The scathing state comptroller report on the Turkish flotilla to Gaza was discussed in the Knesset Thursday, with Iran and Israel’s ability to address a complex looming conflict shading much of the discussion.
“The deficient and very problematic process of decision making is very worrying in light of the conflicts we face,” said Uri Ariel, the Chairman of the State Control Committee, “because that flotilla is clearly not the central threat facing the state of Israel today.”
The Knesset committee convened less than 24 hours after State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss published a two-part report on the Turkish protest flotilla that ended with the deaths of nine Turkish nationals and nine wounded Israeli soldiers. Israel subsequently loosened the blockade on Gaza and its ties with Turkey have remained strained ever since.
The report, split into three sections, two of which have been released and one which pertains to the handling of intelligence and which will remain classified, roundly criticized the prime minister for his hasty decision-making process and for ignoring the National Security Council, which, by law, must be involved in addressing all national-security issues. Netanyahu had met with his inner cabinet of top ministers before the raid on the Mavi Marmara to formulate a response.
The law involving the NSC was passed in July 2008 as a distillation of the Winograd Commission’s central critique of the government’s handling of the Second Lebanon War: that the IDF does not merely carry out government policy; it, in the absence of other formidable agents of influence, also shapes it.
At the end of his opening remarks, Ariel asked cabinet minister Benny Begin and NSC head Yaakov Amidror, to “please focus your remarks toward the future.”
Amidror consented. He said that the NSC recently changed the way that Israel’s intelligence organizations submit their national intelligence estimates to cabinet and that “with each passing day we are more involved in government decisions.”
He acknowledged, however, that the NSC “is the new kid in the neighborhood, fighting for his life and his spot” and chided the committee members, telling them that national-security decisions were “not like a recipe where you put all the ingredients in and in the end you get a cake.”
Begin took a similar tack. He contended that the flotilla was an isolated incident from which there could be no “linear extrapolation” as regards the inner cabinet’s other decision-making responsibilities. He said that in the 22 months prior to the flotilla the inner cabinet had met 294 times and that the primary decision that needed to be made was whether to allow the ships to pass and enter Gaza or to stop them at sea. The manner in which they should be stopped, he said, depended on the information the inner cabinet received from the army and much of that intelligence, particularly regarding the meaning of the word “force” and the manner in which the protesters intended to apply it, had been flawed.
“Had their assessment been different, had we known in advance what type of resistance we would face from some of those on board, then we would have prepared differently,” he said.
‘I couldn’t care less about the Mavi Marmara. I care about Iran’
But according to MK Arieh Eldad, a member of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee and a former chief medical officer in the IDF, who retired with the rank of Brigadier General, there is a deeply embedded systemic problem in the military and in the relationship between the legislative branch and the armed forces.
When speaking before the committee he said that the problem was a rooted in “a lack of management culture” and in the army’s utter disregard for Knesset.
Afterwards, in a brief interview, he said, “I couldn’t care less about the Mavi Marmara. I care about Iran.”
And the fact that the government based their decisions on the army’s estimation of what the protesters might do, he said, was a worrying and fundamental failure when looking ahead.
“Intelligence (officers) can count tanks. They can tell you where the missiles are hidden. But the enemy’s intentions are my problem. They never know the answer to that question and yet they are always asked.”
Eldad said the prime minister has to always assume that the enemy’s intentions are unknown. “The Americans didn’t know what Khrushchev would do in Cuba. They took as a given that they couldn’t be sure and that dictated their actions,” he said. “But with Iran I keep hearing not only about what they are amassing but also what they may or may not do. They don’t know,” he said of the defense establishment, “and that should be clear.”