Minister Yisrael Katz is considered to be one of the leaders of Likud's intermediate generation. In terms of personal ambition, he ranks with others in the party who dream of reaching the top spot - that is, of vying to become prime minister when the Benjamin Netanyahu era draws to a close. On his way there, he has to prove himself in the government ministry he heads, a ministry that influences every citizen in Israel and every foreigner who visits the country: the transportation ministry. His record so far is fairly lackluster.
Last year Katz's face was plastered on billboards calling on him to increase budget allocations for the campaign to limit road accidents. Focusing on him personally was harsh and exaggerated; people are not hurt in traffic accidents because of Katz. Yet still unresolved is the question of responsibility for areas that are under the purview of the transportation ministry. More precisely, is this strictly ministerial responsibility of a bureaucratic nature - the kind Moshe Dayan invoked to profess his innocence regarding the blunders of the 1973 Yom Kippur War - or is it direct personal and professional responsibility?
Katz is the government figure responsible for Israel's railroad system, which appears to be stuck on the tracks due to a number of problems, among them, a failure to acquire equipment and the workers committee's opposition to necessary changes. During his term as minister, Katz has overtly refrained from visiting the railroad, as though his non-appearance on the tracks exempts him from responsibility.
In contrast, he adopted just the opposite position regarding the contamination of airplane fuel at Ben-Gurion Airport. Katz rushed to appear at the airport, planted himself in front of the cameras during peak viewing hours for the nightly news, delivered his message to the people, and appointed the director-general of his ministry to head an investigation committee. Other than climbing up to the control tower and directing the landing and departure of planes with his own hands, Katz appeared to do everything to project an image of personal control of the situation.
Yet the glory which redounds to those who prevent aviation disasters comes with a price: Katz is also responsible for the ongoing twists in the saga. On the eve of Independence Day, he decided that the crisis was behind us, and ordered the refueling of the planes with regular fuel before the fuel pipes had been cleaned. Just four hours later it became clear that this order was impetuous. Three planes were found to have polluted fuel; the gas pumping was stopped, and additional flights were delayed. The argument between different laboratories analyzing the contaminated fuel has yet to be resolved.
Katz's response to the Ben-Gurion Airport affair proves yet again that television appearances are no substitute for the transportation minister assuming responsibility for the bodies under his authority.
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