NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

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The U.S. Evergreen Supertanker is the largest firefighting aircraft in the world. The Israelis credit its massive fire retardant drops with the final dousing of the flames.
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More than five million trees were burned in the fire, and about 17,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

United States Helps Israel Fight Fire

The biggest forest fire in Israeli history was extinguished on Dec. 6, 82 hours after the blaze broke out on Mount Carmel, near Haifa. The fire killed 43 Israelis, most of whom were Israel Prison Service officer cadets.

More than five million trees were burned in the fire, and about 17,000 people were evacuated from their homes. The extent of the burnt area is equal to 40 percent of Jerusalem, or 7,150 football fields.

As soon as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu realized the extent of the fire, he immediately asked for international assistance.

"No country can face such a thing alone, without cooperation,” Netanyahu said. “We live in a global world—we give and receive help, and it is not shameful."

International assistance arrived quickly. While speaking at the White House Hannukah party, President Barack Obama discussed what the United States was doing to help Israel fight the fire, which at the time was still raging out of control.

“As rescuers and firefighters continue in their work, the United States is acting to help our Israeli friends respond to the disaster,” Obama said. “A short while ago, our ambassador in Tel Aviv, Jim Cunningham, issued a disaster declaration, which has launched an effort across the U.S. government to identify the firefighting assistance we have available and provide it to Israel as quickly as possible. Of course, that's what friends do for each other.”

Since the United States has vast experience fighting forest fires, Americans were ready and eager to help. Once the president gave the order, planes began to fly to Israel.

USAID teams arrived in Haifa and began working alongside their Israeli counterparts. On December 4, two U.S. C-130s from U.S. European Command (EUCOM) delivered a total of 20 short tons of fire retardant to Israel. The next day, a U.S. C-130 aircraft from EUCOM delivered 3,800 gallons of fire retardant concentrate. Soon after, much more help from the United States arrived.

What stood out most was the Evergreen Supertanker, which flew from the United States to Israel. The modified Boeing 747-200 is the largest firefighting aircraft in the world. The Israelis credit its massive fire retardant drops with the final dousing of the flames.

The United States was by no means the only country to send aid. Greece, Russia, Britain and Cyprus sent helicopters. France and Spain sent planes. Croatia, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan sent firefighters.

Even Turkey, a country whose relations with Israel have been tense in recent months, sent help. "Our planes will remain in your country until the fire is brought under control,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Netanyahu. In addition, the Palestinian Authority sent fire trucks.

Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador the United States, said the fire showed that cooperation is possible among nations even if they have strong political differences.

“For Israelis, who sometimes feel isolated in the world and misunderstood, the international response to the conflagration gave us the rare opportunity to feel part of a caring global community,” Oren wrote. “And for a Middle East plagued by constant tensions and upheaval, extinguishing the fire illuminated the possibilities of peace.”

The Jerusalem Post editorial board wrote a “Thank You” editorial that listed the assistance Israel received from other countries:

• Azerbaijan – 2 helicopters

• Bulgaria – 1 plane and 92 firefighters

• Croatia – 1 plane, 8 firefighters and fire retardants and suppressants

• Cyprus – 1 plane and 1 helicopter

• Egypt – fire retardants and suppressants

• France – 5 planes and fire retardants and suppressants

• Germany – 1 plane, 7 firefighting experts and fire retardants and suppressants

• Greece – 7 planes, 34 firefighters and fire retardants and suppressants

• Holland – 5 firefighting experts

• Italy – 1 plane and fire retardants and suppressants

• Jordan – 3 truckloads of firefighting equipment and materials

• Palestinian Authority – 21 firefighters and 3 fire engines

• Russia – 3 planes and 22 firefighting experts

• Spain – 5 planes

• Switzerland – 1 plane, 3 helicopters and a team of 14

• Turkey – 2 planes

• The UK – 2 helicopters

• The US – 5 planes, including the Evergreen supertanker, 11 firefighting experts and fire retardants and suppressants. There were also eight American firefighting planes en route to Israel when the government told Washington it no longer needed their assistance, as the flames had been brought under control.

A 60-person firefighting team about to depart from Idaho was also told its services were not needed, but remained on standby.
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