Netanyahu Holds Ultimate Responsibility for Carmel Fire

Draft report of State Comptroller Lindenstrauss names high-ranking officials with personal and ministerial accountability for the fire; top brass of police, fire and rescue work according to chain of command, with government at its apex.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss Sunday made his case in a draft report about personal and ministerial accountability for failures in the handling of December's devastating fire on Mount Carmel.

If it remains unchanged after the officials named in it are given a chance to respond, the report could be damaging to at least a dozen senior figures, including former Police Commissioner David Cohen; former commander of the Israel Prison Service, Benny Kaniak; head of the firefighting and rescue service at the time of the fire, Shimon Romah; commander of the Northern District of the Israel Police until last May, Maj. Gen. Shimon Koren; newly promoted police Maj. Gen. Roni Atia; and other officials, including even some from the Jewish National Fund.

netanyahu - Hagai Frid - December 6 2010
Hagai Frid

But as high-ranking as these people are, the top brass of the police, fire and rescue, and IPS all work according to a chain of command - at the apex of which is the government.

Ultimate responsibility, of course, rests with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition, Interior Minister Eli Yishai is directly responsible for the ministry that controls the fire and rescue services. For his part, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz learned Sunday that the treasure chest of riches to which he holds the key is not only an asset. When he refuses to open it to fund a certain entity for reasons that have been well documented - that chest becomes a burden.

Lindenstrauss gave Netanyahu, Yishai and Steinitz the same lesson in humility that Spiderman heard from his uncle, played by Cliff Robertson: "With great power comes great responsibility."

The real tragic hero of the draft report is Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. From the first afternoon of the disaster until the fire was extinguished, Aharonovitch functioned well, filling the void left by Yishai. But this might not have been necessary if the agencies under the aegis of his ministry, the police and the IPS, had been better prepared. Aharonovitch is responsible, but less so than Steinitz, Yishai and Netanyahu.

Aharonovitch can be likened to the late Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff David Elazar, who complained bitterly that the Agranat Commission investigating the 1973 Yom Kippur War did not consider that his leadership during the war itself "redeemed" him after he contributed to the failures that led to its outbreak.

Lindenstrauss is the last senior official in government service who still remembers the Agranat Commission report, as a lawyer close to the government at the time. Perhaps he indeed corrected a certain distortion in the draft report on the Carmel fire, as compared to the Agranat Commission report.

Netanyahu is the "Moshe Dayan" of the Carmel fire. The Agranat Commission praised Dayan for telling the General Staff months before: "Gentlemen, prepare for war" - although he did nothing to ensure that the army was actually ready. Ultimately, however, the commission did not censure him.

Lindenstrauss, however, turned the tables: His draft makes short shrift of Netanyahu's claims that he returned from a trip to Greece earlier in 2010 knowing all about aerial firefighting, and asked senior officials to come up with a model based on what he saw - because nothing ever came of it, apparently.

Still, like a draft indictment, the final report may lose its sting, depending on the responses of those named. However, that rarely happens, because they are given an opportunity to to present their responses while the report is in preparation.

The Defense Ministry, which is at the center a previous report dealing with the firefighting services' performance on the home front during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, is expected to be harshly criticized by Lindenstrauss in another report regarding its aerial firefighting array.

Netanyahu forced the IDF to establish a "squadron" of firefighting aircraft, which as so far been a wasteful experiment, with expensive planes that were purchased at Netanyahu's insistance being grounded for lack of suitability. And meanwhile there is no money to install fire hydrants at vital locations around Israel's cities.