carnegie logo

Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next »

ISRAEL: Carmel fire is finally under control

The massive aerial offensive is over. The efforts of dozens of assorted aircraft that flew hundreds of sorties in three days were crowned by two round trips of the gigantic Evergreen supertanker that finished off the job, the peak of a splendid air show. The commander of Israel's air force thanked the many foreign teams that took part in the huge effort, and the skies over Haifa are suddenly silent. 

After days of flames that gripped the Israel's Carmel woodlands and mesmerized the nation, came the magic word everyone was waiting for. "Control has been attained," announced Fire Chief Shimon Romach Sunday evening, and police officials allowed all but one evacuated community to return to their homes.

Still, "control doesn't mean it's over," cautioned firefighter Boaz Rakia, who expects renewed outbursts of flames in numerous hot spots. Firefighters will remain widely deployed, he said.

Earlier in the morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held the weekly cabinet meeting in Tirat HaCarmel, one of the affected communities where thousands of people had been evacuated. "We must help the evacuees, rebuild their homes and rehabilitate the infrastructures and we must do so as quickly as possible," he said.

Netanyahu instructed ministers to expedite damage assessment and compensation plans and allocate an immediate $17 million. He also asked to see a plan for rehabilitation of the Carmel landscape and wildlife within 21 days.

Initial figures estimate the overall damage caused by the fire at $450 million, according to the Maariv daily, which also said that had the money been spent in the right place at the right time, these costs could have been avoided.

Shelly Yechimovitch, a Labor party lawmaker, is among the only legislators who regularly attended the parliamentary committee discussions concerned with the poor state of Israel's firefighting authorities. She has followed their plea for funding for several years. The events of recent days have sparked a campaign calling for the head of Eli Yishai, minister of Interior Affairs from the ultra-Orthodox party  Shas, which isn't shy about using political clout for its own interests. But the left-leaning, staunchly secular legislator dismisses this. "Pointing to him as a scapegoat is entirely without grounds," she says. 

Yechimovitch, one of the last remaining socialists, blames the Finance Ministry for systematic attrition in Israel's public services, drying up their budgets until they beg for privatization. Firefighters have been worn down by the system, she charged.  She spared harsher words on a day dozens more victims were being laid to rest.

The lack of preparedness for the forest fire also shows that Israel may not be ready for war, either.

Although the war against Hezbollah in 2006 led to a military overhaul and national scale drills held on a regular basis, other areas of preparedness still need some thought. Haifa was well within Hezbollah's rocket range in 2006, and targeted frequently. Any one of the nearly 4,000 rockets fired into Israel that summer could have set off such a fire that would have constituted another front, forcing authorities to prioritize disasters and resources. As it was, a quarter of a million trees were burned down that summer.  Haifa offers another challenge. The bay-area industries that include refineries and other chemical-heavy plants are a first-class strategic target. The Ministry of Environmental Protection admitted in recent days that it wasn't fully prepared for a major hazardous substance event. Already now, authorities are warning the public to avoid contact with residual fire-retardant chemicals.

Earlier last week, one of Israel's main cellphone companies, Cellcom, was paralyzed, leaving more than 3 million subscribers out of touch for an entire day. Though eclipsed by the fire, the national-scale meltdown requires some thought in an emergency context. Cyber-terrorism wasn't ruled out.


Both the Palestinians and Turkey downplayed their firefighting assistance. But diplomacy under fire also has its own dynamic. After Netanyahu called Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and thanked him for his country's help, an Israeli diplomat was dispatched to Geneva to meet with the Turkish foreign undersecretary in an effort to repair relations. Turkey has insisted that relations can't be improved unless Israel apologizes for the flotilla takeover, while Israel says it will do no such thing. But Netanyahu said Israel would "find the way" to express its thanks.


Monday morning brought with it the other word Israelis have been waiting for besides control: Rain. But experts warn heavy rains after fires can sweep away topsoil and ash, impairing the forest's ability to rehabilitate itself and increasing the threat of flooding.


-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.

Comments () | Archives (6)

, US already subsidize every Israeli citizen with $3 billion grant a year openly plus unadvertised tens of billions more through interest free loans and credits
Total nonsense!

Good for Israel, and not so good for US tax payer, stay tune for outflow of even more capital from US to Israel to repair damages caused by fire, US already subsidize every Israeli citizen with $3 billion grant a year openly plus unadvertised tens of billions more through interest free loans and credits plus various grant through various US governmental and non governmental organizations, of course one can add more billions through private fundraisers and once in while US appetizer gifts to entice Israel to temporary halt her illegal activities in tune of billions more!
Basically Israeli citizens are being taking care of by US more than average US citizens in rural area can wish from their government, meanwhile Venezuela government subsidizes fuel for some poor Americans during cold winters but no one can recall Israel helping poor US citizens in any shape or substance, speaks volumes for corruptions in US legislative branch and then more!

fondest respect,to all those who lost their lives and long life to their loved ones,
and gratitude to those brave people who came to our aid.
thank you.

Israel got a wake-up call re lack of emergency prepairedness. I hope some is listening.

Reading this story, I found the subject matter as sad and depressing as are all such incidents where, in attempting to preserve life and save the natural habitat, so many deaths have taken place.

Yet there is comfort to be drawn from the response of surrounding countries and local communities; a desire to help, to mitigate the circumstances and to do whatever is necessary to prevent matters getting totally out of control. A rare glimpse of unity in a region long thought devoid of any such cohesion.

If only the same could be said of that other inferno that has burnt so deeply into the psyche of both Palestinians and Israelis. I wonder why the world's response there has been so fitful, so lacking in urgency that the conflagration has been allowed almost free rein for well over sixty years.

Mankind, it seems, is more than willing to tackle natural disasters. But those of the man-made variety, these appear to call for more specialised techniques, ones that have yet to be developed but whose deployment could so easily overpower fires far fiercer than those currently ravaging the hillsides of Carmel.


Great news for Israel!


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Recent News
Introducing World Now |  September 23, 2011, 8:48 am »



About the Contributors