Israel has been battling an enormous forest fire on the outskirts of Haifa, its third-largest city, for the past few days. High winds have made the situation worse, and some of the burning forest is located in mountainous terrain that is difficult to access. The blaze has killed 41 people so far, according to reports from the Associated Press. About 15,000 people have been evacuated from the area.
There aren’t many forests in Israel. Their firefighting equipment and manpower are not up to the task of containing a fire of this magnitude. In fact, the condition of their firefighting forces is brewing into a major scandal among Israelis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an emergency meeting of the Israeli cabinet, “We have to admit that our firefighting services cannot handle a forest fire backed by such a strong wind. We don’t have the means for it.”
The Associated Press quotes columnists for national and Tel Aviv newspapers saying the country was “caught with its pants down” because its firefighting equipment “dates back to the previous century,” an unacceptable state of affairs for a nation with such a powerful, advanced military. The difficulty of controlling the fire raises questions about Israel’s ability to deal with “a massive attack from the likes of Iran.” It does seem likely that any assault on Israel is going to include a lot of fire. The only question is the precise temperature of the flames.
Fortunately, international assistance has quickly arrived on the scene… including highly commendable help from Turkey, which has been unhappy with Israel since the Gaza flotilla incident last May. Netanyahu graciously singled out the Turks for special thanks. The fight for life is often the beginning of brotherhood.
The cause of this fire is still under investigation. It seems to have started near a garbage dump where “unauthorized burning” took place, but CNN reports this morning that Israeli police found “suspicious articles” and now suspect it was started deliberately. It is not yet clear whether this is a case of terrorism, or pure idiocy. Americans who follow the news of domestic arson cases know that fire is a beloved implement of the stupid.
In addition to the Turks, crews from Greece, Bulgaria, and Britain are already on the scene. A planeload of chemical retardants is on the way from the United States. Russia, Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan, Spain, Azerbaijan, and Romania are among those sending aid. Good luck and blessings to all.