Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel has spent billions of dollars on its homeland defense preparations and is probably the best prepared country in the world to deal with a possible missile attack and/or non-conventional warfare, a senior Israeli officer said.
Prior to the 1991 Gulf War, when Israel was hit by at least 39 Iraqi Scud missiles, Israel had not developed its homeland defense program because many analysts believed that ballistic missiles posed no danger at the time.
Before 1991, the Israeli public was never targeted during Israel's many wars, said Colonel Gilead Shenhar, senior advisor to the Home Front Defense (HFC) Command at a briefing for the press and diplomats at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs on Monday.
"For many, many years it was not necessary to prepare the homeland or the public," Shehar said. "We found ourselves at the Gulf War, I think, not prepared enough."
Lenny Ben-David, Program Director of the, ICA, was a medic for the civilian defense during that war. "Our ambulance was an American surplus ambulance, vintage Korea war," Ben-David said.
"The self-injector [against chemical poisoning] medications that we received were dated 1976. The gas masks we were first given were dated 1968...made in Germany and as soon as I put one on...and yanked on the rubber strap, each one fell apart. That was the state of affairs in the first Gulf War," he said.
But during the last 12 years Israel has developed one of the best and most prepared civilian defense systems in the world, said Shenhar, who has been responsible for developing the HFC's doctrine.
"We learned from that that we must establish an organization to deal with preparing the homeland," Shenhar said,
That organization would relieve the burden of army commanders to deal only with the enemy and not the civilian population; improve cooperation between the police, fire departments, emergency medical teams and others; and establish a central authority that would provide a single doctrine under which emergency personnel would work, Shenhar said.
The HFC is designed not only to deal with the threat of surface to surface missiles - whether conventional or non-conventional - but can also deal with rocket or artillery strikes for instance from across the northern border, mass disasters like earthquakes - whether at home or elsewhere in the region - or terrorism, in war time, here or abroad.
With a brewing crisis in Iraq, the HFC has particularly been gearing itself up for the possibility of a ballistic missile attack with a conventional or non-conventional warhead, as well as the possibility of a massive terror attack.
In the case of a missile attack, Shenhar said, Israel's defense is many layered: deterrence; early warning to make sure Israelis have gas masks on before a missile hits; active defense of Israel's Arrow and combine U.S. Patriot anti-missile shield; and passive defense to deal with the consequences of a missile strike.
"These are answers that we didn't have before," Shenhar said.
"I can tell you that as someone who is an expert in this field...and I travel quite a lot in the world that we are the country that is the best prepared in the world for these kind of scenarios," Shenhar said.
"I hope as part of the Home Front Command that we won't have to use it but we prepared ourselves very well," he added.
Part of those preparations have also included a massive public information campaign in at least six languages including Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, Spanish, French and Amharic (Ethiopian).
It has also included refreshing more than three and a half million gas mask protection kits for Israelis. Every person in Israel from Israelis to diplomats to illegal workers is to be equipped with a mask.
"It cost Israel more than \'bd billion dollars to give gas masks to all the population and preparing the civilian defense is something that costs the state of Israel a lot of money," Shenhar said.
Shenhar could not say exactly how much Israel has invested in the program since it is spread out in so many different areas but he said it is most likely in the billions of dollars.
"We put a huge amount of money compared to every [other] country," he said. "The gas masks [are] only a part of the money that we are putting to prepare this answer... We could spend [it] on other issues like education or other things. And we put it here."
Israel has good relations with other countries in the area of homeland defense, including with the U.S., because it is based on the goal of saving lives, he said. Israel and other countries try to learn from each other in this field, he said, without elaborating.