16-member National Guard delegation to Israel included Maj. Gen. Michael Sumrall, assistant for Guard and Reserve affairs to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Maj. Gen. Frank Grass, EUCOM's director of mobilization and reserve-component affairs; EUCOM plans and policy representatives and Montana National Guard and other Guard officers.

(Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill is with the National Guard Bureau. Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, National Guard Bureau; The Economist newspaper; and other sources contributed to this report.)

Page last updated Thu December 13th, 2007 at 08:41