Knesset Unable to Muster Support for State Inquiry Into Carmel Fire

Intense coalition lobbying of the Knesset Control Committee seems to have achieved its objective; Interior Minister Yishai hoped commission would clear him of responsibility, but Netanyahu objected to probe.

Intense coalition lobbying against a state commission to investigate the Carmel fire has apparently succeeded. It looks unlikely that the Knesset Control Committee will be able to muster a majority for the panel at its session today.

Committee chairman MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima ), who is spearheading the move to set up an inquiry panel, has not decided yet whether to bring the issue to a vote in today's session on the state comptroller's report on the fire services.

Eli Yishai- Tomer Appelbaum
Tomer Appelbaum

Kadima MKs blamed the coalition on Monday for trying to "buy off" MKs who had supported setting up the commission and change their vote.

Likud figures collected signatures of coalition members in the Control Committee who objected to a state commission.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who strongly objects to a state probe, called Interior Minister Eli Yishai several times last week to dissuade him from acting to set up such a panel. Yishai was calling for a commission in the hope it would clear him of exclusively responsibility for the failures of the fire services, of which his ministry is in charge.

On Monday, Yishai said he still supported a commission in principle, but Shas' representative in the Control Committee, MK Amnon Cohen (Shas ), is expected to vote against it.

At a stormy session of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee yesterday, blame was laid on Yishai for a catalog of failures that led to the Carmel fire disaster last week.

Senior firefighters, heads of local authorities that were ravaged by the fire and Knesset members blasted Yishai for the debacle.

Yishai said he was not evading responsibility, but admitted he had not allocated sufficient funds to the fire services. He argued, however, that he had warned of the dangerous situation for years.

Yishai denied reports of a deal between Shas and Likud in which Shas would oppose a commission in exchange for Netanyahu's postponing of the military conversion bill.

Yishai refused to say whether his Shas party would support setting up a state investigation into the fire, although he himself was in favor of the motion.

"We didn't [allocate] sufficient money, I admit," Yishai said, but presented letters and debate transcripts in which he had warned of the situation over the years.

"I'm not running away from responsibility .... I don't know any minister before me who sent warnings and letters ... and finally achieved something," he said.

The head of the Isfiya local council, Wajeh Kayouf, said at the meeting that "since the fire, I have people without water and electric power. We don't have a single firefighting vehicle. We are citizens of Israel."

According to MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ), "the Finance Ministry squeezed the fire services dry. One fire truck in Isfiya would have prevented the disaster. This is the lesson - not to reduce the state's services."

The chairman of the Union of Local Authorities, Shlomo Bohbot, said "we're dealing with an extremely grave result of many years. The coalition is going to vote on a budget based on a cutback policy. This is crazy. When they talk about allocating NIS 100 million to the fire services, does anyone ask himself where the money comes from? Not from the treasury. The local authorities have to pay NIS 60 million and the Interior Ministry ... pays NIS 30 million. It's a joke."

Tirat Carmel Mayor Arieh Tal said "we received no warning of the fire; only people who saw the smoke cloud alerted us. There was no coordination .... The firefighting services we had could not stop the fire."

The chairman of the national firefighters organization, Yoav Gadasi, complained that nobody had consulted with the firefighters over setting up the new firefighting authority.