Benjamin Netanyahu - GPO - 19.12.2011
Benjamin Netanyahu during an unveiling ceremony for a memorial to the 2010 Carmel fire, Dec. 19, 2011. Photo by GPO
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The State Comptroller’s final report on the December 2010 Carmel fire disaster, which was presented to cabinet ministers and other government officials yesterday, is thought to place “general” responsibility for the disaster, which claimed 44 lives, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sources familiar with the document, which has not been released to the public, say that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has criticized Netanyahu harshly for failing to step in to mend the deep disagreements between the interior and finance ministries over the country’s firefighting budget in the period leading up to the fire.

The sources say the report lays “special responsibility” for the profound mismanagement that caused the nadir in the preparedness level of the fire and rescue services in the laps of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

In response to reports yesterday about the contents of the final report, Steinitz described as “hallucinatory and completely, absolutely unfounded” any allegations regarding his responsibility for the Carmel fire.

Yishai’s office issued the following response: “The draft we received contains many factual errors; as a result the conclusions are fundamentally mistaken, and the minister will use every tool at his disposal to correct them.”

Earlier drafts of the damning report suggested that Yishai and Steinitz could be asked to leave their posts over their failures in dealing with the disaster.

The report is thought to blame Yishai for ongoing failures in the firefighting services, to stipulate that his efforts to obtain more funds for firefighters were not enough to absolve him of responsibility, and to determine that he was remiss in his duty to identify and repair the shortcomings in the fire services.

Steinitz is expected to face censure for making additional allocations to the firefighting service conditional on the introduction of comprehensive reforms, while ignoring the urgent need to deal with years of neglect of the needs of the fire and rescue services.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch is also expected to come in for criticism in the report, for problems revealed by the State Comptroller’s Office in connection to the fire with the Israel Police and the Israel Prison Service, both of which are his responsibility.

In contrast with previous investigations and reports, the final report is expected to demand that Netanyahu, Yishai, Steinitz and Aharonovitch explain to the Israeli public the reasons for the poor state of the fire and rescue services prior to the fire.

The fire claimed the lives of 44 people in all, including prison service cadets, prison guards, police commanders, one adult civilian and one teenaged volunteer. Around 32,000 dunams ‏(8,000 acres‏) of forest and an estimated four million trees were destroyed in the blaze, which also destroyed 74 homes and damaged another 173. About 17,000 people were evacuated temporarily from the area during the fire.

A team of about 30 State Comptroller’s Office employees began investigating the fire in January 2011. Among the agencies that came in for scrutiny were the police, the prison service, the Fire Fighting Commission, the interior and defense ministries, the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Air Force and local authorities in the areas affected by the fire.
In hearings that he attended in the Comptroller’s Office prior to the release of the final report, Yishai argued that responsibility for