Defense Ministry Calls Emergency Meeting on Earthquakes

YERUSHALAYIM -

A series of minor earthquakes in recent days has shaken Israeli officialdom, and the Defense Ministry has decided to convene the heads of emergency services and local municipalities to review the country’s readiness for a major earthquake, which some experts have been warning is likely on the way.

The latest tremor was on Monday evening, with a magnitude of 3.2. The epicenter was again near the Kinneret, according to media reports.

The meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, will include representatives from the National Emergency Management Authority, the army’s Home Front Command, police, firefighters, the Magen David Adom ambulance service and municipal authorities, Hadashot reported on Monday.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset on Monday that “Along with the Finance Minister and the Defense Minister we are preparing a package consisting of a multi-year plan with many resources to deal with the question of earthquakes.”

“We already took an important action with the TAMA 38 construction plan, but there is a need, of course, for additional measures. This will cost a lot of money and will have to be spread over years, but it will be brought to the Cabinet in the coming days,” he said.

Local media have been quoting scientists who say that the unusual spate of seismic activity that began last Wednesday morning probably signals something bigger to come. B’chasdei Shamayim, the 3-to-4 point tremors registered so far, centered in the north, have not resulted in any injuries or damage to property. But there is widespread concern about the next time.

However, there is no consensus on this among seismologists. Dr. Avi Shapira, a seismologist at Haifa University, told Ynet on Monday that a series of minor shocks like these have not historically presaged a catastrophic event.

“We are familiar with the activity of what is known as the Great Syria-African Rift…there is constant high pressure and high friction, so every now and then the pressure overcomes the friction and an earthquake occurs. This happens regularly throughout this rift, from Turkey to East Africa,” he explained.

“Odds are nothing will happen,” he said, though quickly adding, “But we can’t rule out something happening either.”

Dr. Yariv Hamiel, Director of the Geological Hazards and Geological Engineering Division at the Geological Survey, stressed the unpredictability of such events.

“Our concern is that this sequence would last for a month with a tremor felt every few days … We cannot predict when the next earthquake will strike, so we have to prepare ourselves.”

The government has responded to such warnings somewhat half-heartedly over the years.

Bezalel Treiber, former head of the National Emergency Management Authority, told Army Radio on Monday that that TAMA program mentioned by the prime minister is at best a partial answer.

“It needs 5 billion shekels in order to make a revolution in the matter. The weaker apartments are exactly in the most dangerous place — on the Great Rift Valley,” he said.

“Tens of thousands of apartments are not reinforced and there is a high danger they will be damaged,” Treiber warned.