State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss lost no time in publishing his devastating report on the state of Israel's fire fighting services Wednesday, Dec. 8, just two days after the disastrous Mt. Carmel wildfire was extinguished with massive international assistance. His report had been ready; all he did was update it with a new appendix which further confirmed that this vital service was close to collapse due to many years of accumulated government neglect. The Comptroller spread the blame across the incumbent government and its ministers.
No sooner was the report out, than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Interior Minister Eli Yishai went into action to put out the flames Dr. Lindenstrauss had lit around them. He held them all responsible for his key finding, which was that Israel's fire brigade is in no fit shape to handle an emergency or cope with a multiple, protracted crisis such as one potentially caused by hails of enemy rockets falling day after day.
He assigned direct responsibility for the service's sorry condition to former and current interior ministers Meir Sheetreet and Eli Yishai. But he also accused the defense minister, who has overall authority for home front defenses, of doing nothing to rectify it. A former government decision to establish a national firefighting authority was never implemented.
Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed immediate action to implement the Comptroller's recommendations. The defense ministry promised to join up with other ministries to finally establish a national firefighting authority, while interior minister Yishai claimed the new report had confirmed his own findings and blamed his predecessors for neglecting the fire service.
The interior minister has taken most of the flak for the Carmel fire including demands in the Knesset for him to resign. However, debkafile points to the defense ministry as the primary culprit. This department commands the largest budget of any other ministry and has long experience in juggling allocations according to its needs. It also boasts a deputy minister with responsibility for the home front in times of a war emergency – Mattan Vilnai. The Carmel fire demonstrated more realistically than any war game how vulnerable the entire country is to a situation Lindenstrauss depicted as "hundreds of rockets being fired day after day to all parts of Israel and confronting the emergency services with extensive and protracted damage at multiple locations on the home front – to life and property. In such circumstances," said the Comptroller, "the fire service in its current condition would be unable to cope with multiple outbreaks – some of them simultaneous and of prolonged duration."
What this means is that the defense minister and his deputy, although responsible for the armed forces and the home front during armed hostilities, are guilty of reckless negligence. They may have prepared the IDF for fighting a war, but have fallen down badly when it comes to protecting the civilian population from the tens of thousands of rockets and missiles piling up across Israel's borders.
A civilian reading the State Comptroller's report on the poor state of the fire service may not realize that the rest of Israel's emergency and rescue machinery is in no better shape; it too would break down if faced with a population under massive missile attack.
This government's first fatal error was its failure to prevent Israel's enemies from building up their missile stocks. Its second, which can still be rectified, is neglecting to provide the population with proper protection and adequate rescue services should those missiles be launched.
Our military sources disclose: The IDF's Home Front Command consists of two battalions trained for rescue operations, with four companies each. This is even smaller than the hopelessly inadequate fire service's 400 trained firefighters.
Given these meager numbers, if Israel were to come under attack, the government and army chiefs would have to decide which parts of the population to save and which to abandon to their fate.
Now that the woeful state of Israel's homeland defenses has been laid bare, shoring them up against a potential war calamity is a task which far transcends the interior minister's authority and responsibility. It needs the urgent attention of the prime minister, the defense minister and the finance minister before the next disaster befalls. Making political hay from the Carmel fire crisis with fine-sounding plans to establish a regional fire-fighting squadron will not serve Netanyahu or Israel in a moment of truth.