Israel Report on Carmel Fire Blames Finance Minister

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Interior Minister Eli Yishai bear “special responsibility” for the slow response to a forest fire that killed 44 people, the government’s top watchdog said.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss stopped short of calling for firing the two officials today in a report on the 2010 blaze, though he suggested action should be considered by the government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch also should have moved more quickly to quell the fire, he said.

The fire consumed large swathes of the Carmel Forest in northern Israel and caused the deaths of 37 Prison Service cadets whose bus was trapped by the flames. Seven others were killed in the blaze. The 506-page report criticizes Steinitz and Yishai saying they let budget considerations interfere with the need for rescue services to be prepared for a large-scale fire.

“When saving human lives from catastrophic events is at issue, a solution, even a partial one, must be provided,” Lindenstrauss wrote in the report. “An uncompromising defense of the comprehensive budgetary framework, justified though it may be, does not mean that one cannot find a solution within that very framework.”

‘Delusional and Baseless’

It was the second time in a month that Netanyahu and his administration were criticized by Lindenstrauss. A June 13 report blamed the prime minister for a disorganized response to the breaching of a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip by a Turkish ship in which nine Turkish citizens were killed in fighting with Israeli commandoes.

The Finance Ministry said “the report remains delusional and baseless in the extreme.”

“The report threatens Israel’s economic stability because it makes it impossible to uphold the budget law,” the ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

Netanyahu issued a statement by text message thanking Lindenstrauss for the report and saying many of the shortcomings identified in the report have been fixed.

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