Last updated: 20 June, 2012

Watchdog criticises Netanyahu’s government over 2010 fire

Israel’s state watchdog on Wednesday criticised a number of cabinet members in a report on the country’s worst ever fire that killed 44 people as it swept through a northern forest in late 2010.

The fire raged through the Carmel forest near the Mediterranean port city of Haifa for four days, destroying millions of trees and hundreds of homes.

It was finally brought under control with the help of firefighting planes and personnel from more than 16 countries.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’s report accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and previous cabinets of being aware of the problems and shortcomings of Israel’s firefighting services, which was under-equipped and chronically under-staffed.

The report singles out Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who “bears special responsibility for the firefighting services and its severe condition just before the fire’s outbreak.”

Yishai was aware of the problems and tried to amend them, the report states, but the minister should have pushed harder. “This ongoing failure lies, therefore, on Yishai’s threshold,” it says.

It also points a finger of blame at Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz for initially conditioning the transfer of funds to fire departments on a widespread reform in the service.

When in May 2010 Steinitz did recognise the need to transfer emergency funds, the report said, “it was too little and too late.”

The report also notes Netanyahu’s “general responsibility for the government’s actions,” and states that his lack of resolving disputes between the treasury and interior ministry had “significant implications on the preparedness of the firefighting services prior to the fire’s outbreak.”

A statement from Netanyahu’s bureau noted that “some of the shortcomings indicated by the comptroller were amended immediately after the disaster.”

The points included the formation of a squadron of firefighting aircraft and adding funds to the firefighting service for new stations, personnel and firetrucks.

The highly anticipated report, which some commentators thought would call for the resignation or sacking of Yishai and Steinitz, fails to do so and notes that such a move was in the jurisdiction of politicians and the public.

A report released by Lindenstrauss last week criticised Netanyahu over his handling of a 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine Turks dead and ties with Ankara in shreds.