Netanya: Turning Point?

There's no need to wait until the national defense drill that begins this week is finished before reaching the unfortunate conclusions about the way things are being done.

In the State of Israel, well-versed in disasters, almost every day is a good time to test the readiness of the home front - whether for earthquakes or rocket attacks. Thus, there is no great surprise in the proximity between last week's lethal gas explosion in Netanya and Turning Point 5, the national defense drill that begins this week and is meant to test and train emergency service personnel. There's no need to wait until the drill is finished before reaching the unfortunate conclusions about the way things are being done.

Netanya is a city with a history of crime and terror attacks. Its location close to the Green Line has made it easier for suicide bombers to reach it in the past decade, ultimately giving rise to Operation Defensive Shield. The Shin Bet security service, Israel Defense Forces and the separation fence have succeeded in greatly reducing the number of terror attacks there, but Netanya is still a site of underworld warfare, which takes a toll on civilians as well as crime families.

In such circumstances, one could have expected that local police would work more closely with fire and rescue services, government ministries like the Infrastructure Ministry, and municipal emergency and social services. But these services have only a loose alliance. And not just in Netanya, of course: In most cities and districts, there is no common language linking these various institutions.

Had the necessary coordination existed, when the first warning of a gas leak came in, the matter would have been dealt with rapidly and properly, and there would have been some follow-up. In the absence of such coordination, however, there was an outrageous delay of several hours during which nothing was done - and then an explosion that killed four. This appears to indicate serious negligence.

The local authorities have a tough time, not just in terms of their budgets, but also vis-a-vis administration. It would be appropriate to examine whether the intermittent suggestions about instituting municipal policing would improve the situation or just make it worse. Other options may also be worth implementing, like the idea of establishing a municipal advisory panel next to police headquarters, which Uri Bar-Lev did when he was in charge of the police's Southern District.

Whichever recommendations are ultimately adopted, the primary goal has to be creation of a closer connection between the various institutions involved, facilitated by the presence of police officers, firefighters, medical personnel and representatives of certain municipal departments in a single location.

Israel is liable to be hit by disasters far greater than the gas explosion in Netanya. We must not delay any longer in acting to remove hazards and preparing for the day of distress that is yet to come.