Opposition leader Tzipi Livni called for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
resignation on Wednesday evening, in the shadow of a State Comptroller’s Report
blasting the government’s failure to properly maintain the Fire and Rescue
As the Knesset prepared to debate the establishment of a state
investigative commission on the subject, Livni called on Netanyahu to take
responsibility for the Carmel fire disaster and step down.
Fire and Rescue Service falls short
Fire Service: State's report echoes years of
Yishai thanks comptroller for report, claims
functioning state, as Israel should be, the comptroller’s report would be enough
for those responsible to pay a price. It is called resignation, and
responsibility starts at the top,” Livni told a Union of Local Authorities
conference held at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center. “It is just part of the
dramatic process of repair that the entire system needs to undergo.
have no doubt that the prime minister wanted to handle the tragedy and to do as
much as could be done to stop the flames,” she said. “But then we saw how
practical management turned into public relations, how the practical aspect
disappeared and turned into a media performance.
“The Carmel disaster
revealed the failure, the inability to make systemic decisions and reinforce
them with a budget planned years in advance,” she continued.
failure cost us human lives and once again Israeli politics are revealed in all
their ignominy – the lack of appropriate balance between pursuit of the prestige
that a position provides and the flight from the responsibility that the same
position places upon you.”
Livni acknowledged that there are “those who
say that cutting off heads will not help, and they are right that it will not
bring back the dead, but it will impact future decision-making, not as a
punishment, but so that every minister and prime minister knows from here onward
that there is a price for an action or a failure. That price that the
leadership pays is a hundredfold lower than the price that, unfortunately,
citizens have paid.”
She criticized what she called budgetary failures on
the part of the government that led to the disaster.
“The Carmel failure
must go from being a debate to an actuality; it exposed failures that cost the lives of people,” she said.
“We don’t need a government
report to show that without the right materials, you can’t put out a fire, and
without the budget you can’t have enough material.
“As the prime
minister, he must not only put out fires but also prevent them. He can’t run
away from this responsibility,” Livni said.
Netanyahu responded during the same
conference to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’s report on the Fire and
Rescue Service, saying that within 10 days he will present the government with
his proposal for a National Fire Service and a National Air Fire
In an announcement earlier on Wednesday, the prime minister said
that he “appreciates” the report, “adopts its conclusions and is committed to
implementing them as soon as possible.”
Netanyahu said that he already
instructed the interministerial team chaired by Prime Minister’s Office
director- general Eyal Gabai to discuss the report’s recommendations next week,
with the goal of implementing them forthwith.
The Prime Minister’s Office
noted that Netanyahu had already increased the Fire and Rescue Service’s budget
by NIS 100 million this year, and that he has instructed his military secretary,
Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Locker, to present to him, in the coming days, a proposal for
establishing an aerial firefighting force, which would be the only way to deal
with massive wildfires such as occurred on Mount Carmel.
Israel must have
a national fire department coordinated through a central authority, Netanyahu
“The police, the army and the fire department services are national
services that need a central, national command. Therefore, within the
next 10 days I will bring to the cabinet a proposal to forge a national fire
service,” he said.
Netanyahu added that the national fire service must
also have the ability to fight fires from the air.
“The national fire
service will be made up first of the land forces, but that is not enough; we
also need an air firefighting service. A firefighting system that operates from
the air, this is the solution for mega-fires like the one we saw in the
“These two things, a national, centralized fire department, and
an air service, will give the fire services the means to deal with the needs of
our reality,” Netanyahu said.
During his remarks, he also called for
government action to bring the performance of municipalities in the periphery up
to that of wealthier local authorities in the Central region.
the local authorities conference focused on the Carmel wildfires, and the role
of local authorities in the face of such disasters.
The Knesset’s State
Control Committee will meet on Tuesday to vote on whether to establish a
governmental investigative commission to probe the chain of failures indicated
in Lindenstrauss’s report. Although the committee has the authority to vote to
establish such a probe should a state comptroller’s report demonstrate its
necessity, it was not at all certain that committee chairman Yoel Hasson
(Kadima) could assemble a majority to create such a commission.
Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak (Labor), heads of ministries singled out in the report for
their roles in the decline of fire readiness, were all invited to next Tuesday’s
“The comptroller said that the report testifies to ‘completely
unacceptable management, mostly among government decision-makers,’” quoted
Hasson, “which is an unprecedented statement that demands taking significant
He said that “in light of the report, the only way to
change the perspective among decision- makers regarding the fire services is
through the establishment of a governmental investigative
commission. Only such a commission has legal authority to make personal
assessments and the professional authority to formulate a new and good model for
the fire services.
“The comptroller’s report is a very serious and severe
report – one of the most serious that we have seen,” Hasson said. “The report is
especially serious considering that it is a follow-up to an earlier report,
which clearly shows that the errors that the comptroller pointed out in the 2007
report were not corrected, and that decision-makers did not do what they were
expected to and failed in their positions.”
Kadima has rallied in favor
of establishing a governmentlevel probe.
The fate of the commission,
however, is not up to Hasson, or his allies in Kadima, but rather to the 10
other members of the State Control Committee who must vote on whether to
establish a probe.
Five of the coalition MKs on the committee are almost
certain to oppose the proposal, while Hasson will find easy allies among his two
fellow Kadima lawmakers on the panel. Although one of them, MK Otniel Schneller,
said that he personally opposes such a commission, he also promised to observe
party discipline in the vote.
The deciding votes are expected to be those
of Labor rebel MK Ghaleb Majadle and MK Amnon Cohen, the lone Shas
representative on the committee. Cohen has supported Shas chairman Yishai’s call
to establish a governmental investigative commission, despite efforts by the
Prime Minister’s Office to block such a probe. However, he said on Wednesday
morning that he personally is against such commissions.
Majadle said in a
statement that he would only decide next week, but he hinted that he could vote
in favor because he found the controllers’ report to be so grave.
relations between Yishai and the prime minister at a low following the Carmel
fire, Shas’s insistence on establishing a probe would be a further sign of
growing tension within the coalition.
One such sign was evident on
Wednesday, when Shas preempted the government and presented a private member’s
bill to establish a national firefighting authority – one of the recommendations
listed in the State Comptroller’s Report.
Interior Committee chairman MK
David Azoulay (Shas) presented the legislation, which details a framework for
the firefighting authority, as well as its duties and powers.
which is similar to a number of similar government proposals that have yet to be
put into effect, passed its preliminary reading in the plenum easily, with 41
supporters and no opponents.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.