Carmel Fire Night 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Mount Carmel was still smoldering when the hunt began kilometers south, in
Jerusalem, for the ostensible really guilty parties.
Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the timing could not have been more telling.
Over previous weeks, his office had been finalizing a probe of Israel’s Fire and
Rescue Services as part of a larger report on home front preparedness in the
wake of the Second Lebanon War. In addition, the proposed biennial budget for
his hard-working office was set to be debated in the Knesset.
several of the inferno’s victims still fought for their lives in Haifa’s
hospitals, in the halls of Jerusalem’s government buildings, officials braced
for the worst.
State Control Committee Chairman MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima)
led the calls for a state commission of inquiry into the failings exposed by the
fire. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, finding himself in the front line of
criticism, was among the first to demand precisely such a probe, insisting it
would demonstrate he was anything but the most culpable player. Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu threw the weight of the rest of the coalition against the
Lindenstrauss’s probe yielded a pointed report that highlighted
technical shortfalls in the Fire and Rescue Services as well as their inability
to communicate effectively with other emergency responders – a failing that may
have been a key factor in the early, deadly hours of the Carmel
THESE DEVELOPMENTS illustrate the vital importance, but also the
fatal weakness, of the State Comptroller’s Office, and the ultimate irrelevance
of the political clamor about a further inquiry commission into the
Israel has seen a glut of probes and commissions in the past few
years – so many, in fact, that even the most retentive observers can lose track
of the various embarrassing, tragic and regrettable incidents that prompted
them. To name just a quartet, the Winograd Commission investigated the Second
Lebanon War; the Dorner Commission probed aid to Holocaust survivors; the Bein
Commission looked into Israel’s water supply; the Matza Commission evaluated the
authorities’ treatment of disengagement evacuees.
sometimes take up to six years to deliver their conclusions. The Carmel blaze,
the worst in Israeli history, underlines that the improvement of our rescue
services can tolerate no such delay.
What Israel’s civilian rescue
services need are urgent, practical reforms to ensure that if another major
forest fire – or similar disaster – strikes in the coming months or years, we
will be prepared. What is least needed is a politically motivated
Whether galvanized more by narrow political concerns or, as one
would hope, national responsibility, Netanyahu took the beginnings of the right
approach on Tuesday when he asked Lindenstrauss to prepare a new report on the
Carmel fire. He tacked an accelerated timetable onto the request – offering the
potential for rapid correction of flaws, and helpfully ensuring that the
comptroller’s conclusions will likely be issued long before they might impact on
an election campaign.
Unfortunately, simply asking the state comptroller
for another report is itself no remedy. Last week’s findings were not the first
time the State Comptroller’s Office had warned of the dire state of Israel’s
emergency coordination, but previous reports such have fallen on deaf
Nor is it enough for Netanyahu to give his ministers a strict
deadline for correcting the flaws exposed by the comptroller. Political
exigencies routinely distract public servants, and the public, from such
WHAT’S LACKING here, as Lindenstrauss made plain to Knesset
members last week, is “teeth” for the comptroller to ensure his recommendations
are implemented. The State Comptroller’s Office has neither the budget nor the
authority to ensure enforcement in any of the areas it investigates.
of the headline-making demands for commissions of inquiry – not just into the
Carmel fire, but into other tragedies, scandals and embarrassments that have and
will afflict us – would be unnecessary, and many of the tragedies themselves
prevented or reduced, were the state’s permanent investigative commission, the
State Comptroller’s Office, afforded the tools necessary to make sure its
recommendations are followed.
Had that been the case following previous
warnings about the state of our Fire and Rescue Services, not only would the
debate about who should probe what have been avoided. The devastating fire, with
43 lost lives, might well have been prevented altogether.