State Comptroller Expected to Assign 'Special Responsibility' to Yishai, Steinitz for Carmel Fire

Report expected to slam Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

The state comptroller's report on the Carmel fire, to be published Wednesday, is expected to assign "special responsibility" to Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, but will not call explicitly for their ouster. Rather, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss plans to leave this decision to the government and the public.

The report will also assign general responsibility for the 2010 blaze to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

Lindenstrauss is expected to stress that responsibility must not be shifted from the cabinet to lower-level officials. While the latter also bear some blame, he will say, that in no way absolves the former.

But he is expected to assign personal responsibility to several such officials, both past and present, in the Israel Police, Prison Service and Fire and Rescue Services. He also plans to send the report to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who can consider pursuing legal action.

The fire began on the outskirts of the northern town of Isfiya on December 2, 2010, and rapidly spread through the Carmel Forest. At one point, a bus carrying Prison Service cadets and officers was trapped by the flames while en route to extract prisoners from Damon Prison, which was threatened by the fire. The bus went up in flames, and 37 passengers were killed.

Altogether the fire killed 44 people, destroyed 18 houses and damaged 173 more.

The 506-page report is the fruit of 18 months of effort on the part of around 30 state comptroller's office personnel into the conduct of numerous government bodies with regard to the fire. These included the police, prison and fire services, the interior and defense ministries, the Jewish National Fund (which manages the Carmel Forest ), the Israel Air Force and the relevant local governments.

But while several individuals are expected to be implicated in the report, Yishai and Steinitz are expected to come in for particularly scathing criticism.

An earlier draft of the report stated that Yishai, whose ministry is responsible for the Fire and Rescue Services, attempted to increase the agency's budget but failed to examine its needs in detail, to improve its performance or to examine whether it was prepared to handle a major disaster such as the Carmel fire. Moreover, he never considered boosting the agency's funding using the Interior Ministry's own budget, instead seeking only to extract more funds from the Finance Ministry.

According to the draft report, Steinitz was partly responsible for the firefighters' equipment and personnel shortages because he conditioned an increase in their budget on a major reform aimed at saving money in the future.

Consequently, the final report is expected to assign both men with special responsibility for the fact that the fire services were unprepared to cope with a major fire.

Aharonovitch's responsibility stems from his ministry's responsibility for the Israel Police and the Prison Service, the performance of both of which during the fire was problematic.

Netanyahu, the draft report said, failed to resolve the dispute between Yishai and Steinitz and caused a delay of several months in allocating critical funds.

Nevertheless, the report will stress that the current government's failures do not absolve previous governments of responsibility, since the fire services' problems have been known for years.