The Blaze and the Blame

The state report on the Carmel fire response has seared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He and all others responsible must give a public accounting so that officials will never feel they have done their duty by sending letters to each other.

On Sunday, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss sent his draft report on last December's Carmel fire disaster to some 20 civil servants and elected officials. The final report, which will reflect the recipients' responses, will be published only after the Jewish holidays in October; and perhaps upon reading these responses, the comptroller will suddenly see some factual or legal point in a different light than previously, enabling the respondent in question to escape unscathed.

Nevertheless, the bulk of the report is expected to remain as is, including the harsh wording drafted by Lindenstrauss and employees of his office. It is already fair therefore to see this as a landmark in the history of the comptroller's work: It assigns blame to ministers and, above all, the prime minister - either because they were personally negligent, or merely because the systems for which their ministries were responsible failed.

This does not absolve the relevant functionaries of responsibility, each according to his own level. But it seems the comptroller was wise enough to assign blame proportionally: The more senior the office-holder and the greater his power, so too, the greater his obligations and responsibility are.

Therefore, if the comptroller discovers problems in the staff work of the police and Prison Service, or in how they functioned in the field, there is an address - the public security minister. If he shines his spotlight on the long list of serious problems at the Interior Ministry (in the firefighting services, for which it was responsible at the time, in the local authorities and in the functioning of Interior Minister Eli Yishai personally), it will be proper to move from faceless, generalized statements to focusing responsibility on the most senior official.

And if the subject is the Finance Ministry, which, in its well-intentioned but presumptuous effort to curb government spending, allocated funds in a miserly manner that undermined the preparedness of the fire and rescue services, who knows better than Finance Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz that there is no effect without a cause, and no guilt without a guilty party?

But above all - precisely where he longed to be, in the position he first attained, then lost and finally returned to - is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His public response upon receiving the draft report was eyebrow-raising but typical: There were "decades of neglect" - meaning all the years in which he served as either prime minister or finance minister.

This report has seared the prime minister. Now, he and all the other responsible parties must give a public accounting, so that elected officials will never again feel they have done their duty merely by sending letters to each other.