The Israeli Experience: from Civil Defense to National Resilience


On Tuesday, April 27, 2010, The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) hosted a Policy & Research Forum examining Israel’s movement from a concept of homeland security predicated on the threat of terrorism, to an integrated approach designed to respond to a range of hazards and emphasizing resilience. The event featured Brigadier-General (ret.) Meir Elran, of The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University. Frank Cilluffo, HSPI’s Director, moderated the event and roundtable discussion which brought together academic, government, and private sector leaders.

Elran began his remarks by noting two key points. First, that societal resilience plays a vital role in how democracies respond to crises. Second, that it is only in the last few years that resiliency has begun to receive serious attention in both Israel and the United States, and to challenge previous views of homeland security based upon civil defense. Elran then discussed how terrorism, potential natural disasters, and the realization that none of Israel’s enemies are prepared to engage its defense forces directly, have illuminated the fact that national security is more than physical defense. According to Elran, the primary issue is the defense of society from a mental, social, cultural, and political perspective—a fact recognized by terrorists, who select targets based upon their psychological impact.

According to Elran, societal resilience consists of the capacity to contain major traumas; the capability of the public to ”bounce back”; and the ability of the system to return quickly to (perhaps even exceed) previous functions. Because “an active public is a resilient public, and a passive public is a vulnerable public,” Elran argued for the need to engage civilian populations in disaster response. To accomplish this, he stated that more needs to be done to educate, involve, and connect the public to issues of preparedness—and that these efforts ought to be focused at the community level.

During the roundtable discussion, audience members raised a range of questions, from how resiliency is coordinated, to the role of the military, to how social science informs policies designed to enhance crisis response efforts. Richard Ben-Veniste, of the 9-11 Commission, asked if different populations respond differently to resilience issues. Elran indicated that they do, noting that such differences inform the proposed emphasis on community-level resilience, because communities tend to be more homogenous. Cilluffo in turn stressed the importance of considering the scholarly, policy, and military dimensions of resilience; and of grounding that examination in both “the hard and soft sciences.” He observed further that societal resilience offers a clear method for empowering our populations; and provides a mechanism for ”taking some of the terror out of terrorism.”

Featured Speaker:

Brigadier-General (ret.) Meir Elran, Senior Research Fellow and Director, Homeland Security Program, and Co-Director, Israeli Society and National Security Program, at The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University

Speaker Biography

Brigadier-General (ret.) Meir Elran, Senior Research Fellow and Director, Homeland Security Program, and Co-Director, Israeli Society and National Security Program.

Meir Elran joined the Jaffee Center, now incorporated into The Institute for National Security Studies, in 2003 after a long career in the IDF Military Intelligence directorate. His most senior post in the IDF was Deputy Director of Military Intelligence (1987-1989). Brig. Gen. (ret.) Elran participated actively in peace negotiations with Egypt and was a senior member of the Israeli delegation to the peace talks with Jordan. Other positions he held in the IDF included Assistant Director of the Research Division for Evaluation and Deputy Commander of the IDF's National Defense College.

Following his retirement from the military, Elran served as the Deputy Director General of the Municipality of Tel Aviv (1989-1994). Later, as private strategic consultant, Elran served a senior advisor to several Israeli ministries, including the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Internal Security, and the Israeli National Security Council, where he concentrated on social issues relating to national security.

Elran's main areas of research are the inter-relations between the social domestic aspects of Israel and its defense doctrine and practice. He has published several articles on the subject of national resilience in Israel, especially as it was manifested during the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War. He is co-editor (together with Shlomo Brom) of The Second Lebanon War, published by INSS and Yediot Ahronot.

Elran served (2006-2007) as a special consultant and assistant with the Winograd Commission, investigating the issues surrounding Israeli conduct during the Second Lebanon War.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010) "Emergency Preparedness and Response." Website. Atlanta, GA:

Elran, Meir. (2010) "The civil defense kit test."

Elran, Meir. (2009) "The Civilian Front: Between Needs and Responses" in Brom & Kurz (eds.), Strategic Survey for Israel 2009. Tel Aviv: Institute for National Security Studies.

Council on State Governments. (2005) "Impact of Terrorism on State Law Enforcement: Adjusting to New Roles and Changing Conditions." Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Eyerman, Joe & Kevin Strom. (2005) "A Cross-national Comparison of Interagency Coordination Between Law Enforcement and Public Health." Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

City of Boston. (2003) "Terrorism: A Community Response." Boston, MA: Office of the Mayor

About HSPI's Policy & Research Forum Series

HSPI's Policy & Research Forum Series spotlights cutting-edge security policy solutions and innovative research. The Series is designed to provide thought leaders in the United States and abroad with a uniquely constructive venue in which to discuss current and future security issues and challenges.