Two years of soul-searching and months of high-stakes political battles will reach a climax on Tuesday as State Comptroller Joseph Shapira publishes his landmark report on conduct during the 2014 Gaza war and the Hamas tunnel threat.
Operation Protective Edge
The 50-day war led to the deaths of 74 Israelis, some of whom were soldiers killed in surprise attacks from tunnels.
It also included 4,251 rockets fired on the home front – paralyzing the South, briefly halting flights at Ben-Gurion Airport and leaving most regions of the country vulnerable at one point or another.
Shapira’s leaked conclusions and criticism threaten to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or permanently wound his “Mr. Security” image, making him far more exposed politically when the next election comes along.
The report’s conclusions could tarnish the reputations of former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yoram Cohen and former National Security Council chief and current Mossad Director Yossi Cohen. They could also serve as a campaign boost for Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid.
On Monday, Lapid pressed Netanyahu to admit his failings and opposition leader Isaac Herzog slammed both Netanyahu and Lapid for mistakes described in the report.
Bennett has also been consistently critical of the prime minister and the focus of Netanyahu’s counterattack.
Leaked transcripts of the security cabinet’s meetings during the war show that Bennett repeatedly confronted Ya’alon over the need to provide more information, and Gantz over Bennett’s desire for him to present more aggressive options for using force against Hamas.
Some key figures in the report who will likely emerge unscathed are former IDF intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who is likely to be hit with heavy criticism, but is already IDF deputy chief of staff in waiting, and former Mossad director Tamir Pardo, who is frequently mentioned without being criticized. The former head of Southern Command, Maj.-Gen.
Sami Tourgeman, is expected to be portrayed as insightful regarding the tunnel threat.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and former top Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar are two major political forces who, in the past, blasted Netanyahu regarding his conduct during the war. They have been more subdued recently and Liberman, in particular, appears to be treading carefully after moving from the opposition to leading the Defense Ministry.
The report is so significant that most of the figures previously mentioned, as well as a number of others, have been waging a media battle of leaks about the report for nearly nine months.
In May, Shapira asked the State Prosecution to investigate who leaked drafts of the report, which was under gag order until Tuesday.
The Justice Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that it is still reviewing the leak issue, but when pressed to provide information about the status of its review, refused to provide any details, including whether the issue has become a full criminal investigation or was merely a review.
To protect his stature, Netanyahu held an approximately four-hour long session with the Post and other media outlets, of which about 90% was devoted to his narrative regarding issues raised by the report.
The three central criticisms made by the report are: The war was avoidable; 50 days was too long; and Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz did not properly prepare the IDF, the security cabinet or the public for the scope of Hamas’s tunnel threat.
Besides those issues, leaks have indicated that blame has been placed on Netanyahu and Ya’alon for keeping the security cabinet out of strategy discussions on the country’s long-term plans for Gaza, such that the war itself was not directed at particular long-term goals.
Netanyahu, Ya’alon, Gantz, Kochavi, Yoram Cohen and Yossi Cohen are expected to be hit with criticism that they did not share all necessary intelligence with the security cabinet.
The leaks also indicate that the picture presented to the security cabinet was devoid of the possibility that Hamas might overreact and escalate into a full war on any given incident, if Israel escalated it s military force beyond the usual targets, and of the true extent of the threat posed by the tunnels.
Further, the leaks indicate that the Hamas tunnel threat was only discussed by the security cabinet in March 2014, and only in a serious manner when the war was kicking into high gear.
Even within the IDF, insufficient resources and attention were allocated to coping with the tunnel threat, leaving IDF forces on the front lines having to come up with ad hoc solutions for destroying them.
The unnecessary length of the war, which had terrible consequences for the country, is said to be attributed to miscommunication between the political and military echelons.
The report is also expected to slam the security cabinet ministers for failing to show sufficient interest or sufficiently preparing themselves on a range of issues regarding the war.
Moreover, the report will likely criticize the National Security Council for failing to push the various parties to fully discuss all relevant war and peace issues and present the security cabinet with all the relevant intelligence. A side point to that criticism is that the IDF and the defense establishment at times withheld intelligence and failed to cooperate with the council.
Collectively, the report’s conclusions call into question whether the war was a success or a failure, and whether top officials managed war and peace issues successfully or deficiently.
Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz have generally responded to the report’s leaked conclusions by attacking Bennett, while not comprehensively addressing the report’s conclusions.
One exception is that sources close to Netanyahu have disputed the report’s conclusions that the war was unnecessary or too long, citing the extended quiet that has been achieved since its conclusion.
The report on the security cabinet’s decision-making processes and the Hamas tunnel threat are the second and third parts of a fourpart report by the state comptroller on different aspects of the war.
The first part concluded that the security establishment had not properly prepared portions of the home front for Hamas’s rocket onslaught, while the fourth part, expected to come out soon, will discuss the extent to which Israel’s use of force complied with international law.