MK Gafni: 'Israel is not prepared for an earthquake'

Israel can expect ‘similar sights’ to Turkey if major quake strikes, official warns

Knesset committee is told that major cities including Jerusalem and Haifa are in danger if disaster hits, chair says state should invest more in preparedness

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Members of the Knesset Honor Guard, Home Front Command, firefighters, IDF, Israel Police and Magen David Adom Emergency Medical Services participate in an emergency drill simulating an earthquake at the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Members of the Knesset Honor Guard, Home Front Command, firefighters, IDF, Israel Police and Magen David Adom Emergency Medical Services participate in an emergency drill simulating an earthquake at the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel’s major cities are not fully prepared in the event of a major earthquake, the head of the government’s earthquake preparedness committee told lawmakers on Monday.

Amir Yahav told the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee that his panel this week found that more than 10 cities, including Haifa and its suburbs, Jerusalem, and areas in the south of the country were in danger in the event of an earthquake.

“If an earthquake like the one in Turkey happens here, we will see similar sights,” Yahav said, comparing the lack of readiness of Israel’s emergency services and at-risk buildings to the disaster-struck country.

Last week, the chair of the top-level Knesset committee, Ya’akov Asher, invited government ministries and emergency agencies to an urgent meeting to review the country’s readiness for earthquakes following deadly tremors in Turkey and Syria that killed over 35,000 people. Ankara has faced criticism from the Turkish public for its slow response to the disaster.

The disaster drew attention to Israel’s lack of preparedness for such a disaster. According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, factories using dangerous materials are not capable of withstanding earthquakes.

Yahav told the committee that the last time such a meeting was held was in 2016.

People stand on top of rubble of collapsed buildings during rescue operations after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the border region of Turkey and Syria last week, in Hatay, Turkey, February 12, 2023. (BULENT KILIC/AFP)

“The State of Israel is preparing to deal with earthquakes and we are not in a bad place compared to the rest of the world, but progress is very slow. I hope the state will wake up and invest more in this issue,” he said.

Knesset Finance Committee chair Moshe Gafni lamented at the meeting that “unfortunately, Israel is not prepared for an earthquake.”

Among a series of steps to investigate the issue, Gafni said that he would ask insurance companies if they planned to launch an advertising campaign telling the public to buy insurance for their properties; ask the Finance Ministry how much money the country has set aside in the event of an earthquake, and where those funds are located; ask the Interior Ministry why local authorities don’t have insurance; and ask the Health Ministry why some rescue groups are not being funded, and if they are, how much they receive and why they are not included in drills carried out by the ministry.

Asher, the committee chair, called earthquakes “one of the greatest threats to the State of Israel” and said the goal of the meeting was to investigate the state of the government’s and emergency bodies’ activities on the issue of preparedness.

Following further discussions, he said, his committee would produce “recommendations and conclusions, and after that establish a subcommittee to monitor their implementation,” he said.

United Torah Judaism MK Ya’akov Asher (center) chairs an urgent meeting of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on earthquake readiness, in Jerusalem, February 13, 2023. (Knesset spokesperson)

Asher said that urban renewal was an important solution to ensure the safety of buildings in the event of a quake, but added that “state intervention is required, both in budgeting and in easing regulation for developers.”

“The Finance Ministry loves to check how much it costs to rehabilitate and strengthen buildings, but the correct thing to check is how much an earthquake will cost. A wise man would invest today so that tomorrow there will be less damage and fewer expenses.”

Israelis participate in a earthquake drill at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on June 20, 2013. (Flash90)

A Knesset information center report from November last year found that there is no set government policy on earthquake readiness, as no specific ministry has been given responsibility for the matter. In addition, there is no accurate estimate of the total number of buildings at risk in the country.

Israel lies along an active fault line — the Great Rift Valley, or the Syrian African Rift, a tear in the earth’s crust that includes the area of the border separating Israel and Jordan. The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured 700 — and seismologists estimate that such earthquakes occur in this region approximately every 100 years.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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