Seeing the Burned Forest for the Blazing Trees

The written report is final, but Lindenstrauss still has a chance to add some oral commentary to it today. If, for instance, he thinks one of the ministers should resign, he should say so.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Amir Oren
Amir Oren

As things look now, a few hours before the embargo on publishing the state comptroller's report on the Carmel Fire is lifted, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has no grounds to bemoan his fate, and the same is true of his brother and rival in distress, Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

This is not because State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss refrained from judging them harshly. But a moment before the teakettle whistled, he got cold feet and banked the coals beneath it.

The embargo itself, which is meant to enable the media to prepare their coverage in advance, is an absurd remnant of a bygone custom. It was meant to stoke artificial tension before the grand ceremony at which the envelopes are opened and the winners of these unwanted Oscars for failure are announced. But everyone, including the victims, has known the secret for months now.

The report is being published one year and seven months after the Carmel fire - and, no less important, two weeks before Lindenstrauss ends his term as state comptroller. Even if, in the brief time remaining, he somehow manages to finish his report on the war between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, it will an anticlimax. Lindenstrauss' last grand stand will be the report he releases today.

But we will nevertheless have to wait another few hours for it, until 4 P.M., while the media spends the day beating the tom-toms with ever-growing intensity.

Thus all that can legally be printed now is a kind of critique of the comptroller's work itself. And from this standpoint, the report is simultaneously impressive and disappointing.

Impressive, because the comptroller and his crew performed a noteworthy feat of data collection and analysis. If anyone ever wants to write a Ph.D. thesis on the structural problems with how successive Israeli governments dealt with the fire services, this report is the place to start. Lindenstrauss managed to see both the blazing trees and the burned forest. He also took care to immunize both cabinet ministers and officials in the fire services, police and Prison Service against demands for a criminal investigation by relatives of the 44 people killed in the fire.

But the report is disappointing because Lindenstrauss got off the bus before the last stop. He ascribed "special" or "general" responsibility for serious lapses to various ministers, including the prime minister. But when the time came to draw conclusions from his findings, he suddenly fell silent. For perhaps the first time in his seven years on the job, Lindenstrauss found himself bereft of words: He merely sent the ministers to give their accounting to the Knesset and the public.

They will do so, of course: They'll thank the comptroller for his work, dare the weak opposition to submit no-confidence motions, and vote as one man to reject them: Yishai in defense of Steinitz, Steinitz in defense of Yishai, and all of them in defense of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will hasten to declare that he bears supreme overall responsibility.

But it doesn't have to end this way. The written report is final, but Lindenstrauss still has a chance to add some oral commentary to it today. If, for instance, he thinks one of the ministers should resign, he should say so. The Knesset, the media and the public won't be more explicit than he is.

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