Middle East
2:00 am
Tue February 28, 2012

Ordinary Israelis Ponder An Attack Against Iran

Originally published on Sun March 4, 2012 6:37 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's stay in the region and turned to Israel now, where concerns are growing over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program. Israel's minister of defense travels to the U.S. today, that's ahead of that's ahead of a visit by his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, next week. The subject of Iran is expected to dominate much of those high-level talks in Washington.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro visited the Israeli city of Tel Aviv to gauge concern among residents there.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: So it's a sunny day in Tel Aviv today and the waves are crashing against the rocks, and the cafes and the restaurants around me here in the port are packed full of diners. This doesn't feel like a city that's jittery about war.

A group of women are perusing a menu nearby.

I'm wondering what your feeling is on - if you're worried about Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Iran?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Iran, huh?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No. No. We have fun, we meet after a long time.

We have fun, we meet after a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Iran has not been on our main interest today.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We're having fun today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israel's leaders, though, have been talking about a possible conflict. In recent comments, Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak had this to say about the fallout of any possible war with Iran.

EHUD BARAK: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If we reach a situation of war, Barak says, there will not be 100,000 casualties. There's no way to avoid certain damage, and it will be unpleasant, but in any scenario there will not even be 500 casualties he says.

His statement came under fire here by lawmakers and analysts, who charge that the Israeli government is not adequately preparing its people for a war, which some say, if it happens, could last years.

UZI RUBIN: Not sufficient, not complete.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Uzi Rubin's estimation on the current state of preparation inside Israel. He's a former head of the Israeli missile defense program for the military here.

RUBIN: The main threat on Israel now, the main military threat is asymmetric war on the home front, meaning missiles and rockets on our home front, the battlefield being taken into the streets of our cities instead of the frontiers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Military officials here say there are as many as 200,000 missiles and rockets aimed at Israel at any given time. Uzi Rubin says that after the 2006 Lebanon war it became apparent that Israeli towns and cities that came under fire were completely unprepared. So the Civil Defense Ministry was formed, and for the past five years it's been putting the plans and the protection in place to help shield the population in event of another conflict.

RUBIN: You have to shelter homes, schools, factories. It's a tremendous amount of money. There is no hope that Israel or any country can afford a complete passive defense for its citizens. But still, I think, between affordability and what we have right now is still a gap. We need to do more in sheltering and we need to do more in active defense.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: By active defense he means a missile defense program that can intercept incoming projectiles. Israel has four different systems in place that can deal with a range of threats, second only to the United States. But again, budgets are tight here. Even systems such as the much vaunted Iron Dome, which protects against short and medium range rockets and even mortars from places like Gaza, hasn't been adequately deployed. There are less than a half a dozen batteries in place, Uzi Rubin says.

But despite the shortfalls, strides have been made in recent years to make sure Israelis can deal with another war. There have been multiple drills across the country simulating all kinds of attacks, emergency staff has been trained, and local leaders appointed to keep things running. It's all having an effect.

Even though the cafes in Tel Aviv are crowded, so is this emergency distribution center in the city. People here are lining up for supplies.

AYELET SELLA: I came to take - gas masks, for the future to come, for the dangers ahead of us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ayelet Sella is a 30 year old video editor. While some in Israel are shrugging off worries of a potential conflict, others here are expecting and preparing for the worst.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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