The Israel Defense Forces is examining ways to beef up the civilian firefighting services using its own firefighters and military aircraft, though it would prefer to let the civilian authorities handle fires.
Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh is coordinating research on the issue for the IDF, which includes examining the aerial firefighting capabilities of the Israel Air Force.
The IAF suspended its aerial firefighting operations several years ago because of damage to the helicopters that were used for the missions. If the cabinet decides to create a military firefighting squadron, it would consist of planes rather than helicopters, in light of the damage sustained to the helicopters used in the past.
The IAF is expected to complete its review of the issue by the end of the month, after which the army will present its findings and the available options to the political leadership.
While military officials would prefer leaving the job of creating and operating an aerial firefighting service to civilian authorities, that depends on the cabinet.
If the military is roped into aerial firefighting, the state would probably either purchase new planes meant for firefighting or retrofit Hercules transport planes for IAF use. The ability of the Hercules to fly at low altitudes at night, using night-vision equipment, gives it an advantage.
Senior IAF officials closely monitored the foreign aircraft that fought the Carmel forest in order to gauge their suitability here.
The Prime Minister's Office coordinated the foreign aerial firefighting assistance, without the close cooperation of the IAF. In retrospect it appears that more planes were brought in from other countries than needed.
The IDF and the Defense Ministry are also examining a number of options with regard to ground-based firefighting.
These include expanding existing plans to deploy military firefighters to civilian fire departments as reinforcements. In such a case, the military units would be assigned in advance to specific civilian fire stations and deploy in the event of emergency.
Another possibility is giving firefighting instruction to army companies that have been trained to respond to nuclear, biological and chemical warfare.
When the fire in the Carmel began, government officials briefly deliberated over whether to assign the police or the Home Front Command responsibility for coordinating the response. The IDF was prepared to take charge, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to give the job to the police while reserving firefighting operations for the firefighting services.
The Home Front Command ended up providing assistance to the police and firefighters. But IDF officials say that in the event of a wartime fire the Home Front Command would have to be given more responsibility, because its capabilities make it better equipped to deal with a large-scale disaster that requires coordination with many different organizations.
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