Israel is drawing up plans for evacuating up to a quarter-million civilians from communities on its borders should full-scale war erupt with neighboring Islamic militant and terror groups, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The mass evacuation, code-named “Safe Distance”, would be the largest in Israel’s history, and its implementation is a real possibility, say military authorities.
“In 2017, all of Israel is under threat,” Colonel Itzik Bar of the military’s Homefront Command told the AP.
He pointed specifically to recent incendiary rhetoric from the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah, which lingers on Israel’s northern borders.
The evacuations would prevent expending resources to protect indefensible places “where we understand there is a great danger to civilians,” Bar said. Civilians in border towns would be replaced with military strength. “We want a meeting of army and Hezbollah forces and not civilians with Hezbollah forces,” the colonel explained.
IDF authorities are preparing for “very high amounts” of rocket fire from enemies on the borders, including Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Should a multi-front conflict develop, up to 250,000 residents of Israel’s 8.5 million would be taken to temporary housing in hotels, schools and kibbutz guest houses.
The mass evacuation plan evolved as a result of 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, in which Hamas hammered Israeli towns daily with thousands of rockets launched from the Gaza border – in some southern areas located just kilometers from Jewish communities.
During the 50-day conflict, tens of thousands of residents fled to escape the constant missiles and found housing further north. Many Israeli families opened their homes to southerners needing shelter, but no official evacuation plan was put into action.
While Hamas’s arsenals were considerably depleted after the war, authorities say the terror group has now rebuilt its weapons caches to pre-Protective Edge levels and that it possesses many missiles which could reach Israel’s population centers, including Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah is gaining valuable military experience from fighting alongside pro-Assad forces in war-torn Syria, Bar said.
But Israel is strengthening its own lines of defense. In early April, David’s Sling, the IDF’s newest and most advanced missile defense system, is set to become operational. The system will intercept medium-range missiles of the type possessed by Hezbollah and Iran.
Once in place, David’s Sling will join the Iron Dome, which protects Israel from short-range rockets, and Arrow, which takes down ballistic missiles. The three systems working together represent one of the world’s most advanced multi-tiered missile defense arrays.