Israel MPs to debate calls for forest fire inquiry

Israel MPs to debate calls for forest fire inquiry

08 Dezember 2010

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Israel —  Israeli MPs were on Wednesday to debate calls for an inquiry into the country’s worst-ever fire, as the government watchdog prepared to release a report on the Jewish state’s fire service.

The report by the State Comptroller was widely expected to detail serious inadequacies in the nation’s firefighting abilities — weaknesses highlighted last week when a devastating fire swept through a northern forest.

The blaze killed 42 people and consumed thousands of acres of forest, prompting calls for an investigation that could assign blame and responsibility.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who faced harsh criticism over Israel’s lack of preparation for the enormous blaze, has said he favours a probe.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly opposes the idea, saying the Comptroller’s report should preclude the need for a second probe.

The report, to be released on Wednesday afternoon, is expected to strongly criticise Israel’s meagre firefighting resources, which include just 1,500 firefighters and not a single firefighting aircraft.

But it is unlikely to assign individual blame for the deficiencies, prompting calls for a specific probe of the fire in the Carmel mountains near the northern city of Haifa.

A poll carried out by the Haaretz daily found little public support for a new investigation, which could take months and prove costly.

Just 39 percent of Israelis said they wanted a new probe, while 54 percent said the watchdog’s report was “sufficient.”

Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss decided to compile a report on the country’s firefighting capacity after completing a study of Israel’s preparedness for the 2006 war with Lebanon.

That study, published in 2007, found the nation’s firefighting capacity was its weakest link in terms of homefront preparedness.

During the war, rockets fired by Lebanese militant group Hezbollah frequently ignited blazes in Israel’s often-parched forest areas.

Israel’s limited firefighting resources forced the Jewish state to seek international assistance to put out the fire that ravaged the Carmel mountains last week.

More than 16 nations offered equipment, personnel and firefighting aircraft, finally bringing the blaze under control three days after it began.

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