That ominous prospect has some critics here slamming the mask and shelter shortage as woeful neglect of Israeli civilians, who for most of the nation’s turbulent 64-year history have been far from the front lines. Others view it as a evidence that the escalating threats of war are more bluff than plan, or that the closely guarded Israeli war calculus envisions a quick and punishing strike likely backed up by the United States.
But the shortages also point to Israel’s rocky transition from a long-held military paradigm that prioritized attack capabilities to one that also stresses defense of a home front under siege. Israeli officials say the need became clear during a 34-day Lebanon war in 2006, when Hezbollah militants’ rockets pounded northern Israeli cities, and it was underscored last week, when a torrent of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip froze life in southern Israel for days.
Most people here dismiss the prospect that Iranian retaliation would cause massive Israeli casualties. But a shower of missiles on Tel Aviv and the surrounding areas, home to the majority of Israelis, could paralyze the economy and trigger panic.
A successful strike on Iran “will depend on our capability to withstand an onslaught on the heart of Israel,” said Uzi Rubin, the former director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization. “We have to be ready for a flare-up . . . but we are still way off.”
Iran and the allies who might come to its defense, including Syria, Hezbollah and Palestinian militants in Gaza, have expanded the size and power of their arsenals in recent years, and Tel Aviv is now in the cross hairs, experts say. Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s military intelligence director, said recently that 200,000 rockets and missiles in the region could strike inside Israel.
That includes about 50,000 short-range weapons stockpiled in Lebanon by the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah — nearly four times the number the group had in 2006, according to Israeli military estimates. Palestinian-backed militants in Gaza have 10,000 rockets, the military says. Iran itself is believed to possess several hundred medium-range Shahab missiles, and Syria thousands of various kinds of warheads, including chemical weapons — one reason the Israeli government pledged to provide its population with gas masks.