Where Was the Efficient Israeli Government Before the Storm?

Reasonable advance preparations would not have reduced the amount of snow that fell, but could have reduced somewhat the suffering and distress.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

At the end of Saturday, when the remains of the storm were still visible everywhere, the citizens of Israel were given - at least those who still had electricity - an opportunity to watch our well-oiled and well-muscled government machine at its peak of efficiency.

The prime minister, the police commissioner, the chairman of the Israel Electric Corporation and the mayor of Jerusalem all gathered together in the municipal command center in the besieged capital to inspect the damage. In front of the cameras everything worked smoothly like a Swiss watch - without glitches and with perfect timing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts were way over the top as he tried to show the country he alone managed the war against the evil General Winter. He investigated, he instructed and he joked. He took pride: “Because of excellent functioning and extraordinary coordination, many lives were saved.”

It's true. The police, IEC technicians, Magen David Adom staff, municipal employees, soldiers and all the first responders are entitled to all the praise and thanks. There is no doubt that their courage and self sacrifice prevented disasters.

Only one question remains unanswered: Where was this command center before the storm, on Tuesday and Wednesday for example? We weren’t really surprised. We knew a serious storm was approaching, even if the cool, composed models who forecast the weather on television completely missed out on its strength and scope. One of them even made fun on the air of the citizens he met in the supermarket stocking up on food, water and emergency lighting - before the storm.

But we expect a bit more gravitas and responsibility from the government, not to mention a greater ability to look ahead. Reasonable advance preparations would not have reduced the amount of snow that fell, but that could have reduced the number of hours of suffering and distress suffered by tens of thousands of citizens - on the roads or in their homes without electricity and heat. It was possible to put the army on alert beforehand. The IDF was put into action only in the middle of the event. The activation of the National Emergency Authority should have been considered beforehand, and where was the Home Front Command?

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira rushed to announce he would examine the conduct of the various bodies. His report will certainly be presented sometime in the middle of the summer, or next fall, when the many problems will already have been fixed - but it is good he will present his report, and even better that the examination starts now. Without this threat hanging over the heads of the leadership, it is not certain the deficiencies would be corrected.

A large part of the Comptroller’s report will naturally be dedicated to the Israel Electric Corporation, whose chiefs appeared in the media yesterday lavishing praise - mostly for themselves. Our monopolistic IEC spends a fortune on public service announcements telling us to save electricity and be careful around electricity, as if everything was our fault alone. And now when the real test arrives, not in the form of a tornado or hurricane or severe earthquake, God forbid - but in the face of 50 centimeters of snow, many neighborhoods in Jerusalem and entire towns in the north are cut off from electricity for days.

Vehicles are seen stranded in snow at the entrance of Jerusalem on December 13, 2013 following a snowstorm. Credit: AFP

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