December 2010's blaze raged for four days and nights, claimed 44 lives, forced the evacuation of nearly 17,000 people and consumed 8,650 acres of land and natural forest.
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The State comptroller's report, which was 556 days in the making, ruled that the operational failures which led to the fire's disastrous results could not remain "parentless" and determined that apart from Steinitz and Yishai, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch also share responsibility for the failures.
The Carmel Fire (Photo: Fire and Rescue Servies)
"The Carmel disaster is a parable to a mass catastrophe that may some day befall Israel, God forbid," the report – titled "The Carmel Fire: Failures, Inadequacies and Conclusions" – said.
"The scope of failures and neglect found in this case, the failure to foresee the future and the inadequate state of readiness for an emergency the likes of the Carmel Fire – to the extent of closing their eyes in the face of danger – that are attributed to government officials, mandate that they be unequivocally made to answer for these findings.
"The government is obligated, in the most basic of ways, to provide the public with the safety and security it deserves," Lindenstrauss wrote.
The state comptroller will forward his findings to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for review, but he does not express an outright demand to dismiss either minister, saying that the decision is the Knesset and the public's to make.
Lindenstrauss did, however, stress that it is "Time for the ministerial echelon to take responsibility instead of pointing the finger at the gatekeeper, in hope that that would suffice."
The weakest link
The report paints a bleak picture of the state of Israel's Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) on the eve of the fire, noting that the government was aware of its dire situation and that previous comptroller reports clearly stated that the Fire and Rescue Services were the "weakest link" in the country's emergency services lineup.
The nine government decisions regarding a much needed FRS upgrade – passed across two decades – failed to materialize, Lindenstrauss rebuked, eventually posing true danger to scores of Israelis.
A disaster waiting to happen? (Photo: AFP)
Lindenstrauss found that the Interior Ministry, led by Eli Yishai, was responsible for the majority of the operational failures; adding that while Yishai warned of the FRS' dismal state and demanded additional budgets – that was all he focused on, paying little attention to the FRS' training needs and emergency readiness.
The interior minister chose an "all or nothing" approach, the report concluded, and failed to prioritize the Fire Department's true needs according to past recommendations.
"As a senior member of the Cabinet, Yishai should have… taken an active role in ensuring the FRS' emergency readiness, as it is an organization whose purpose is to save lives. As such, the interior minister is doubly responsible," the report said.
'Vital needs ignored'
Finance Minister Steinitz, Lindenstrauss wrote, should have used his senior position in the Cabinet to devise solutions to the budgetary issues, but instead opted to do little beyond demand a reform in FRS.
The report concluded that Steinitz "Should have found alternative sources for these critical funds, or at the very least outlined how the Interior Ministry should reallocate existing funds.
"(Steinitz') approach to the matter was overly-simplistic, exaggerated and disorganized," the report said.
'Tragedy could have been avoided' (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv)
Lindenstrauss noted that the finance minister "Eventually recognized the need for the transfer of emergency funds, regardless of a reform… but he procrastinated greatly before finally allocating the FRS NIS 100 million."
The report blasted both the Treasury and the Interior Ministry for butting heads instead of coming to an agreement, thus "ignoring vital needs – a situation which eventually caused significant damage to the FRS' emergency readiness."
The conflict continued despite both ministries being acutely aware of the fact that a large-scale emergency could take place at any minute, the report said.
Lindenstrauss concluded that despite the fact that the failures can be tracked back to several past governments, it is the current one that is responsible for the tragedy, "As it took place on 'their watch.'"
Still, the comptroller was careful and did not state that Steinitz and Yishai were "personally" responsible for the disaster, saying only that he attributed "special responsibly" to both over the fire's catastrophic outcome.
"The practical meaning of accountability, in the public form, is the understanding that in certain cases, when circumstances justify it, an official should draw his own conclusions, even if it means stepping down; otherwise, said official shoulders the responsibility for all that happens, both good and bad," Lindenstrauss concluded.
"It seems that the norms of 'Responsibility' and 'Accountability' – as practiced in other western countries and which manifest, at times of serious governmental failures, in the tangible act of resignation – have remained theoretical in Israel, thought of as academic terms, whose place is limited to the reports of commissions of inquiry alone."
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