The know-nothing war

February 28, 2017
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:
1) MEE: Gaza War Report: Netanyahu will survive criticism – but war could have been prevented, Yossi Melman is succinct and to the point;
2) Haaretz: Gaza War: 11 Key Headlines From Scathing Report Rattling Israel’s Politicians and Military, Barak Ravid and Gili Cohen give it their all, the most detailed analysis;
3) Al Monitor: How state report on Israel’s Gaza war will impact Netanyahu;
4) Times of Israel: Army accuses comptroller of tunnel vision in Gaza war report, Judah Ari Gross does what he can to salvage the army’s reputation;
5) Ynet: In Gaza war Bennett pressed, Netanyahu repressed, Ya’alon sputtered ‘There was Naftali Bennett, who kept asking questions, the prime minister who perceived it all as a hassle and a defence minister who had run out of words’;

Clouds of heavy smoke billowing into the air following an Israeli military strike on Gaza City on July 29, 2014. Photo Ashraf Amra/AFP

Gaza War Report: Netanyahu will survive criticism – but war could have been prevented

By Yossi Melman, MEE
February 28, 2017

There were flaws, mistakes, bad decisions and failures – and yet it brought the longest period of quiet on the front between Gaza and Israel. These are the main conclusions which can be drawn from the report published on Tuesday by the Israeli State Comptroller on Israel’s war with Hamas in the summer of 2014.

According to the report, there is one main person responsible: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The report is expected to cause a storm among Israeli politicians and the military echelons – which have already begun a bickering campaign against each other.

According to the report, there is one main person responsible: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Despite the fact that he was well-versed in the tunnel threat and knew that it was defined as a central and even strategic threat at the end of 2013,” the report says the prime minister did not instruct the National Security Council and the defence establishment “to present before the cabinet the tunnel threat in a clear and detailed manner”.

According to the report, Netanyahu was like an analyst. He dissected the situation and gave warnings, but he did not bother to ensure that his words would be followed up with the necessary corresponding actions. The report also “criticises” Netanyahu on a few more occasions for his behaviour and leadership – or rather the lack of it.

Despite this, the chances are slim that Netanyahu will be damaged by the comptroller’s report which does not recommend that the prime minister be held personally accountable for Israel’s mistakes in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s Teflon coating, which has made him “invincible” for years, will likely stay in place now and he will manage to survive the crisis of the report’s publication.

Defence chiefs in the firing line

Those who are liable to actually be hurt by the report held far less responsibility than Netanyahu. They were the senior defence brass at the time of the summer 2014 war: Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz and the head of IDF military intelligence, General Aviv Cochavi.

Former defence chief Ya’alon wants to return to politics and lead the Israeli right-wing in place of Netanyahu, Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett

Like Netanyahu, they are the recipients of the comptroller’s criticism. According to the report, Ya’alon and Gantz, among other things, did not inform the cabinet of “the trend of escalation” with Hamas or the fact that the IDF was not properly trained and prepared to deal with the Hamas tunnels threat.

Cochavi is criticised for not sharing “significant information” with the cabinet which refers to Hamas’s intention to attack Israeli territory through the tunnels. The report adds that Cochavi did not report that Military Intelligence suffered from an “intelligence gap” – in other words, that the information gathered on the tunnels was insufficient.

Ya’alon, Gantz and Cochavi may be damaged by the report, not because of what they did or didn’t do before and during the war, but because of what they may want to do in the future.

Ya’alon wants to return to politics and lead the Israeli right-wing in place of Netanyahu, Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett. Gantz is considering entering politics with Yesh Atid or the Labor Party when the three-year moratorium on retiring IDF officials entering politics ends. Cochavi is a leading and worthy candidate to be the next IDF chief of staff in 2019, after current IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot is scheduled to end his tenure.

Avoidable war

What is really hidden in the report are a few sentences which most probably will not catch the attention of the Israeli media or public, but should. And this is the fact that the war could have been prevented. The report admits that both sides – Hamas and Israel – didn’t want a confrontation and, in the end, were dragged into it against their self-interests.

Some of the wars with which these critics have found the most flaws actually brought Israel the best results strategically.

The report cites General Yoav Mordechai, head of the Israeli Office the Coordinator to the occupied West Bank and independent Gaza who at the end of June 2014, weeks before the war broke out, warned that “the Gaza Strip is descending into crisis…which has reached an unprecedented point”.

In other words, it is possible that if the government of Israel understood the severity of the economic and humanitarian crisis in Gaza and acted accordingly, perhaps the war was preventable.

Despite the comptroller report, it is impossible to ignore the built-in paradox in Israel’s wars. The committees of inquiry and the various reports from the state comptroller and other bodies criticise and censure both the military and political echelons, as it is their job to do. However, some of the wars with which these critics have found the most flaws actually brought Israel the best results strategically.

Peace with Egypt was achieved after the Yom Kippur War. Quiet has been kept on the Lebanese border for 11 years following the Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah in 2006 and Israel is currently experiencing the longest period of quiet on the Gaza front since 1968. This is because neither Hamas, nor Israel wish to be drawn into another round. Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Monday: “We have no intention of initiating military steps against Gaza.”

The Israeli military and security establishment is known to be relatively serious and thorough in terms of drawing both tactical and technical lessons from previous reports like this one.

Israeli politicians, on the other hand, are not. So the bottom line is that reports like this eventually evaporate, with no one bearing any responsibility for past failures.

One final conclusion: two and half years after a war which claimed the lives of 2,125 Palestinians and 75 Israelis, the two sides are back at square one, preparing for a new round of violence that, just like before, neither side wants.

Yossi Melman is an Israeli security and intelligence commentator and co-author of Spies Against Armageddon.

Gaza War: 11 Key Headlines From Scathing Report Rattling Israel’s Politicians and Military

Army failed main objective ■ Ministers kept in dark ■ Major intel gaps on Hamas ■ The scathing report on Israel’s 2014 military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

By Barak Ravid and Gili Cohen, Haaretz
February 28, 2017

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the members of the inner security cabinet did not consider taking diplomatic action regarding Gaza in an effort to halt the escalation in the year before the 2014 war with Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip broke out, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote in the report released 0n Tuesday on the war.

On three separate occasions in the report, Shapira quotes statements made by Ya’alon two days after the outbreak of the war, saying that it’s possible that it could have been avoided if Israel had addressed the distress in the strip at the in time.

The 200-page report is being released about a year and a half after the end of the war in August 2014. The report deals both with the decision making process in the security cabinet relating to Gaza before Operation Protective Edge, as the war is officially known in Israel, and at its outset but also with the issue involving dealing with the attack tunnels in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, as well as preparation for the intelligence, technological and operational response to the this threat in the years prior to the operation. Shapira’s report does not deal directly with the conduct of the war itself or its results.

These are the report’s salient points:

Netanyahu, Ya’alon kept ministers in the dark about strategic Hamas attack

For months in advance of the Israeli army’s 2014 operation in the Gaza Strip, top political, military and intelligence-community leaders concealed information from the security cabinet about a possible strategic attack by Hamas, according to the special report on the war by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, released Tuesday. Had the attack been carried out, Shapira notes, it could have constituted a casus belli.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon (R) and then-IDF chief Benny Gantz during Operation Protective Edge, July 30, 2014. Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO

Specifically, says the comptroller in his critical report on Operation Protective Edge, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel Defence Forces Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz and the heads of the Shin Bet security service and Mossad – all withheld information about an attack being planned by the Gaza-based Islamist movement. Indeed, this information only reached the cabinet early in July 2014, just hours before an operation meant to foil the attack was to be put on the table for their ratification.

Shapira notes that, according to Shin Bet documents, there was already a substantial amount of evidence about a serious Hamas strike against Israel in the months before the army’s operation was launched – information that was passed on to the IDF’s Military Intelligence branch. Read the full story.

Netanyahu and Ya’alon did not consider diplomatic moves to prevent war

The comptroller determined that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and members of Israel’s security cabinet did not, in the year preceding the outbreak of the war, on July 7, explore the possibility of taking diplomatic steps to stop the escalation of hostilities in the Strip.

A cabinet meeting on July 31, 2014. Sitting: Ministers Yuval Steinitz and Moshe Ya’alon. Standing: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Benny Gantz. Photo by Moti Milrod

Shapira’s report quotes three statements made by Ya’alon two days after the fighting erupted, in which he said that the war could have been averted if Israel had provided a timely response to the distress of Gaza’s population. In a cabinet meeting on July 8, then-Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said that “We’ve focused on tactics, but repeatedly – year after year for nine years – avoid dealing with the strategic reality taking shape before our eyes.”

No clear government policies and strategies on Gaza were set

Even when there were discussions intended to formulate strategies regarding the Strip, they were incomplete and did not yield any actual results. On October 10, 2013, there was a meeting with the head of the Shin Bet security service at the time, Yoram Cohen, who stressed that Hamas was in strategic distress, whereupon the premier instructed the National Security Council to convene to address Israel’s policies regarding Gaza. Six months elapsed before such a discussion was held.

On March 13, 2014, this topic came up again at a cabinet meeting that dealt with escalating tensions. Then-Economy Minister Naftali Bennett noted that Israel had no strategy regarding Gaza; Gilad Erdan, the public security minister, concurred. Only on March 23, 2014, a year after the government had been formed, was there a cabinet meeting dealing with setting strategic goals vis-a-vis the Strip. However, the comptroller found that the meeting only dealt with the intensification of IDF actions against Hamas – not with other possible modes of conduct, such as in the diplomatic arena.

Cabinet did not discuss humanitarian crisis in Gaza

In the 16 months between the creation of the government in March 2013 and the outbreak of hostilities in July 2014, the security cabinet did not hold even one meaningful discussion about the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of discussions – even those considered to be “strategic” in nature – dealt only with military matters. The comptroller’s report notes that the absence of discussion on the various political aspects of the situation in Gaza was particularly noticeable on the backdrop of mounting reports about the deterioration of the humanitarian conditions there, the economic crisis and the collapse of vital infrastructure, including the shortage of water supplies.

In December 2013, the prime minister’s military secretary, Eyal Zamir, wrote then-National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen that Netanyahu wanted him to arrange a cabinet discussion regarding the civilian situation in Gaza and its implications for Israel. Such a discussion never took place and up to the outbreak of hostilities seven months later, the cabinet did not hold even one session on the Strip’s humanitarian crisis. The comptroller notes that Cohen should have followed the prime minister’s directive and he also criticizes Ya’alon in this regard, since the latter was cognizant of the civilian and humanitarian situation in Gaza and should have understood the potential for escalation of tensions. Despite this the defence minister also did not initiate any discussion of this subject in the cabinet. The report notes, however, that Ya’alon expressed regret for not doing so after the war began.

IDF failed to achieve main goal: Only half of Hamas’ tunnels were destroyed

Not only did the 2014 war expose defects and shortcomings in the IDF’s preparedness for dealing with the attack tunnels Hamas dug from the Gaza Strip into Israel, says the comptroller. The army, he notes, also did not achieve the objectives it was given during Operation Protective Edge: to destroy or neutralize the underground passageways. Indeed, even though this was its key mission, the IDF destroyed only half of them. The army later reported that it had rendered 32 tunnels unusable.

IDF forces in the area where a Hamas tunnel was discovered, on July 20, 2014. Photo from IDF spokesperson

Army lacked suitable combat methods for dealing with the tunnels

No military doctrines, combat techniques or explicit orders were issued for dealing with the Hamas tunnels, the comptroller determined. Only in July 2014, while the fighting was going on, did the IDF Engineering Corps issue guidelines for locating and destroying the structures.

Until that point, the forces improvised or based their mode of operation on methods that had been previously used when coping with the smuggling tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border. Only in December 2014, four months after the war ended, did the headquarters of the chief infantry and paratroop forces issue combat orders outlining the principles of fighting in areas containing multiple tunnels.

The army did not prepare plans well in advance for a situation in which combatants would be forced to deal with such tunnels upon entering the Strip, as part of a ground operation – even though there was a high likelihood of such fighting there. Moreover, even after such a plan was drawn up, according to the comptroller, it was formulated just before Operation Protective Edge, so that some of the brigades involved in the fighting only received the guidelines after the war had started.

Air Force was not prepared to take out Hamas tunnels

The IAF possessed limited means and lacked the knowhow, intelligence and appropriate operational guidelines – as well as relevant capabilities and skills – for addressing the threat of Hamas’ tunnels. Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who at the time of the Gaza operation was IAF chief of staff (and is due later this year to become the next IAF commander), said on the eve of the campaign that the force did not have sufficient intelligence to allow it to formulate operational tactics for confronting the tunnels.

Despite this, during a session held during the war, the cabinet recommended that they be attacked from the air, even though the defence establishment knew this would not destroy the entire route of the underground passageways and would actually impede future ground operations against them – which is what indeed transpired. However, that information was not provided to the cabinet members before they recommended aerial attacks, according to the comptroller.

A ball of fire rises from a building following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on August 23, 2014. Photo by Mohammed Othman/AFP

Israeli intel only prioritized tunnel threat after the war

The threat posed by Hamas’ tunnels was not considered a top priority by Israel’s intelligence community until early 2015, months after Operation Protective Edge ended.

Even though Prime Minister Netanyahu and defence establishment officials had defined the tunnels as a strategic threat to the country, they were not targeted as part of major intelligence missions. This impacted the assignment of resources to the intelligence agencies for the purpose of dealing with the threat.

The comptroller notes that the head of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and Shin Bet chief Cohen should have made this issue a top priority among the intelligence community, and adds that the political echelons – the prime minister and the defence minister – should have been overseeing this process.

The Shin Bet and MI began to ratchet up their intelligence-gathering activities with respect to the underground structures at the end of 2013, after three tunnels dug by Hamas and extending into Israel proper were discovered within one year. The comptroller comments that despite that, the general intelligence passed onto IDF combat units during the 2014 war, including information about the tunnels, was an “important intelligence achievement”.

Ministers Yuval Steinitz, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Gadi Eizenkot at a cabinet meeting on August 10, 2014. Photo by Moti Milrod

Significant intelligence gaps on Hamas in Gaza

From mid-2013 until the outbreak of hostilities in July 2014, and during the campaign itself, the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence suffered serious and significant gaps with regard to intelligence gathering in Gaza. These lacunae, says the comptroller’s report, related both to the underground tunnels and to identification of targets for the air force, as well as to “another area” – presumably, regarding the plans and activities of the heads of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza.

Specifically, there were flaws in intelligence-gathering efforts by MI and the Shin Bet concerning the tunnels from 2008 until Operation Protective Edge. In particular, the comptroller identified significant gaps in the information passed on to combat units regarding the defensive tunnels in Gaza (i.e., tunnels in the Strip that do not pass under the border into Israel proper). This impacted the way the tunnels were related to before and during the operation. Moreover, information concerning these gaps was not relayed to cabinet members up to the outbreak of hostilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF chief Benny Gantz at a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2014. Photo by Michal Fattal

Development of tunnel-detection technology was delayed; foot-dragging continues to date

The search for a technological solution that can be used to locate underground tunnels has been going on for years, and the defence establishment takes pride in having examined virtually all possibilities. Even when such a system was found – and the army and the Ministry of Defence defined its implementation as a matter of urgency – the IDF was slow to deploy it.

As early as the end of 2012, the Defence Ministry commissioned a firm to carry out this effort, stipulating that the first stage should be completed by February 2014. By the time the war broke out in Gaza, however, this stage had not been completed; moreover, the equipment in question was deployed only in limited areas.

Even after the operation ended there were delays in installation of the system: Only in late March 2015, a year after the scheduled date, did work start on installing it along Israel’s border with Gaza – but the foot-dragging continued. By mid-2016, the system was still only partly operational and work is now underway to complete it.

IDF forces near the area where a Hamas tunnel was discovered, on July 19, 2014. Photo from IDF spokesperson

National security advisor (today’s Mossad chief) severely criticized: Failed to fulfil his role

One of the major players on the receiving end of the state comptroller’s barbs is Yossi Cohen, national security adviser during Operation Protective Edge, and current head of the Mossad espionage agency. At least five times in his report the comptroller cites Cohen for problems in the functioning of the security cabinet, for which he was personally responsible, during the course of the war.

In this context, the comptroller mentions the tunnels in three different contexts in his report. Even though Cohen was aware of the seriousness of the threat posed by the underground passageways, he did not initiate a discussion or suggest that Prime Minister Netanyahu bring this subject up for serious consideration at cabinet meetings. The report adds that, while making preparations for cabinet discussions, Cohen did not see to it that the IDF would present the members with operational plans for dealing with the tunnels.

Moreover, counter to a directive by the prime minister, Cohen did not set a time for a discussion of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. The comptroller discovered that during cabinet sessions, particularly those devoted to formulating a policy vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip, the NSC did not offer diplomatic or other alternatives to proposals presented by the military. Even though the council, under Cohen, had grown more powerful, the comptroller spotted many flaws that impeded it from functioning according to its mandate.

Cabinet sessions relating to the 2014 operation were almost completely dominated by proposals put forth by the army, says the comptroller in his report, and the NSC did not fulfill its role as stipulated by the law: to propose alternatives as a counterweight to the defence establishment – ones that would give cabinet members a broader understanding of the problems and lacunae that should inform them when drawing up and approving any plan of action.

Netanyahu: Report omits real lessons to be drawn from war

In response to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “The unprecedented quiet that has prevailed [on the Israeli side of the Gaza border] since Operation Protective Edge is a test of the results.” The real and significant lessons to be drawn from the war do not appear in Shapira’s report, Netanyahu said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

“The real lessons have already been thoroughly implemented – responsibly and quietly,” the prime minister added. The threat of the tunnels in Gaza was presented in detail to the members of the security cabinet at 13 separate meetings, he stated. “It was debated in all its seriousness, with consideration of the range of strategic and operational scenarios.”

Opposition leader Herzog calls on Netanyahu to resign

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said the picture presented by the report “should engender fear and concern in the heart of every citizen of Israel.” He called on Netanyahu to draw conclusions and resign.

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog at the Knesset, January 16, 2017. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi

Herzog described the report as professional, detailed and devoid of politics:

“The report clearly reveals how Prime Minister Netanyahu and the [security] cabinet which he led failed in their role of understanding the threats, setting strategy, understanding the reality [and] properly preparing soldiers and civilians, particularly residents of the south. The leadership of the country conducted a political quarrel on the backs of each of them for personal purposes, bearing no resemblance to the weight of responsibility with which they were entrusted. The comptroller decisively finds that this was not a one-time mishap, mistake or stumble, but rather a pattern of behaviour and a continuing failure over years.”

Herzog called the report “strategic” and “important” and said that it should be read as a criticism and should “not turn the comptroller into an enemy of the people.” And he added: “They will soon say that Shapira should be bulldozed rather than listening to the criticism and study it. It reveals substantial failures.”

Referring to Tzipi Livni, his No. 2 in the Zionist Union who was a member of the security cabinet at the time of the war, Herzog said: “I back the actions of Tzipi Livni, who worked in the security cabinet as would be expected from diplomatic and defence leadership, and if there had been two or three others like Tzipi, it would be reasonable [to assume] that this cabinet would have functioned differently, achieving much better results.”

Tzipi Livni: ‘A total change in thinking is required’

Tzipi Livni, No. 2 in the Zionist Union, said in response to the report that instead of attacking State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, the government should act to implement his report. “Israel needs a strategy now regarding what military and diplomatic achievement is required and what the exit point is in future operations regarding Gaza and in general,” she said.

Tzipi Livni at the INSS conference in January 2017. Photo by Moti Milrod

“That’s how I conducted myself during the [war] – quietly, without leaks and without media criticism. A total change in thinking is required. Instead of slogans that just do harm to the Israel Defence Forces and to deterrence capabilities, set strategic goals and diplomatic steps.”

President Rivlin: Rectify shortcomings exposed by report

President Reuven Rivlin called for the shortcomings exposed by the comptroller’s report to be rectified. “This is not the time to trade accusations. This is the time to learn lessons and strengthen the Israel Defence Forces so it can continue to be our defensive wall,” the president told a conference of the Jewish People Policy Institute on Tuesday.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Bastion of sanity? Photo by Sebastian Scheiner / A.P.

The state comptroller’s reports should be studied rather than attempting to challenge their contents, Rivlin added. “We are all smart in retrospect and it would behoove us to invest our energies in drawing conclusions and implementing them.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister are locked in the blame game – Bennett hopes he can reach the top by climbing on the corpse of Mr. Security State. Here they visit Tamra Haemek elementary school on the first day of the school year, in the Arab Israeli town of Tamra, Israel, Sept. 1, 2016. Photo by Baz Ratner, Reuters.

How state report on Israel’s Gaza war will impact Netanyahu

The Israeli state comptroller’s report on the 2014 Gaza War criticizes the decision-making process overseen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

By Ben Caspit, trans. Sandy Bloom, Al Monitor
February 27, 2017

As long as the country was small and weak and surrounded by enemies, Israel was able to score decisive victories in its conflicts. The 1967 Six Day War turned Israel into a regional empire and made the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) the strongest army in the Middle East. Since then, however, Israel has not been able to end any of its wars or large operations without the post-war ritual of national commissions of inquiry, reciprocal accusations of guilt, political beheadings and lamentations.

This ritual was observed after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 First Lebanon War, the 2006 Second Lebanon War and now on the heels of the 2014 Protective Edge campaign. The state comptroller’s report by Judge Joseph Shapira concerning Operation Protective Edge will be published tomorrow afternoon, Feb. 28. Made available early to the press, it contains a large quantity of explosive, embarrassing materials, including personal comments to the most senior leaders during the campaign: from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu through Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Chief of Staff Gen. Benny Gantz, Military Intelligence head Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and others.

But the main fight now is between Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Netanyahu and his former Defence Minister Ya’alon. Destiny has decided that Ya’alon, who was fired by Netanyahu less than a year ago in favour of Avigdor Lieberman, now finds himself sitting in a sinking boat with Netanyahu. One of the issues that has been expected to come up in the report is the question of whether Netanyahu and Ya’alon properly handled the threat of Hamas’ tunnels and whether they informed all Cabinet ministers about it. The two will be forced to defend themselves together against Bennett, who has missed no opportunity over the last two years to bring the issue up. Now, it seems, the report substantiates Bennett’s claims.

Bennett views the comptroller’s report as a welcome political springboard: He was, after all, the only one to take the tunnel threat seriously, warn the Cabinet about it and even demand that the IDF take real action against the tunnels to neutralize the threat.

Bennett does not hide his aspirations to climb to the top of the pyramid, though never before in the political history of the State of Israel has a politician from a religious party assumed the premiership. The likelihood of such a scenario is almost nonexistent. But Bennett, a young man with a successful past in the hi-tech industry and a former combat officer, could shake things up. This week his ambitions received a boost, at least with regard to what happened during the Protective Edge campaign.

The report reveals the management chaos and the inefficient manner in which the IDF received its orders from the political echelons. Unlike in the United Sates, where the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the commander of Israel’s army is not the executive head of state. Instead, the IDF’s commander is the government via the Security Cabinet, a statutory body of a small number of ministers. The Security Cabinet’s IDF representative is the minister of defence.

Not only is the IDF command hierarchy complex, it now appears that the Security Cabinet has little real authority. The report’s findings indicate that the Security Cabinet is an unimportant forum that does not make real decisions and does not receive real intelligence. At the end of the day, the ones who pull the strings are the prime minister, the defence minister and chief of staff, who make the decisions behind closed doors. The Cabinet is only convened to rubber-stamp decisions already made. The comptroller has decided to address this phenomenon, and of course, there will be political ramifications.

The bottom line is that there are a number of important issues that should worry Israel’s leaders, especially while the country faces no real military competition in its immediate surroundings. Despite the fact that Israeli intelligence had been aware of the Hamas tunnel threat and that the prime minister had defined it as a strategic threat as far back as 2013, the IDF apparently engaged in the Protective Edge campaign without making any preparations for tunnel-based combat. There was no relevant military doctrine in place, no military training or drills, no methods developed for destroying tunnels. Instead, the IDF was forced to improvise in the midst of a military campaign. The tunnel threat was never formally presented to the Security Cabinet. True, it was mentioned here and there by various speakers in various discussions. However, no formal discussion was held about the threat, no decisions were made and no directives were sent to the IDF.

The most important question is whether this report will succeed in chipping away at Netanyahu’s image as Israel’s “Mr. Security.” Throughout his years of leading the country, Netanyahu succeeded in crafting an image for himself as one capable of ensuring the state’s security, despite his actions not always living up to his image. In the Protective Edge campaign, Israel fought for almost two months against a small terrorist group trapped in the tiny Gaza Strip and was unable to vanquish Hamas. Moreover, Tel Aviv was bombed on an almost daily basis — for the first time since the State of Israel was founded in 1948. Israel’s one and only international airport was shut down for 48 hours. At the end of the day, there was no decisive victory for Israel: Hamas remained in place and, according to recent intelligence reports, successfully restored most of its capabilities that had been damaged, including the tunnels.

However, Netanyahu presents a very different bottom line: the results. The fact is that almost complete peace and quiet have descended on Gaza and its environs since Protective Edge. The deterrence achieved following the campaign is viewed as the most stable and significant that Israel ever had with Hamas. And this, according to Netanyahu and Ya’alon, is the real goal of any military campaign. One cannot retroactively probe military functioning during the course of a war without taking into account the strategic situations of the sides at the war’s conclusion.

Netanyahu and Ya’alon view the Protective Edge campaign as a victory, an attitude strongly reminiscent of the Second Lebanon War. Then, too, the political and military echelons were at loggerheads: both Defence Minister Amir Peretz and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz were forced to resign. But the deterrence against Hezbollah and its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in the 11 years that have since elapsed has been the most powerful that Israel has ever seen on the northern front. So who is correct this time? That is a question that only the Israeli public can answer.

Army accuses comptroller of tunnel vision in Gaza war report

Military acknowledges room for improvement but rejects claim it failed on intel; Defence Ministry welcomes praise for investment in tunnel-busting tech

By Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel
February 28, 2017

The Israel Defence Forces pushed back against some of the criticisms levelled at it in a harsh state comptroller report on the 2014 Gaza war published Tuesday, and especially the assertion that its intelligence on tunnels in the Strip was lacking in the lead-up to the conflict.

“On the eve of Operation Protective Edge” — the Israeli name for the war — “the IDF had substantial information regarding the majority of Hamas’s terror tunnels and the nature of its underground terror network,” the military said in a statement.

“These intelligence efforts to address the attack tunnels enabled infantry forces to locate the majority of the tunnels and reveal their routes,” the army said.

The State Comptroller’s Office report criticized the prime minister, defence minister and military for failing to adequately prepare for the Hamas attack tunnels used during the conflict. The security cabinet was also said to have been poorly informed of the threat posed by this subterranean attack infrastructure.

A Hamas tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. Photo from IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

With that point as well, the army took apparent umbrage.

“The IDF reflected to the Israeli political leadership the tunnel network as a serious threat, analyzed, and assessed and determined its operational ramifications. Additionally, in the cabinet meetings, the IDF defined the tunnel threat as one of the five primary threats facing the State of Israel,” the military said.

The IDF took issue with State Comptroller Yosef Shapira for focusing on the tunnel threat to the exclusion of other issues “that existed and remain on the agenda.”

IDF soldiers use a camera to peer into the Hamas attack tunnel discovered near the Gaza border, in a video released on April 18, 2016. Screen capture: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

While the army rejected some of the report’s criticisms, it said that the recommendations made were being reviewed and some had already been put in place.

“The IDF has invested efforts and resources in the research, development and equipping of technological systems in accordance with their operational readiness… and with the classification of the level of the threat. Additionally, a General Staff operational doctrine has been authored [on how to respond to tunnels],” the army said.

February 10, 2016, IDF soldiers keeping watch as a machine drills holes in the ground on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip as they search for tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists planning to attack Israel. Photo by Menahem Kahana

The Defence Ministry also responded to the Gaza war report on Tuesday, specifically its criticisms that there was no technological solution developed to counteract the tunnels.

The ministry’s weapons procurement department “led, developed and brought to use technological capabilities over the years that provided and provide a meaningful response” to the tunnel threat, unlike any piece of equipment “developed by any country on earth,” the ministry said in a statement.

“These achievements are the result of investment over many years in which breakthrough technological infrastructures were developed,” the ministry added.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends the presentation of the State Comptroller’s annual report at the Knesset on November 22, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Though a suitable high-tech solution was not found to have been produced in time for the 50-day war in 2014, Shapira noted in his report on the tunnel threat that the Defence Ministry had made an effort to create one.

“The State Comptroller’s Office is aware of the great effort and hard work that was put in by different research and development teams and operational groups in dealing with the tunnel threat technologically,” Shapira wrote.

In its response to the report, the army also pointed out its own efforts on the high-tech front.

In the two and a half years since Operation Protective Edge, the “IDF has worked consistently and has invested more than NIS 2 billion ($547 million) to address the underground terror network threat and to find a technological solution,” the military said.

In the time since the operation, the army and government have put into practice some, but not all, of the recommendations made by Shapira in his reports. Notably, the military has put a greater emphasis on tunnels, naming them as a primary threat in army chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s 2015 “IDF Strategy” paper.

Still from an August 2015 Hamas video purporting to show a Gaza tunnel dug under the Israeli border. Ynet screenshot

The elite combat engineering unit, known by its Hebrew acronym Yahalom, has been doubled in size since the operation, and the unit’s base in Sirkin, outside Tel Aviv, is now equipped with an exact replica of a Hamas tunnel for training purposes. It was made by an Israeli construction company to the same specifications as the ones in Gaza — 5.6 feet (1.7 metres) tall and approximately two feet (0.6 metres) wide, with a rounded top.

In training ground troops, the army has also begun putting more emphasis on preparing them for urban and populated areas as opposed to the older exercises of conquering hilltops in open fields, according to military officials.

Two cross-border tunnels were also found and destroyed by the IDF since Operation Protection Edge, one in April and the second in May.

However, Hamas is suspected of having restored its arsenals and rebuilt much of its infrastructure back to pre-Operation Protective Edge levels.

The Gaza-based terror group Hamas is believed to possess at least 15 attack tunnels that reach into Israeli territory. Its weapons stores are also said to be replenished, though with more locally produced missiles, as the Egyptian and Israeli blockades make important rockets more difficult.

For now, the IDF believes war is inevitable, but not likely in the near future.

“I don’t see a willingness in Gaza to launch a campaign against us,” Eisenkot told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee last week.

Bennett, Netanyahu, Ya’alon. Photo, Amit Shaabi, Motti Kimchi, Alex Kolmoisky 

In Gaza war Bennett pressed, Netanyahu repressed, Ya’alon sputtered

Analysis: The comptroller’s report provides a rare glimpse into what happened in the cabinet during the summer of 2014: There was Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett, who kept asking questions, the prime minister who perceived it all as a hassle and a defence minister who had run out of words.

By Moran Azulay, Ynet news
February 28, 2017

In recent days, reporters received a rare glimpse into political and military briefings from all the major players who served as members of the cabinet during Operation Protective Edge.

The recriminations were spiraling out of control. However, since the officials also realized the public would not tolerate such infantile behavior, they asked to remain anonymous.

In my opinion, a politician who wants to hurl accusations relating to human life toward another politician should face the public head-on, and not fear the spotlight or the backlash.

This introduction seemed appropriate as the comptroller’s report provided a rare opportunity to glance behind the scenes, to become privy to those moments in which political emotions came to a head during that fateful summer of 2014.

From various conversations with ministers who served as members of the cabinet during Protective Edge and at other times, no one really knows what the cabinet’s authorities are; when it should convene, and when it shouldn’t, which decisions are subject to its exclusive authority and which aren’t, and above all, the question that hovered over the entire report—which military data should be brought to the attention of the prime minister by the defence minister.

The state comptroller emphasized this point as well, determining that the prime minister should have the cabinet’s authorities and duties officially written down. And into this void of uncertainty regarding the position of the cabinet entered Naftali Bennett. Bennett was still new to the political arena in 2014.

Netanyahu perceived the cabinet as a nuisance, much as he seemed to perceive the government, the Knesset, the institution of the state comptroller, the media and everything that did not allow him to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted and however he wanted.

The state comptroller’s assertion that the defense array did not provide the cabinet with all the information regarding the tunnels is primarily the result of the chief’s attitude, Netanyahu’s attitude. He did not take the cabinet seriously at the time, and it is doubtful he would take it seriously on the occasion of our next war.

Netanyahu would come to cabinet meetings just so he could check it off; to avoid a comptroller’s report like the one released now. However, at the meetings he was faced with young Bennett, motivated and spirited, ready to challenge the system and Netanyahu himself. The prime minister saw him as a pest, a nuisance.

Former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon was in the unfortunate midst as well. At the time, he and Netanyahu were still friends. If Netanyahu would get angry at Bennett, Ya’alon, an old war dog, who only wanted to get home safely, would stammer in the face of Bennett’s passion.

In the cabinet meeting on June 30, 2014 during Operation Brother’s Keeper, during which a proposal for an abnormal airstrike in Gaza was presented to the cabinet, Bennett said: “There are dozens of tunnels today connecting Gaza to southern Israel. The tunnels’ purpose is kidnapping. This is a strategic terror attack that is just waiting to happen.”

It seems Netanyahu felt that Bennett was trying to undermine him and decided to “take control of the situation,” so he said that “there is a key issue here which was raised by Naftali (Bennett), and I think we have to examine it and prepare for it. The tunnel issue we spoke about in the cabinet is a real threat to the State of Israel. It is different since when it comes to kidnappings or infiltrations, there is a kind of balance… in the face of dozens of tunnels crossing into our territory, allowing massive forces to infiltrate. They (terror cells) kidnap but also kill. It’s different. It’s a massive demoralization. It won’t defeat us, but it will deal us a terrible blow.”

During the discussion, Netanyahu turned to Ya’alon and said: “Dealing with the tunnels, which are a very effective tool for our enemy in Gaza—and perhaps not only in Gaza—is something that should be marked as an issue that needs to be dealt with. I am asking for a plan. We have to see how we can destroy the tunnel system.”

During the next cabinet discussion, Bennett noted that the IDF was supposed to present a plan of action against the tunnels. “Will the IDF present to us tonight the operational alternatives for Gaza?” he asked. Netanyahu answered, “I think they want to discuss it among themselves.” Bennett replied, “I thought that was yesterday’s homework.”

In another cabinet discussion from early July, Bennett requested to “see what it takes to neutralize the tunnel-digging ability and the missile-firing ability.”

Ya’alon replied, “There are a number of possibilities and we will discuss them first of all among ourselves.” Bennett asked again if there was “a plan regarding the tunnels,” and Ya’alon replied, “Of course.” He noted that “there was a presentation of all the operative plans.” Bennett replied, “I don’t recall that we were presented with a plan to thwart the tunnels.”

At that point, Netanyahu started getting upset and intervened: “The cabinet’s authority is the prime minister’s authority to decide on the cabinet discussions. What hasn’t been presented here because it was not on the agenda is a plan or a possibility to take care of the tunnel problem, and I think it’s important to present it because that’s the problem we are facing.”

Former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz commented that “as we were asked, tomorrow we will present many versions of how to get into the tunnels.”

In the cabinet discussion on the morning Operation Protective Edge was launched, on July 7, 2014, Netanyahu decided that should the rocket attacks persist, the IDF will escalate its responses accordingly, and firing at the tunnels would be “a given, unless you (Ya’alon) tell me this would become a problem later on.”

Based on the discussions in the transcripts, Ya’alon kept mum on the issue. Now, as a private citizen, he has plenty of time to think about the answers.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017