Ezra takes blame for haz-mat situation during war

Environmental protection minister says he failed to implement 2003 cabinet decision giving his ministry overall responsibility for dealing with materials.

gideon ezra face 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gideon ezra face 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra admitted on Monday that he failed to implement a 2003 cabinet decision giving his ministry overall responsibility for dealing with hazardous materials and erred in not informing the government that he had been unable to do so. Ezra spoke during a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee on the State Comptroller's Report regarding the government's performance in protecting the home front during the Second Lebanon War. The report, which was published on July 18, was highly critical of the ministry, the IDF Home Front Command and the Israel Police for failing to coordinate their activities. It also said Ezra had failed to implement the cabinet decision on hazardous materials. "Immediately after the Environmental Ministry formulated its proposal [following the cabinet decision,] still in 2003, it started discussing with other bodies how to enforce it," Ezra told the panel. "However, we could not reach agreement with them by the end of the last meeting in May 2006. I failed to inform the government that from 2003 to 2006 we were unable to reach an understanding. That was my mistake." OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon told the panel that all of the failures that had emerged during the war regarding his responsibilities in handling hazardous materials had been remedied immediately after the fighting, thanks to investigations conducted by the army itself. "As far as I am concerned, we will be on a different level if and when another confrontation takes place," he said. According to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss's report, the civilian population in the North was in serious danger because there was insufficient protection of accumulations of hazardous material. Despite Gershon's claim that the army had addressed the problem, committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (National Union/National Religious Party) said "14 months have passed since the war and no one has presented a proposal to the government." Ezra told the panel that immediately after the war, he appointed a committee headed by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Herzl Shafir to assess the danger of hazardous materials from a national perspective and to suggest ways of dealing with it. Meanwhile, Gershon caused a stir when he said there was no way to protect civilians from a direct hit by a Kassam rocket. The statement was made on the same day that the media reported that the state would be unable to provide complete protection for all the primary and secondary schools in Sderot and the Gaza periphery by the time the school year opens in two weeks.