Supertanker owners say Israel rejected initial offer for firefighting plane
The U.S. company Evergreen says their first offer was refused by Foreign Ministry, so plane only began operations on the fourth day of the fire; PMO issues contradicting statement saying plane was ordered on first day of the fire.
Representatives of the American company Evergreen, owners and operators of the 'supertanker' jet, claim that they had already offered their services to the Israeli Foreign Ministry on the first day of what would become the massive Carmel forest fire, but that their offer of aid had been refused.
Yoram Gavron, representative of Evergreen in Israel, told Israel Radio in an interview on Tuesday that he relayed the offer after he received approval from the president of the company in the United States.
Gavron said that the Foreign Ministry situation room informed him that they are not discussing the matter with private individuals or organizations. Gavron also claimed that if the government had not stalled in approving the supertanker, the Carmel fire would have caused significantly less damage.
The Foreign Ministry completely denied Gavron's allegations. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor told Haaretz, "As soon as we understood that scale of the fire on Thursday [December 2], the Foreign Ministry engaged a long list of governments and other bodies in order to bring firefighting aircraft and fire-dousing materials to Israel."
"An official written message from Gavron only arrived late on Thursday night, and by early Friday morning the jet was ordered. Gavron's offer was dealt with on the spot and was not rejected."
The supertanker, considered the largest firefighting aircraft in the world, began operations only four days after the Carmel fire had already started. The jet is a Boeing 747 model that has been modified to fight fires. In addition to the American crew that piloted the craft, there was an Israeli crew on deck that coordinated the mission.
Initially, the government claimed that the Prime Minister's Military Secretary Yohanan Locker had found the Arizona-based company that operates the supertanker via the internet using a Google search.
The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement Tuesday saying that "the Prime Minister's Military Secretary Yohanan Locker, who was the one who found the plane, told Netanyahu of it already on the first day of the fire, which wasThursday night. Netanyahu then instructed Locker to order the plane right away, which was done on Thursday at 10 P.M."
The supertanker itself and the crew that operates it and are expected to return to the United States on Wednesday. The company is expected to pay for the privilege of leaving the jet parked at Ben Gurion airport, and it is unclear who will pay for these expenses, and why the jet is still in Israel.
One of the theories floated for the supertanker's continued presence in Israel is that the jet has no permanent base, and it is waiting to be called to another mission before it leaves the country.
Last week the Knesset Finance Committee authorized a payment of NIS 6 million to Evergreen for four days of activity. Since the jet was eventually needed for fewer than four days, the difference will be returned to government coffers.