State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a biting report Wednesday that included testimony from 100 witnesses who described the government's “completely unacceptable management” of Israel's Fire and Rescue Services.
Work began on the report in August 2009, well before the disastrous Mt. Carmel fire that left 42 dead and ravaged 50,000 dunams (over 12,000 acres) of land last week, and spanned the years 2007-2009.
Responsibility for the nation's firefighting readiness or lack thereof, said Lindenstrauss, falls upon the shoulders of Interior Minister Eli Yishai (of Shas), and to a lesser extent upon the shoulders of Defense Minister Ehud Barak (of Labor).
Although Lindenstrauss noted that Yishai had notified the government about the abysmal state of affairs in the fire and rescue services division, he added that neither Yishai nor his predecessor, Kadima Knesset Member Meir Sheetrit, could be absolved from responsibility for the current situation.
Lindenstrauss warned the government and the prime minister regarding "the continuing failure which lies on the doorstep of the Interior Ministry and the minister who leads it. It is necessary to immediately stop the foot-dragging regarding the fire services, and the handing-off of responsibility from one minister to another,” he said.
He also underscored the need for government officials to work together to develop a national fire and rescue authority.
“The ministers who have any association with the issue – starting with the Finance Minister and including the Defense Minister who is responsible for the National Emergency Authority – must join together to immediately carry out the government's decision to establish a national fire and rescue authority,” he said. He added that this was “something that should have already been done.”
Learning the Hard Way
Originally intended to be the follow-up to the initial findings of the State Comptroller's investigation of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, it is instead an intense lashing on the status of Israel's Fire and Rescue Services, and the government's ability to learn from its mistakes.
“Most of the lessons of the Second Lebanon War were not learned,” Lindenstrauss said pointedly, “the errors were not corrected and once again we can point to the lack of coordination between the governmental authorities, to foot-dragging by those responsible for the topic, and for the continuing argument over the failures that only increased the scope of the tragedy.”
Worse, he said, “this report, unfortunately will not be the last in a line of reports on painful topics if those responsible do not immediately learn its lessons.”
Members of Yishai's Shas party have complained that following the Carmel blaze, Yishai has been singled out for a media lynching because he is religious, hareidi, Sephardic and nationalist.