Carmel Fire 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz vowed on Sunday
to fight to keep their jobs following leaks that State Comptroller Micha
Lindenstrauss’s report on the Mount Carmel fire may recommend they be dismissed
from their posts.
Sources who read leaked copies of the report said that
Lindenstrauss is not expected to call for Yishai and Steinitz to resign, but he
may recommend they be transferred to different cabinet positions.
first movers are always the ministers who are at the top of the pyramid,”
Lindenstrauss said in a recent meeting with bereaved families, according to a
recording revealed by Channel 2.
Lindenstrauss warned that whoever
refused to carry out his recommendations would be put “in a very difficult
situation” with the public and would face a disciplinary punishment. “I
don’t think they should mess with us,” he said.
Yishai pledged to fight
for his good name and called upon Lindenstrauss not to stoop to populism.
Yishai’s associates said that given the interior minister’s warnings that a
disaster could take place and his allocations of millions of shekels to the
firefighting service, it was unreasonable that the comptroller would blame him
out of all people.
“There is no argument that I was the only minister who
took action to prevent the fire before it took place,” Yishai said. “Should I
have gotten on a firetruck and driven there?” A source close to Steinitz said it
was “delusional” that he should lose his job because he transferred money
required by the Fire Service and then it got stuck in the bureaucracy of the
Interior Ministry and the Fire Service.
Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s associates said he was waiting to see the report from the
comptroller before he passes judgment. They said the prime minister received
assurances from Lindenstrauss’s office that the media leaks were
Lindenstrauss’s report on the December 2010 fire is due to be
submitted to Knesset next month, and the state comptroller is expected to say
that Steinitz and Yishai are personally but indirectly responsible for the
tragedy, sources who read the leaked report said.
The report is also
expected to place responsibility on Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
The fire claimed the lives
of 44 people, among them 37 Prisons Service cadets and their commanding
officers, who died when their bus was engulfed by flames.
The fire also
caused widespread damage to land and property, totaling millions of shekels. An
estimated 1.5 million trees were destroyed.
According to reports in
Yediot Aharonot, Lindenstrauss’s report is expected to criticize Steinitz for
exceeding his authority and violating government decisions by preventing the
transfer of funds for firefighting services until they acceded to his demands
for reform. Instead, Steinitz should have first transferred the funds and then
called for reform, the report is expected to conclude.
According to the
sources, services to which the Treasury did not transfer funds include
meteorological forecasting, the annual cost of which stands at NIS 40,000.
Further, just two days before the Carmel fire broke out, on-call status for
firefighting aircraft was suspended, even though a single hour’s on-call time
costs just $200.
Lindenstrauss sent a draft copy of the report in August
2011 to Netanyahu, Yishai, Steinitz and Aharonovitch.
Senior officials in
the police and the Prisons Service also received a copy of the draft report,
which at 450 pages is unprecedented in scope in recent years.
A team of
30 auditors, led by deputy director-general of the State Comptroller’s Office
Boaz Aner, have worked around the clock on the report, Lindenstrauss’s office
The report’s length directly correlates with the “scale of the
disaster and its serious consequences” and that it reveals “a long series of
blunders and failures, the tragic outcome of which is that the fatal fire in the
Carmel – which took a toll of unprecedented magnitude – was not avoided,” the
State Comptroller’s Office said in August.
Lindenstrauss’s full report
into the fire will come after the state comptroller dubbed the Fire and Rescue
Services in a previous report as the “weak link” in emergency readiness and said
that ministerial responsibility lay with
Journalist-turned-Knesset-hopeful Yair Lapid posted on his
Facebook wall in response to the leaks that the government “of 40 ministers and
deputy ministers that are subject to constant wringing” does not put its money
into “firefighting, nor housing, nor education, nor welfare, nor police, nor
“It’s not that there is no money – where is it?” Lapid asked,
referring to his campaign slogan “Where is the money?” Lahav Harkov contributed
to this report.