Under fire, undermanned: Israel’s wartime economy soldiers on

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ASHKELON, Israel – When rocket sirens echo on the factory floor of Rav-Bariach Industries, Israel’s biggest maker of security doors, workers rush to take refuge in bomb shelters fitted with their own kit.

As the wailing subsides, they get back to the production line, making more blast-proof safe room hatches as Israel’s economy adapts to the uneasy rhythm of life in wartime.

“This is part of our reality,” said chief executive officer Idan Zu-Aretz in Ashkelon, 10km from the Gaza Strip where combat rages between Israel and Hamas.

Since war broke out, barrages of Hamas rockets – and the response of Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system – punctuate the working day at Rav-Bariach, which produces heavy-duty locks and filtration systems, as well as security doors.

“The demand for those products is skyrocketing,” 51-year-old Zu-Aretz told AFP.

But he wants the operation in Gaza to eliminate the threat.

“This reality will change,” he said. “It must change. There’s no other way.”

‘Situation is tough’

On Oct 7, Hamas militants surged over the militarised border from Gaza into Israel, killing some 1,200 people – mostly civilians – according to Israeli officials.

Three days after the attack, the worst since Israel was founded in 1948, a missile crashed through the roof of Rav-Bariach’s factory. No one was hurt.

“In the first weeks of the war, there were much more alerts,” said Mr Ravid Brosh, Rav-Bariach’s head of international development, who took refuge in a shelter when a siren sounded during AFP’s visit this week.

As the initial shock of the attack began to dissipate, a new problem became apparent.

At least 125,000 Israelis were forced to leave their homes near Gaza and in the north, where cross-border strikes from Lebanese militants Hezbollah have become a daily ritual.

Meanwhile, more than 360,000 army reservists were mobilised to fight as Israel carries out a ground campaign in Gaza, where the Hamas government says more than 12,300 people have been killed, most of them civilians.

In a nation numbering only nine million, the reduction in the available labour force has had huge economic consequences.

“The situation is tough right now, mainly because we’re missing hands,” said Mr Zu-Aretz.

“Many of our employees are still missing, some of them are recruited to the army.”

“Some of them are still in different cities and they can’t come and work,” he said, estimating fewer than two-thirds of his 600 employees in Ashkelon were available.

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