Official slams 'faulty' firefighting squadron

Bereaved families warn Netanyahu: Fire Yishai, Steinitz or face lawsuit.

Firefighter watches water-dropping plane 311 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Firefighter watches water-dropping plane 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
The firefighting squadron that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu established to prevent a recurrence of the December 2010 Carmel Forest fire is ineffective and could potentially cause safety issues, a report compiled by the main investigator at the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) found.
The IAA findings came a day after State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released his report on the Carmel fire, criticizing fire authorities as well as the political echelon for their handling of the disaster, in which 44 people were killed.
“Pilot training, maintenance and assessment of performance are below international standards,” the report said of the squadron that Netanyahu purchased with great fanfare for NIS 200 million.
The prime minister likely had the squadron in mind when he responded to the comptroller’s report that some of the problems revealed were already fixed.
A lawyer representing bereaved families wrote to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Thursday that Netanyahu cannot get away with letting Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz maintain their jobs following the “special responsibility” Lindenstrauss attributed to them for the fire.
Attorney Moshe Shahal, a former public security minister, wrote to Weinstein and Netanyahu on behalf of the father and husband of Topaz Even-Chen Klein, who was killed in the fire. Her father, Ze’ev Even-Chen, is former police central region commander and her husband, Amit Klein, is a policeman.
Shahal warned Netanyahu that if Yishai and Steinitz were not removed from their posts by the end of the month, he would petition the High Court of Justice to do so. The attorney said he wanted to file the lawsuit by mid-July, because the Court is going on recess.
“The blunders revealed by the report are harsh and the failures are unfathomable,” Shahal wrote. “The term ‘helplessness’ was used to describe the ministers’ functioning in the report and their helplessness screams for significant, determined and immediate action. The findings of the report cannot remain only on paper.”
In interviews, Even-Chen called upon the prime minister to “act like a leader, not a politician,” by firing Steinitz and Yishai. He blasted Steinitz’s response to the report – who called it delusional – and Yishai for having said he deserved a badge of honor for his handling of Israel’s firefighting services.
Allies of the finance and interior ministers defended them and professed their innocence. Dozens of professors signed a letter praising Steinitz and bashing the report, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert “Yisrael” Aumann and the heads of the Israel Democracy Institute, Arik Carmon and Yedidia Stern.
While Yishai was careful not to criticize Lindenstrauss, Shas newspaper Yom Leyom slammed him in this weekend’s edition. The lead headline of the paper was, “The report is positive, the comptroller negative.”
Yom Leyom emphasized anything positive written in the report about Yishai, especially Lindenstrauss’s statement that “Yishai succeeded where other did not succeed.” The paper left out most of the negative content the comptroller had written about the interior minister.
Commenting on the report, President Shimon Peres said Thursday that Israel should not dwell on its past failures, and instead concentrate on its many successes.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.