12/05/2010 03:04

Israel can expect devastation, not only in its cities, but in its forests as well, in a future war with Hamas and Hizbullah.

Imagine a future war with Hizbullah and Hamas. If we believe the recent predictions of outgoing head of Military Intelligence Maj.- Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel will face missiles and rockets of various sizes landing everywhere throughout the country – from Kiryat Shmona in the North to Dimona in the South and through Tel Aviv in the center.

If this is true, then Israel can expect, on the one hand, devastation in its cities like never before – but also in its forests.

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, while rockets landed frequently in cities in the North, particularly Haifa, they also landed in fields and forests, burning down some 15,000 dunams.

While this is just under half the amount burned down since the Carmel inferno began on Thursday, it should have been enough to serve as a wake-up call for the government that something needed to be done to deal with future large-scale forest fires. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

All Israelis are familiar with the changes in the IDF – the increased training and upgraded weapons and defense systems – since the war as well as the changes to the Home Front Command, which has received additional budget allocations to hold nationwide exercises aimed at preparing the country for the expected devastation from the next war.

But while the Defense Ministry established the National Emergency Administration and made other critical changes to the Home Front Command, the Olmert and Netanyahu governments both continued the decades-old neglect of the Fire and Rescue Service, denying it the budgets required to serve as an effective fire-fighting unit in a country like Israel.

The numbers speak for themselves. International standards are about one fireman per 1,000 citizens. In Israel, the ratio is closer to one for every 6,000. There is also the issue of the shortage in fire retardants, which Israel desperately needs to extinguish fires from the air.

First, this is not the first time this kind of thing has happened. During the Second Lebanon War, planes were sent to Europe to bring back fire-retardant materials to extinguish the forest fires raging in the North. In addition, there is at least one Israeli company that makes the material. The problem is that Israel is not ordering.

Who would have thought that mighty Israel – which waged war in Lebanon four years ago, fought against Hamas in the Gaza Strip two years ago and is reportedly plotting an extraordinary military strike against Iran – would need to reach out to over a dozen different countries to ask for help in putting out a forest fire? But this is what happens when the country’s leaders are shortsighted and fail to foresee the inevitable.

For the United States, it was Hurricane Katrina. For Israel, it is the Carmel fire.

What will happen next is pretty obvious. At the cabinet meeting planned for Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who smartly reached out immediately to countries for assistance when he realized Israel could not deal with the blaze independently, will announce that he has ordered the immediate transfer of funds to the Fire and Rescue Service.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose office is responsible for the fire service and in a normal Western country would have likely resigned or been fired for the failures that led to this fire, will blame the Treasury for failing to transfer funds. In turn, the Treasury will release its own accusations. But like previous national mishaps, no one will personally take responsibility.

The Second Lebanon War served as the IDF’s wake-up call, and the Carmel fire will serve as the Interior Ministry’s. It is time Israel stopped depending on wake-up calls and began to counter challenges ahead of time.

Especially ones that are written on the wall in flaming orange letters.