Israel OKs 600 bomb shelters for north, but critics say too few

“Hundreds of thousands of citizens in the north are still without protection,” said MK Avigdor Liberman.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

As threats from Hezbollah terrorists in southern Lebanon escalate and tensions rise on the northern border between Lebanon and Israel, the Israeli government has promised to build 600 protective rooms that function as bomb shelters for residents of the border areas.

But infighting between government ministries has meant the construction of these protective rooms has been held up for years, and the decision to start building now has been criticized by some politicians who say the move is too little, too late.

Walla! News reported that the Defense Committee met on Tuesday to discuss details of the “Northern Protection” project, which will build 600 reinforced protective rooms for residents of Israeli towns within one kilometer of the northern border.

The 103 million shekel project is to begin immediately via the Defense Ministry’s Engineering and Construction Division. Protective rooms will be built in seven localities along the northern border, but the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Command has not yet approved the list.

During the meeting, MK Avigdor Liberman (Israel Beitenu party) sharply criticized the decision to build just 600 protective rooms. “Hundreds of thousands of citizens in the north are still without protection,” he said.

“The ratio of what they invested in the north and in [communities bordering] the Gaza Strip are one to seven.”

Last month, the State Audit Committee headed by MK Ofer Shelach discussed a 5 billion shekel defensive plan for residents of the north, which was announced by the government two years ago.

Due to political stalemates, the plan has not yet resulted in a single protective room being built.

“Arguments between the finance and defense ministers, power struggles between [governmental] bodies and complete incompetence of the government have meant that tens of percent of the residents of the north have no protection against a real threat,” said Shelach.

“[Their protection is] only the mercy of heaven.”

Gabi Naaman, head of the Shlomi Local Council, didn’t hold back his disapproval for the plan.

While the list of localities is still not officially confirmed, Naaman said the government had decided to build the protective rooms in kibbutzim and moshavim first.

He slammed the move as discriminatory, referencing historical policies in Israel which favored those communities over the development towns.

“They are working to bring us back to the 1960s by first helping the kibbutzim, then the moshavim, and meanwhile leaving Shlomi residents, who are under the greatest threat, along with our disabled and senior citizens, unprotected,” he told Walla! News.

“Unfortunately, both the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Command and the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Front Command have ignored my letters asking them to start off by protecting the disabled people in all places from zero to one kilometer [from the border], and not by localities.”

“This is a policy that shouts to heaven its personal discrimination against the residents of the development towns,” he said.

Moshe Davidovich, head of the Asher Regional Council and chairman of the Border Localities Committee, told Walla! News, “We welcome any progress, especially from the Defense Ministry which has finally unfrozen the project, but it is a drop in the ocean….

“10,000 protective rooms are needed, and the protection needs of localities are much greater [than the current plan].”

“We will remind the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees that the government promised to set aside 500 million shekels each year for project ‘Northern Protection,’ and this must be taken care of,” Davidovich said.

“Even during the coronavirus crisis we are preparing for all security scenarios, and our eyes are on threats at all borders to the citizens of Israel,” Michael Biton, a minister in the Defense Ministry, told Walla! News.

However, he agreed that “the current investment is insufficient and requires a multi-year plan to continue protection in the north and prepare for emergencies.”

Biton promised that these issues will be highlighted in the upcoming 2021 budget discussions.