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UPDATED: CONFERENCE CALL WITH PM NETANYAHU BRIEFING ON THE FIRES IN NORTHERN ISRAEL

(Washington, D.C. 1:19pm Eastern Time) – A short while ago, I finished listening in on a 35-minute conference call organized by the Jewish National Fund. Over 900 people participated, including The Joshua Fund’s Chief Operating Officer and Director of Communications. The purpose of the call was to brief JNF friends and allies on the fires that started in northern Israel on December 2nd and what are some of the next steps Israel faces now that the fires are out. Various leaders – including Shimon Romach, Israel’s Fire Commissioner – recapped the situation.

  • The fires were the worst in Israel’s modern 62 history.
  • More than 17,000 people from 12 Israelis towns had to be evacuated.
  • It took 82 hours to contain and extinguish the blaze.
  • Forty-two Israelis died, including a 16 year old junior fire fighter volunteer.
  • About 45% of the Carmel Forest was destroyed, approximately five million trees.
  • Israel has “lost a lot of [fire fighting] equipment, at least $1 million worth of equipment,” the Fire Commissioner noted, adding his concern that “a lot of our fire trucks are older than the fire fighters. The men are in their 20s. The trucks are in their 30s. We need new trucks.”

JNF Chairman Ronald Lauder introduced Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke for about 10 minutes.

  • Netanyahu thanked the JNF for their support for Israel’s fire fighting services over the years. “You have provided nearly 80 trucks in recent years, and they have made a big difference. This call is to say thank you, and continue what you’re doing.” He also thanked JNF for being the leaders in planting trees and helping develop Israel’s forests.
  • The PM said Israel has three jobs now:
  1. “One is to restore the buildings and homes and various communities that have been destroyed or damaged.”
  2. The second is to “renew the Carmel Forest.”
  3. The third is to “build an aerial capability.”
  • The PM explained that this fire convinced him that Israel needs to think much differently about fire fighting from this point. “We have to face the possibility of fires in the future that consume a large part of Israel.” He noted that “mega fires” are different from normal home, office or factory fires. “This requires a fundamentally different strategic plan.”
  • The PM noted that he began thinking differently about fire fighting “accidentally” in August, when he was having lunch with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on a Greek island. As they were meeting – the first visit of an Israeli Prime Minister to Greece in history – Netanyahu said the two men happened to see a forest fire break out on another island and start spreading rapidly. “I said, ‘George, what are you going to do to stop that fire?’” Netanyahu asked. “George said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’” Netanyahu said he kept pressing the Greek PM several times, but kept being told, “Don’t worry about it.” Netanyahu then noted that “within thirty-five minutes there were three Canadian planes, Canadian-built planes, flying over the fires, and by the time we were done with lunch, they had basically put out the fire.”
  • Netanyahu was impressed, and said that when he returned back to Israel, “We began organizing for this….I realized that the normal means we have were inadequate for this.” He said that he learned of the Carmel fires about 5pm] on December 2nd. Immediately he realized the need for an aerial strategy, yet Israel does not currently have such planes of their own. “I spoke to [Greek Prime Minister] George [Papandreou] by seven.” Greek fire suppression planes were on the ground in Israel very soon thereafter. “Within 24 hours, we had 10 planes in the air from many countries.” More planes came within 48 hours, including the American “supertanker” that can drop 80,000 gallons of water in a matter of minutes. 

It was an interesting call. On a personal note, as the Prime Minister talked about the prospect of Israel facing “mega fires” in the future, I couldn’t help but think of Ezekiel 38-39 which indicates that in the “last days” there will be fire raining down from heaven in the region. The Lord’s purpose will be, in part, to defeat Israel’s enemies. But there could be collateral damage, and Israel will need to be ready to fight such massive fires to protect their own citizens, as well as to be a blessing to their neighbors.

Let’s be praying Israel can get better prepared, and quickly. Let us keep praying for wisdom for PM Netanyahu and his fellow leaders. At the same time, let’s be faithful in prayer for the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded in these recent blazes. It is a difficult time. May the God of Israel comfort them and draw them close to His heart and into His family.

>> GIVE A GIFT TO ISRAEL FOR CHRISTMAS — Please prayerfully considering helping The Joshua Fund raise $1.5 million December so we can stay on track with the projects we are engaged in to educate and mobilize Christians around the world about God’s love and plan Israel and her neighbors, and to continue distributing food, clothing, medical supplies and other humanitarian relief to the poor and needy, and to those affected by the recent fires.

>> GIVE THE GIFT OF ISRAEL THIS CHRISTMAS — Bring a loved one, or your whole family, on The Joshua Fund’s “Prayer & Vision Tour” to Israel next May and be part of the 2011 Epicenter Conference in Jerusalem. Learn more by watching an on-line video describing it all.

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