Comptroller report blasts government

Lindenstrauss says vulnerability of Gaza border communities is unacceptable.

lindenstrauss speaks 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lindenstrauss speaks 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The state comptroller on Sunday issued a harsh report on the government's attempts to protect the Jewish communities in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian terrorists firing Kassam rockets and mortars during and since the disengagement. Spokesmen for the area communities said they hoped the report would induce the government to take the necessary security measures. "The facts [disclosed by the state comptroller] demonstrate that there were severe failures in dealing with the matter," wrote State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. "The fact that the work was not completed by the appointed time was caused primarily by problems in the allocation of funding from the state budget." The report on the actions taken to reinforce settlements in a circumference of seven kilometers from the Gaza Strip boundary is the first of three reports prepared by the state comptroller on the subject of the disengagement. The other two, which deal with civilian aspects of the withdrawal, are due to appear in about two weeks. Lindenstrauss found that "the reinforcement of the communities that are most in danger is still not complete. In fact, in some of the settlements, the work hasn't even been started." It has been 17 months since the government formally decided to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. In some instances, the Defense Ministry had still not reached agreement with the Treasury on the amount of money to be allocated for the reinforcement of the communities, the report said. According to the state comptroller, it took 13 months from the time the government decided to reinforce the settlements until the first advance was finally paid to the Defense Ministry. The advance that was finally given, NIS 85 million in two separate allocations, was far short of the minimum sum of NIS 110m. requested by the IDF for 2005. Furthermore, the sum included NIS 45m. taken as an advance payment from Home Front Command's budget for 2006. Lindenstrauss found that in May 2004, Home Front Command and Southern Command had drawn up a plan to reinforce 83 settlements in what it described as the Gaza Environs plan. The plan covered all settlements located as far as nine kilometers from the Gaza boundary line. That distance was chosen because it was the range of the Kassam rockets. The plan was not implemented. Instead, in March 2005, the Defense Ministry director-general approved a new plan submitted by Home Front Command and Southern Command for reinforcing 46 settlements within a seven-kilometer radius of the Gaza boundary. There was no explanation for the change. The cost of the plan was estimated at NIS 334m., but the Defense Ministry agreed to trim the project and reduce the overall price tag to NIS 210m., including NIS 110m. in 2005 and NIS 100m. in 2006. The state comptroller found that as of November 2005, the plan was not fully implemented and only 64 percent of the original NIS 70,000 had been spent. "As a result of the fact that only part of the budget was used, which was caused, among other things, by the delays in allocating the money, Sderot, the settlements located on the boundary line and other Gaza Environs communities were left without means of protection that the army had defined as critical," the report said. The standard of protection for area residents originally called for by the army was not met. For example, after Nahal Oz was hit by Kassams in 2001, the minister of defense gave an order to install 120 safety rooms in the kibbutz. However, the rooms that were eventually introduced provided security only against bomb blast and shrapnel. It did not protect against direct hits, as the original standards document had called for. In Sderot, the state comptroller found that only seven of the 31 kindergartens in the town were in the process of being reinforced. The plan to reinforce the roofs of all the schools in town was still in the planning stage. A 150-square-meter bomb shelter was still under construction. As for the smaller settlements in the area, the reinforcement of kindergartens in Kibbutz Nir Am was due to be completed before the report was published. In Kibbutz Sa'ad, the reinforcement work in the new development had not been completed. As for the communities further from the Gaza boundary line, work has not yet started. Lindenstrauss found that the funding for the first stage of the reinforcement plan had been approved by the government in July, just one month before the disengagement plan was implemented. Blaming its failure to provide communities surrounding Gaza with proper protection on the lack of funds, the IDF Spokesman released a statement on Sunday saying that the type of security the army provided the communities was comprised of several elements and not just the reinforcement of homes. "The IDF's strategic perception has always been that the primary solution to security threats was operations that deterred the enemy," the statement read. "Working according to this view, following the disengagement, the army set up new lines along the Gaza Strip perimeter and has since responded harshly to the firing of Kassam rockets into Israel." The army noted the deployment of artillery batteries outside the Gaza Strip and the continued use of the IAF in operations to thwart the firing of rockets as well as to demolish Kassam factories. Alongside the incessant military operations, the army noted that following the Knesset's approval of the disengagement plan, it began working towards reinforcing structures in communities outside Gaza, but the effort was stymied by a lack of funds. "Delays in the approval process and the transfer of the funds, in addition to the quick pullout from Gaza, led to some communities not receiving protection," the army said. "Home Front Command is working around the clock to reinforce the homes in accordance with the amount of money it receives to complete the job." Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.