As firefighters came the closest they have been to gaining control over the Carmel fire since it broke out Thursday, the Prime Minister's Office said that it approached the Fire Commissioner some four months ago about securing fire-fighting aircraft, but received no response.
PMO Director-General Eyal Gabai told Israel Radio Sunday morning that in all previous reports from the fire service, there were budget demands, but no request for fire-fighting aircraft.
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Gabai added that the Netanyahu government has allocated a larger budget for the fire services than any previous government, but admitted that the increased funding was used for equipment other than fire-fighting planes.
On Saturday night, the finger-pointing began, with much of the burden of
responsibility placed on Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose ministry
is responsible for Israel’s firefighting services.
The Ometz good
governance watchdog called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to fire
Yishai because of his “ministerial responsibility for the failures.”
Ometz claimed that the State Comptroller’s Office had recently given the
Interior Ministry a draft report pointing out the shortcomings in the
Fire Service, which, the organization said, explicitly warned that the
service would be hard-pressed in times of national disaster.
The ministry, Ometz complained, did not translate the report into immediate action, nor into demands for an increased budget.
Yishai, in turn, redirected the criticism toward a less-obvious culprit: former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
an emergency cabinet meeting held in Tel Aviv on Friday, Yishai
demanded that a governmental investigative commission be set up to
examine the disaster. He cited years of neglect leading to the current
situation and said that in 2001, Sharon’s government voted to eliminate
air support for firefighting.
Yishai, who was then, as now,
interior minister, stressed that he had opposed the decision to
privatize air support to the Chem-Nir company.
“I said months ago
that we need to plan for an emergency situation,” he claimed. “Nobody
ever examined a scenario of such a fire.
Yishai added that he had
“dedicated effort to this issue before dealing with the yeshiva
budgets, because it has to do with saving lives.”
that in the current budget, he had “demanded an additional NIS 500
million and we received NIS 100m. – but that was not enough. In reality,
we didn’t even get NIS 100m., more like NIS 70m.”
minister further explained that “the procedure of ordering and budgeting
[for equipment] is a long, bureaucratic process. The orders were made;
but even once that is done, it takes a number of months before the fire
trucks are delivered.”
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i, who
is responsible for home front readiness, cast further doubt Saturday on
the Interior Ministry’s performance, suggesting that responsibility for
the fire services be transferred to the Public Security Ministry.
is no doubt that following this incident, the matter will be
expedited,” said Vilna’i. “Fire services are under the Interior Ministry
and the rest of the home front services are in a different position,
due to investment.
“I believe the solution is to strengthen the fire services and to transfer them to the public security minister,” Vilna’i added.
If Yishai’s call for a probe into Israel’s fire services is answered, it will not be the first such commission.
In 1998, the Ginosar Commission recommended that the government
establish a national firefighting authority. It took 10 years for the
government to vote to establish such an authority – which it did in
2008; but over the next two years, labor disputes between firefighters’
representatives in the Histadrut Labor Federation and the Treasury
deadlocked the process.