Knesset, comptroller to look into readiness to storm amid mounting criticism

Knesset c'tees to examine readiness of municipalities, gov't ministries, search and rescue bodies to snow storm.

Tractor clearing road from snow in J'lem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Tractor clearing road from snow in J'lem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Israel’s lack of readiness for the weekend’s mega-snowstorm will be examined by both State Comptroller Yosef Shapira and the Knesset Interior Committee’s Subcommittee for Home Front Preparedness, they both announced Sunday.
Shapira will probe the functioning of the government, police, Jerusalem Municipality and Israel Electric Corporation. The subcommittee will examine how local government, the Public Security Ministry, rescue services, Magen David Adom, police, Defense Ministry and Home Front Command responded to the unexpectedly strong snowstorm.
A poll broadcast on Channel 2 Sunday night found that 76 percent of Israelis believe the state was not prepared for the storm, while only 16% said the government was ready.
Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch both confirmed that Israel was not prepared.
Erdan praised his small ministry’s handling of the situation under the circumstances but admitted “we were not ready for such an eventuality.”
He told Channel 2 that Israel had made strides since the Second Lebanon War (2006) and Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), but his ministry needed to be strengthened ahead of future challenges.
Aharonovitch said the authorities of his ministry, Erdan’s and the Defense Ministry had to be sorted out. He said that he and the police handled the situation as well as possible.
“No one could have expected that the damage from the storm would be so harsh,” he told the Walla news site. “They spoke about bad weather and snow in Jerusalem and the North, but no one expected more than a meter of snow.”
MK Mordechai Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) called for the Home Front Defense Ministry to be put under the Defense Ministry’s jurisdiction.
Erdan said the Defense Ministry was too busy to deal with the home front.
Shas leader Arye Deri called for the formation of a state commission of inquiry. He said the commission should not be asked to draw personal conclusions about public officials, because what mattered was not “chopping heads” but ensuring that lessons would be learned and implemented before the next natural disaster took place.
Following the Mount Carmel fire disaster (2010), then-state comptroller Micha Lindenstraus found Deri’s predecessor as Shas chairman, then-interior minister Eli Yishai, “especially responsible.”
Yishai, who now chairs the Knesset Interior Committee’s Subcommittee for Home Front Preparedness, said on Sunday that while the government could not anticipate such a big storm, it must be prepared to deal with natural disasters.
“We hope to put together recommendations for the government and follow their implementation to ensure that what we saw, our capital under siege and citizens disconnected from food and electricity, does not happen again,” Yishai said. “The difficulty in being prepared to deal with the forces of nature does not contradict the need to do so.”
Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) said the committee would work to learn lessons from the past weekend in order to prevent Jerusalem from shutting down again.
“The State of Israel cannot allow itself to leave people without electricity for a long time in such cold. We have the tools to do better,” Regev said.
A day after opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) criticized the government’s handling of the storm, his predecessor, MK Shelly Yacimovich, countered by saying it had reacted “reasonably.”
“We would need a massive amount of resources to be 100% prepared for a storm like this that happens once in a century,” Yacimovich said. “The Jerusalem Municipality, IDF, Defense Ministry, Electric Coroporation, MDA, police, welfare services and everyone else did what was necessary within the framework of their ability.”
According to Yacimovich, the elderly and poor are suffering not because “someone needs to be fired” but because of continuing cuts to and privatization of welfare services.
“Even in cold, civilized countries abroad, there isn’t perfect preparedness, there are sieges and blackouts and canceled days of school,” she said.
The Knesset joined in Sunday’s emergency efforts, with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein instructing Knesset physician Dr. Yitzhak Lifshitz and Knesset nurses to visit homes of elderly people in Jerusalem and help them in any way possible. The medical staff traveled in Knesset Security vehicles that can drive in the snow.
Yonah Jeremy Bob and Shulamit Wasserstrom contributed to this report.