Mayors in the danger zone: We are unprepared for more conflict

The mayors of two northern cities accused the government on Thursday of backpedaling on its promise to strengthen the region's communities after the Second Lebanon War. An interview on Army Radio turned ugly as Kiryat Shmona Mayor Sami Malul and Mayor Shlomo Buhbut of Ma'alot made their accusations. After their statements, Ra'anan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, also joined in the interview, dismissing their assertions as false. This did not sit well with either of the mayors, one of whom told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday afternoon that the government was "simply lying" when it comes to its statements of progress in the North, and that nearly two years to the day since the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, northern cities were not ready for another military confrontation. The entire region was hit hard during the war, which saw thousands of rockets and missiles fired from southern Lebanon into Israel. While casualty numbers remained relatively low during the bombardments, infrastructure in the North was severely damaged, and criticisms of the areas' bomb shelters were met with promises from the government for a total upgrade. But both mayors argue that those promises have not been kept, and accuse the government of dragging its feet when it came to transferring funds for such repairs. "The state of Israel has not done any work here, and we are not ready for another war," Buhbut told the Post. "The prime minister tells stories to the nation, and the director-general of his office simply spreads his lies." Buhbut said that after the war ended in August 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised to fix bomb shelters in the North, and make them ready for long periods of time - complete with beds and other facilities needed for the possibly of a lengthy stay. "But the shelters aren't ready," Buhbut said. "We have 60 shelters all together in Ma'alot, and only 28 of them have been worked on. How am I supposed to explain that to my citizens?" Buhbut also bemoaned his city's lack of readiness if it were to face another bombardment of Hizbullah rockets or other threats in a future conflict. "Frankly, I'm jealous of Hizbullah," Buhbut said. "From most accounts, they've returned to their previous strength since before the war, and we have not." Doron Shnater, Malul's spokesman, echoed Buhbut's grievances, saying the promises of repair and improvement for northern communities had not been fulfilled. "We haven't gotten anything," Shnater said. "The director-general doesn't know what's going on in his own office. He hasn't been to Kiryat Shmona once since the Second Lebanon War." Shnater also said that the government's claims of NIS 2.75 billion having already been transferred to the North were untrue. "How much of that has gone into Kiryat Shmona?" Shnater asked. "None, no shelters, no defense, nothing at all." Shnater said that donations had come into Kiryat Shmona from outside of Israel, mainly from the United States, but that this didn't excuse the government for not keeping its end of the bargain. "We don't want donations from abroad," Shnater said. "We want the government to do what they said they would." Dinur's spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon that the director-general stood by his earlier statements that the mayors were not correct in their accusations. "What [Dinur] said this morning is absolutely true, and of course he stands by it," she said. "You won't hear these kind of complaints from other sources [in the North], just these two people specifically." The spokeswoman did admit that some projects take longer than others, and not all of them had been completed. But the mayors' claims that nothing was happening, she said, were untrue. "To say [the government] is doing nothing is simply false," she said. "There's facts on the ground and you can't argue with facts. We allocated NIS 2.75b. to the area, so I don't understand - are they saying that it's not enough?"