Grateful prime minister hails international response

Netanyahu calls help Israel received from other nations "heartwarming"; Greek and Turkish pilots fly together in flame-filled skies.

311_Netanyahu with firefighters (photo credit: GPO)
311_Netanyahu with firefighters
(photo credit: GPO)
On Sunday, the cabinet will hold a special solidarity meeting in Tirat Carmel to approve a plan to assist victims of the Carmel fire, reconstruct destroyed homes and reforest burnt-out hills.
“The objective here is to deal with these problems as quickly as possible, to cut through the bureaucracy and to allow these people to return to their homes... and rehabilitate their lives as quickly as possible,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Saturday night in Haifa.
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Once the fire is extinguished, he said, he wanted to create a special system for fighting such blazes in the future from the air.
No country can fight this kind of a fire alone, Netanyahu said as he summarized the government’s efforts during the last three days to put out the blaze, which has killed 41 people and forced 17,000 to flee their homes.
Israel should not be ashamed that it has sought help from other countries, Netanyahu said. There was “no shame” in its plea for assistance.
“It’s part of our existence in the global village. We get help and give help. Israel has provided assistance over the years in rescuing the wounded in other countries and Israel now receives assistance – assistance on a very large scale,” Netanyahu said.
He noted that he had spoken with 30 heads of state, including the United States, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
“I must tell you their [the international community’s] enlistment, in the heat of things, the willingness, the immediacy of their desire to help, sometimes before we could even ask for it, these are things that should warm the heart of every Israeli citizen,” said Netanyahu.
An important fact has emerged from this difficult crisis, said Netanyahu. In spite of the harsh personal tragedies, one thing is clear, he said.
“The nation of Israel stands together and many other nations around the world stand together with Israel.”
He could not help but note that on this Hanukka, both Turkish and Greek pilots were flying together with Israeli pilots, Netanyahu said. This was important and would have positive repercussions for Israel, he continued.
The prime minister had spent many hours up north in the past three days, taking helicopter tours over the area, meetings with firefighters, evacuated families and the wounded.
At the same time, he has manned the phones, speaking with leaders from around the world.
US President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Netanyahu Friday to convey America’s condolences and discuss US assistance.
“We are pursuing a ‘full court press’ to help and have the Israeli people in our thoughts and prayers,” Obama told Netanyahu.
So far the US has sent 12,000 liters of fire-suppressing foam and 45 metric tons of fire-retardant spray to be disseminated from planes, and is looking at the possibility of sending air support, according to National Security Council senior Middle East advisor Dan Shapiro. It also sent a team of three expert American firefighters.
“The US has been working overtime in many, many different streams to try to be as responsive as possible to Israel’s needs,” Shapiro said.
Obama also relayed his condolences and American support for Israel throughout the tragedy at the annual White House Hanukka party he hosted Thursday night.
“As rescuers and firefighters continue in their work, the United States is acting to help our Israeli friends respond to the disaster,” he told the approximately 500 guests in attendance. “Of course, that’s what friends do for each other.”
In response to the fires, US ambassador to Israel James Cunningham issued a disaster declaration, which helped launched the effort to rapidly provide Israel as much US fire fighting assistance as possible.
In addition to the chemicals provided, America is also providing fire-mapping to help local responders get accurate pictures of the extent of the fire and is offering to assess the costs of the fire and what will be needed in the long term to cope with its consequences.
“We are moving as quickly as we can to provide this assistance, and are heartened by similar efforts to contribute resources from Israel’s other friends around the world,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement put out Thursday night, stressing that “we are fully committed to assisting Israel during this tragedy.”
She continued, “My hope is that the fires are extinguished soon. The hearts of the people of the United States go out to the people of Israel, and we stand with them at this difficult time.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron called his Israeli counterpart on Friday afternoon to extend condolences and sympathies for the lives lost in the ongoing forest fires in the Carmel.
“The prime minister extended his sincere condolences and great sympathies for the tragic loss of life in Israel in the ongoing forest fires. The UK had been glad to be able to help through the deployment of two UK helicopters based in Cyprus.
Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked the British government for the help; Britain had been amongst the first nations to provide assistance,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Among those who have sent planes, helicopters and assistance are: Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia, France, the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Croatia, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
Jonny Paul contributed to this report from London.