Op-ed

The IDF should have opened a probe into the events of October 7 a long time ago

The war in Gaza won’t end any time soon. Instead of attacking the military for beginning an internal probe, the government should immediately establish a state commission of inquiry

Tal Schneider

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and IDF chief Herzi Halevi at the start of a security cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, November 16, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and IDF chief Herzi Halevi at the start of a security cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, November 16, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi’s decision to form a committee to investigate the military failures leading to Hamas’s devastating onslaught on October 7 should have been made a long time ago – certainly not three months into the war.

The team Halevi has assembled is appropriate for the task at hand. For example, former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz is qualified to evaluate successor Halevi’s performance. Former Military Intelligence Directorate head Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, former Southern Command leader Sami Turgeman and former Operations Directorate chief Yoav Har-Even, also named among the members of the investigatory team, have suitable backgrounds for the job as well.

Regarding Mofaz, there is no other former IDF chief of staff who could fill the position, given that the rest — Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi, Dan Halutz, Benny Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot and Aviv Kohavi — are all nonstarters: Barak, Halutz and Ya’alon are among the most strident opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government; Gantz and Eisenkot are part of the current war cabinet, and Kohavi is out by default as he was the IDF chief of staff until about a year ago. That only leaves Gabi Ashkenazi and Mofaz. And Ashkenazi was a leading figure in Gantz’s former Blue and White party until about a year and a half ago.

Criticism of Mofaz’s appointment leveled at Halevi by right-wing ministers during Thursday’s security cabinet meeting — asserting that Mofaz, who was serving as IDF chief at the time, is identified with the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and therefore inappropriate to probe October 7’s failings — is absurd.

Netanyahu himself was involved in the disengagement, supporting it in a series of votes before quitting as Ariel Sharon’s finance minister shortly before it was carried out. Does that mean that he’s not qualified to make decisions?

Mofaz disconnected from politics years ago and has seldom been in the media since. He is known by the wider public to be trustworthy and caring. He hasn’t been involved in mudslinging in the media against the prime minister.

Shaul Mofaz speaks during a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The main downside to Halevi’s announced investigatory committee, if there is one, is that so far it is all male.

In Israel, there is a law on equal rights for women that obligates “adequate representation in a government inspection committee, an investigative committee, a public committee, and a national policy design team.”

Although the wording of the law does not make it unequivocally clear that the requirement to include women on committees within the IDF applies in this case, given the current climate the IDF chief of staff should have seen that it was inappropriate to assemble the team without any women in senior roles. It’s a four-person team; is there not a single woman in the defense establishment with the necessary credentials?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi at a security assessment at the military’s Northern Command, December 7, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Instead of spending Thursday’s cabinet meeting discussing the imperative for and benefits of an immediate investigation, the ministers wasted precious time lashing out at the IDF chief of staff. The internal IDF investigation is critical to the ongoing military operation in Gaza; as noted, it should have started many weeks ago.

While some ministers have been busy attacking Halevi for setting up the committee while the campaign against Hamas is ongoing, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman has already launched a gargantuan probe into the multiple failures that occurred before, during, and after the Hamas terror group’s October 7 massacre. The investigation will cover the activities of all echelons — political, military and civilian.

The IDF’s overdue internal investigation is essential to refreshing the military’s perceptions and assessments. Investigations are more useful and more reliable when they’re carried out quickly. Waiting too long allows senior officers to rethink what happened, to reassess, to revise, with the perspective and wisdom of hindsight.

It is certainly not easy to investigate officers in wartime, but the investigative committee can — at the very least — already establish the infrastructure for the investigation, by reviewing documents and starting to question any and all of those who are currently available.

A state commission of inquiry

In addition to the IDF’s internal operational probe, Israel will have to proceed soon with a full-scale state-level investigation.

Since the first month of the conflict, Netanyahu has claimed that a state commission of inquiry will be established at the end of the war, and that everything will be investigated then. When will that end be? Who knows. After all, the war in Gaza will almost certainly spill over into a war in the north with the Hezbollah terror group.

And the war in Gaza won’t end anytime soon, either. The current reduction in ground force troops does not signal that Hamas is dismantled. The IDF will keep carrying out targeted missions, either on the ground or from the air.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits troops in Gaza, December 25, 2023. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

So when will the promised state commission take shape? At the end of 2024? In 2025?

To judge by the pace of the current ongoing investigations — one into the submarine affair and another into the Meron disaster — the results will take half a decade. One way or another, therefore, this commission of inquiry, chaired by a senior judge, needs to be established immediately.

The passage of time takes a toll on memories. The scope of the state inquiry will be enormous – the role played by civil defense squads at the invaded communities on October 7, the absence of substantive military forces, intelligence failures, the ease with which the border fence was breached, the years of payments to Hamas and its relentless arming and strengthening of its terror apparatus — all this and much more will have to be covered. Three months have passed. That’s already too long.

Netanyahu will do everything to avoid appointing a Supreme Court judge to head the state commission and, indeed, will strive to follow in the footsteps of former prime minister Ehud Olmert – to establish a less potent Knesset commission of inquiry, led by a retired (and not necessarily Supreme Court) judge. He’ll be thinking of the Winograd Commission into the failures of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, a body that had the same mandate as a state commission, and the coattails of which he was riding when he attacked Olmert in speech in the Knesset plenum in May 2007:

We thought there was someone we could trust, but there was no leadership… the leadership failed twice: it failed by failing to execute, and in its erroneous perception of reality — and it started even before the war.

The time has come to correct, to regain our strength and deterrence — the bigger the failure, the bigger the need for real correction. But those who failed can’t fix it… The report revealed serious deficiencies that we must remedy immediately, and first and foremost we must correct the main deficiency — the absence of leadership.

Former Supreme Court justice Eliyahu Winograd in 2007 at a press conference (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Former Supreme Court justice Eliyahu Winograd in 2007 at a press conference (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Netanyahu isn’t even considering applying to himself the kind of critique he (quite rightly) launched at Olmert. Nonetheless, he must move forward with the establishment of the same kind of potent investigative committee, headed by a retired Supreme Court justice.

There are a number of candidates for the position besides former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis, who is likely up to his eyeballs in the submarine affair investigation. This probe, it is worth noting, will mark its second anniversary at the end of the month, without the media getting a glimpse of its findings, much less a written update, an interim report or even an expected end date.

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