Israel has not done enough to carry out the directive issued by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to increase the country's aerial firefighting capabilities, in spite of the growing threat of wildfires posed by rockets and missiles pointed at the Israeli homefront both from the north and south, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira's report stated on Wednesday.
In a section of the report detailing the founding of an aerial firefighting capability in Israel, the report said that “as clear as the need has been over the years to strengthen the air firefighting system in Israel, recommendations made by the prime minister to make such changes have not been carried out.”
The report, which is a continuation of the June 2012 Comptroller's Report on the Carmel Fire, which detailed glaring failures by Israel's governmental leadership, as well as police and rescue services, adds that since the government made the decision in 2002 to cancel the use of IDF helicopters in aerial firefighting “not only has the capability to fight wildfires from the air not improved, the ability has weakened, and no meaningful changes have been made.”
The report also states that an aerial firefighting unit founded by the Israel Air Force in May 2011 did not undergo extensive operational examinations by the IAF, to gauge its ability to be effectively deployed in event of a wildfire.
In terms of commanders of the national firefighting service, the report says that “in spite of the threat caused to the homefront by future wars which will include wildfires that break out in a number of different areas, commanders did not carry out situational assessments that took into effect the threats faced.”
The report said that the lack of a sufficient handling of the issue both before and after the Carmel Fire is against the backdrop of a rising wildfire threat in recent years, due to the rocket threat posed by Hezbollah in the North and Gaza-based terror groups, whose rockets and missiles can set off wildfires when they land in Israel.
The Comptroller's Report focused on the period after the December 2010 Carmel fire, in early 2011 when Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu called for the founding of an aerial firefighting capability. During the Carmel Fire, which burned from December 2nd to 6th Israel's national firefighting service was exposed as lacking not only an aerial component, but also up to date land-based firefighting equipment. In the end, Israel had to ask for assistance from over 20 countries, who sent planes, firefighters, and other gear to assist in putting out the blaze. Most notably, Israel rented the world's largest firefighting plane, a converted Boeing 747 called the “Supertanker” from an Arizona-based company that was rushed to Israel to help put out the flame.
The report states that over the years the relevant authorities did not carry out significant exams of the possible threats posed to the home-front by wildfires and did not prepare the operational capabilities necessary to form an air firefighting capability.
The report found that after Netanyahu tasked the Public Security Ministry and the IAF with developing greater firefighting capabilities in the wake of the wildfire, the IAF lacked professional know-how about aerial firefighting and did not present their findings or recommendations to the IDF or the Defense Ministry.
Across the board, the report states that the different government bodies tasked with handling the issue did not collaborate adequately with one another and that Israel's remains without even an adequate short-term aerial firefighting capability to handle firefighters until a permanent system can be deployed, a process which should take years.