In wake of damning fire report, government says lessons learned (ISRAEL HAYOM) Yehuda Shlezinger, Ze´ev Klein, Shlomo Cesana, Danny Brenner, Mati Tuchfeld and Gideon Allon 06/21/12)
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will read report on the
2010 Mount Carmel fire and study its findings • Interior minister
defends efforts to shore up fire preparedness were "unprecedented,"
while finance minister says he cannot "micro-manage the affairs of
"My heart goes out to the bereaved families on this difficult and
painful day; the state comptroller´s report proves that when cabinet
ministers make demands for life-saving measures their requests should
be deliberated in a most sincere way," Interior Minister Eli Yishai
(Shas) said on Wednesday.
He was speaking after the publication of State Comptroller Micha
Lindenstrauss´ report on the 2010 Mount Carmel fire, which faulted
him and other government officials for their conduct before and
during the disaster in December that year. The fire claimed 44 lives
and was one of the worst natural disasters in Israeli history.
Yishai, who was responsible for fire-fighting and emergency services
at the time of the fire and is cited for failing to do more to
prevent a large-scale disaster, said he would demand a special
cabinet discussion to devise a policy for life-saving measures and
emergency situations. Control of the fire service has since been
transferred to the Public Security Ministry.
The report said Yishai, along with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz,
bore "special responsibility" for severe shortcomings in the state´s
preparedness for the fire. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
bore "overall responsibility" for failing to end the infighting
between the various government agencies and for failing to use his
clout to appropriate the necessary resources for the fire service.
Thousands of residents were temporarily displaced in the wake of the
fire, which was the largest and longest wildfire in Israel´s history,
and 44 people were killed, most of them Israel Prison Service cadets
who had been dispatched to the area to evacuate a nearby prison and
save the mostly Palestinian prisoners, and who were burned alive when
their bus caught fire on the narrow road leading up the mountain.
Throughout the 506-page report, Lindenstrauss cites many flaws in the
way emergency services, firefighters, police, prison authorities and
others tasked with handling the situation conducted themselves. Local
municipalities, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Defense
Ministry were all cited as well for hampering the efforts to contain
the blaze through their inaction.
One of the failures, approved for publication ahead of the report´s
official release to the public, deals with the amount of disposable
fire retardant. According to the country´s emergency doctrine, at
least 250 tons of retardant must be kept in stock at all times, of
which 200 tons must be available for emergencies. When the Carmel
fire broke out, only 20 tons of the material was in the strategic
reserves, less than 10 percent of the required amount.
Lindenstrauss also placed some of the blame on Public Security
Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, as well as on senior fire-fighting,
police and prison service officials for past and present
mismanagement of the emergency response system.
"The comptroller made a clear distinction between the tragic loss and
horrific death of the 44 victims and the preparedness of the Israel
Fire and Rescue Services, which goes to show that the decisions which
led to the disaster could have been made even if the firefighters had
been fully prepared and equipped with the most advanced tools,"
Yishai claimed, before vehemently rejecting the comptroller´s
accusations. "There is an unprecedented number of passages – 26 – in
the report that shows that during my term in office there was an
effort unlike any other to rehabilitate the fire service. The
response [to the report] by the firefighters and most of the bereaved
families has been very touching. It is my personal duty to fight for
them and to promise them I will not let up until the lessons are
learned. While this will not bring their loved ones back, it will
spare grief and sorrow from other families in the future; this could
provide some comfort."
Just hours before the report came out on Wednesday, Yishai visited
the home of prison officer Yochai Dayan, who died in the bus
incident. The bereaved family came out in support of Yishai and said
the blame should be apportioned to the Israel Police, the Israel
Prison Service and the fire service.
Steinitz, who was also cited as having "special responsibility" for
the fire, said that the report effectively stripped the Finance
Ministry of the authority to manage the state budget and forced the
finance minister to meddle in other ministries´ affairs on a daily
basis. "It is inconceivable to suggest that the finance minister has
to micromanage the processes that affect the conduct and
rehabilitation of the emergency services in Israel; this is the
responsibility of the relevant cabinet members," Steinitz said.
Reacting to the comptroller´s assertion that managing the fire
service could not be compared to the responsibilities of other
government ministries, Steinitz said such assertions were
dangerous."If budgets pertaining to human lives are more important
than other ministries´ budgets, the education and welfare budgets
will always be smaller than the security and health care budgets," he
Steinitz also said the sections pertaining to the Finance Ministry
were "divorced from reality and baseless, and threaten Israel´s
financial health by severely compromising the ability to enforce the
He said he had appropriated NIS 100 million (about $25 million) to
replenish the fire service´s inventory, unlike his predecessors who
allegedly made funding contingent on structural reform.
A Steinitz associate said Wednesday that the interior minister was
directly responsible for the fire service and having the finance
minister and the interior minister share equal blame was flawed. "The
consequences are clear – every time there is a mass-casualty incident
which falls under the responsibility of a certain cabinet minister,
the finance minister would be held accountable," the supporter of the
finance minister said.
The Prime Minister´s Office issued a short statement on Wednesday in
reaction to the report, saying, "The prime minister is studying the
findings of the review conducted by the state comptroller and thanks
the comptroller for his work; the prime minister will continue to
work to address the shortcomings."
"Some of the faults specified in the report were addressed
immediately after the disaster – an aerial fire-fighting unit that
was set up in the wake of the incident extinguished more than 100
fires over the past year, including the large wildfire in Jerusalem,”
the statement said. “Responsibility over the fire service was
transferred to the Ministry of Public Security and hundreds of
million of shekels have been appropriated for the creation of eight
fire stations, the hiring of 300 more firefighters and the
procurement of 89 more fire trucks." The statement also said, "Had
the prime minister not asked other countries to dispatch airborne
fire-fighting aircraft, the Carmel forest fire could not have been
The comptroller’s report elicited mixed reaction among politicians.
Opposition leader MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) said that "the
reckless way human lives were expended while destroying and drying up
the fire service were all a result of deliberate foul play that was
designed to impose unclear reforms; the era of the Finance Ministry´s
far-reaching authority without accountability is over." Yachimovich
went on to praise the comptroller for "highlighting the unacceptable
and lethal conduct that cost lives and exposed Israel at its weakest
point; with such a report, Steinitz and Netanyahu can no longer brush
off responsibility for the results of a destructive economic policy."
Meretz leader MK Zahava Gal-On said the report underscored the notion
that the interior minister had to resign, but dismissed the notion
that Steinitz was also at fault: "Describing the finance minister as
responsible for all the shortcomings is absurd; he is responsible for
deficits and growth but not for the Israel Fire and Rescue Services."
MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) attacked Lindenstrauss, saying that
the "comptroller and the media´s obsession with assigning guilt –
rather than on addressing the shortcomings – will bring about the
next disaster. Because instead of mending our ways we will have dealt
with whose head will roll."
Knesset Finance Committee Chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah
Judaism) defended Steinitz and Yishai, saying that the attacks on
them were unwarranted. "The State of Israel suffered from a systemic
failure years on end; successive governments left the fire service to
its own devices and failed to address it properly,” Gafni said. “This
is not about some minister´s particular wrongdoing but about the
entire system´s failure."
President Shimon Peres also commented on the report Thursday, saying
that Israel had to let go of the past when it comes to such tragic
incidents. "The past is dead. You can´t correct it. Can you correct
something that is dead? Can you correct the past? Focus on the
future. You have to take risks," Peres said. "You have to choose
between two sorts of mistakes. You do nothing and that is a mistake,
or you do something that could cause the mistakes."
Peres, who was speaking at the fourth annual Israeli Presidential
Conference, said this also applied to the recent state comptroller’s
report on the deadly IDF raid on a Turkish flotilla heading to the
Gaza Strip in 2010. Peres said it was better to scrutinize successes
rather than failures to evaluate how things had been done properly
and learn from them.
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