6A - Monday, December 6, 2010 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom
Israeli public criticizes leaders'management of wildfire
JERUSALEM (AP) -Israelioffi-
cials came under sharp criticism
yesterday for their handling of the
country's deadliest wildfire ever,
prompting critics to ask whether
the nation's leaders can cope with
more serious challenges, like rocket
attacks and a nuclear-armed Iran.
Israelis have been riveted to
round-the-clock coverage of the
blaze, which has claimed 41 lives
and devastated one of the few
forests in this arid country. The
site of bumbling leaders and over-
whelmed rescuers turning to the
outside world for help sparked
anger over the vulnerability of a
nervous - and densely populated
- home front.
Late yesterday, a senior fire
official, Boaz Rakia, declared the
blaze under control, though it was
unclear when it would be extin-
Israel has long prided itself on
its ability to minimize civilian
casualties in times of conflict. But
just four years after a devastating
war against Lebanese Hezbol-
lah guerrillas, in which the civil
defense system was caught off
guard by waves of rocket fire, the
nation still appears ill-prepared to
handle its next disaster.
"We are entitled to expect of our
governments not to be smart only
after the fact but - at least once -
to be smart before disaster strikes,"
Nahum Barnea, the nation's pre-
eminent newspaper columnist,
wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily.
"That hasn't happened because we
have no national leadership here
that is capable of rising above the
Israeli media are pointing fin-
gers atanumberofofficials, includ-
ing Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu and Interior Minister
Eli Yishai, a politician from the
ultra-Orthodox Shas party whose
office oversees fire services. Yishai
made a handy target because his
party is widely despised by Israel's
secular Jewish majority.
But there was little expectation
heads will roll, a prospect likely to
add to the lack of confidence in the
With national leaders routinely
describing Iran - which Israel
and the U.S. believe is trying to
develop nuclear weapons - as the
country's greatest threat, Maariv
columnist Ben Caspit asked how
Israel could conceive of attacking
Iran's nuclear facilities, "an act lia-
ble to lead to a war of missiles on an
enormous scale never seen before
in the world, without even giving
a shred of consideration to Israel's
ability to put out fires?"
The blaze, believed to be the
result of negligence by two teenag-
ers smoking a water pipe, broke out
on Thursday, and quickly spread
because of unseasonably hot and
dry conditions. A 20-square-mile
(50-square-kilometer) area, about
half of the Carmel forest, a popular
nature spot on the outskirts of Isra-
el's third-largest city, Haifa, has
AA TOrr c af A HIa yteHILL/A
An Israeli firefighter takes a break as he fights a blaze in the youth village Yemin Orde, near the northern city of Haifa yesterday.
been torched, and 17,000 people
were evacuated from their homes.
The blaze engulfed a bus full of
prison guards helping in rescue
efforts, killing 37 people in a mat-
ter of moments. Two senior police
officers and two firefighters were
Over the weekend, Israeli TV
and radio stations carried reports
from the site of what they dubbed
"the Carmel disaster."
Yesterdays's newspapers print-
ed profiles of the victims, among
them a 16-year-old honors student
who volunteered with the fire ser-
vice.~Reflecting the deep sense of
national loss, radio stations broad-
cast somber music throughout the
day - a custom usually confined to
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