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What, exactly, is a government? What exactly does it do when it "governs?" What happens when its members go up to the cabinet meeting room, bypass the photographers, and sit on two sides of a table and vote on what they call "proposals for decision."

The answer to these questions is: nothing. So they talk; so they vote; so they decide. So what? The government spokesman, Benjamin Netanyahu, served throughout the past decade and a half in roles as prime minister, finance minister and, again, prime minister. Against the background of the raging fires on the Carmel, it appears that the offices he headed didn't do anything. And if they did something, they made matters worse.

Nor did the defense ministry excel. The politicians passed themselves off as purposeful responders to 3 A.M. phone calls. In reality, they didn't have a clue as to what to do when the phone rang at 3 P.M.

When the tragedy occurred, Netanyahu took off his jacket, left Sara at home, and dressed up as an operations officer at the front-line command headquarters. This is an unqualified, apathetic man who pretends to know how much yellowcake uranium is in the third centrifuge from the left at Isfahan.

Now he has been boasting about how he tapped his international connections to whisk Berlusconi from a party in Naples for high school seniors, and schnorr from Sarkozy sacks of fire-deterrent sitting in Marseilles (and which, Netanyahu happened not to know, can be found in storehouses in Israel ).

Without having a clue about the capacity of the civil front to withstand Qassam, Grad and Shahab attacks, he wanted to deal with the issue of a war on Iran?

The fire on the Carmel is Netanyahu's Hurricane Katrina, his BP oil spill. His behavior is reminiscent of George W. Bush's blundering responses to the hurricane in New Orleans, and to Barack Obama's dealings with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Photos of Bush's and Obama's demeanor annoyed citizens, rather than calming them. Similarly, Netanyahu's appearance has worsened the demoralized national mood wrought by the dozens of fatalities, the mass evacuation and the helplessness of a state which within a day transformed from a world power and provider of humanitarian aid to a beggar dependent on charity airplanes and fire prevention materials.

The punishment for the sinful, years-long neglect of fire prevention arrangements must not begin and end with the firing of Minister Eli Yishai. Three state comptrollers in the past two decades frequently brought up fire prevention issues and the government's shortcomings. And when it was decided that the air force should prepare Yasur helicopters for fire prevention duty, one ministry (interior ) had authority, a second ministry (defense ) had equipment and personnel and a third ministry (finance ) had the budgets; but the three sides of the triangle simply did not know how to work together.

The house is on fire? That's okay - the main thing is to minimize insurance payments.

What is the meaning of the phrase "ministerial responsibility"? Gentlemen, prepare for war, said Moshe Dayan in 1973, the responsible minister who should have confirmed that the men really were preparing.

Netanyahu and Yishai will try to claim that they said "gentlemen, prepare for a fire." That is an empty statement and it makes a mockery of responsibility.

At the press briefing on Thursday, ministers and five three-star generals were seated alongside Netanyahu. The heads of the IDF, the prison service, the police, fire and rescue service and Magen David Adom were there as well. It was an impressive in the same way that the rostrum of Communist notables during October Revolution Day celebrations at Red Square was impressive. And the actual level of efficiency it projected was akin to the decrepit Soviet system which crashed and burned.

Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles in 1991 led to improvements in the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command. During the past two decades, the legend of the IDF being more efficient than any other organization has remained intact, despite coordination failures with firefighters.

The National Emergency Authority was established, but the Home Front Command does not have planes; and if the Emergency Authority knew that there was no fire-prevention materials, it was powerless to change the situation.

Neither the rather weak Public Security Ministry, nor the rather busy Defense Ministry can defend the civilian. What is needed is a sea change in the way the home front is defined: the Home Front Command, and the Fire and Rescue Service need to be reorganized as one streamlined apparatus, as a police and rescue ministry (which is currently called the Public Security Ministry ).

More than anything, a prime minister is needed. Spokesmen's duties can be left to police and firefighter officials.