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PM on report: Israelis safer now than in years
By HERB KEINON
13/06/2012
In response to critical report by State Comptroller, Netanyahu touts record, says nothing of implementing findings.
 
The Prime Minister's Office, in response to the State Comptroller's critical report of a disorderly decision making process inside the PMO, said essentially that the "proof is in the pudding," and that Israelis today are enjoying a level of security they have not known for years.

"The security Israeli citizens are enjoying today is a direct result of responsible management and determined policy," a statement issued by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office read.

The statement said that the security discussions held over the last three years were "unprecedented in their breadth and depth, and those who participate will testify to that."

The Comptroller wrote in his report that while there have been hundreds of discussions on national security issues chaired by Netanyahu, in a majority of those meetings the type of staff work needed to prepare for them properly – as dictated by the National Security Council Law of 2008 -- was not carried out.

The statement did not address a central complaint of the Comptroller, that Netanyahu has not sufficiently implemented the law setting up the National Security Council (NSC), and that his military liaison wields inordinate influence over a decision making process that should – by law – be coordinated and led by the NSC and its head.

The brief PMO statement said Netanyahu wanted to express his "appreciation" for the Comptroller's work.

The statement, however, said nothing of a commitment to implement its findings. It did say that the Comptroller himself pointed out that there had been "significant progress" that has considerably enhanced the NSC's involvement in the decision making process.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office issued a curt response saying that Barak accepted the criticism and would work, as he has done in the past, to ensure that the defense establishment and the IDF change what needs to be corrected.  "This is what needs to be done, and will be done," he said.

The report painted a picture of a defense establishment that has a very tight grip not only on how decisions are made, but also on how Israel presents its message afterward..

Regarding criticism in the report of the decision-making process leading up to the Mavi Marmara incident, sources inside the PMO pointed out that the Comptroller himself wrote that even if the decision-making process had been different, there was still no guarantee the outcome would have been any better.

Nine Turks were killed after clashing with IDF commandos who boarded the Turkish ship on May 31, 2010, to prevent it from breaking the blockade of Gaza.

As proof that the decision-making procedure was not faulty, the sources said that the same process was used successfully last year in stopping a Gaza-bound flotilla that set forth from Greece, and two recent attempts at what have become known as "flytillas,"or flying radical pro-Palestinian activists into Ben Gurion Airport.

The Comptroller criticized the Prime Minister in the report for not holding a security cabinet meeting before the Mavi Marmara incident, and relying only on an informal meeting of his group of seven ministers known as the septet. The Comptroller noted that Netanyahu held numerous separate meetings with the defense minister, foreign minister and other officials, but that these meetings were not suitably planned, and that the proceedings were not adequately documented in a way that would help others also dealing with the issue.

The sources said that Netanyahu told the Comptroller while he was preparing the report that last year's Greek flotilla was stopped without the security cabinet or the NSC becoming involved.

The sources also pointed out that the Comptroller himself said there was a great deal of diplomatic efforts – carried out by the prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and others – to keep the flotilla from sailing or from reaching Gaza.

Netanyahu sent messages through third parties – as pointed out in the report – to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and received the impression that there was a "high feasibility" that the flotilla would be prevented, the sources said. According to the Comptroller's report, Netanyahu was only briefed a week before the Mavi Marmara set sail that Erdogan – contrary to the impression he gave – was not going to stop it.

The National Information Directorate, which also came under criticism form the Comptroller for its handling of the flotilla incident and for organizational flaws, issued a statement essentially calling on the public to look at the "half-full" part of the report.

The National Information Directorate was set up five years ago and since its involvement in the decision making process has grown, the statement read, adding that its activities in coordinating the different public diplomacy bodies in the government improves all the time.

One of the major criticisms in the report of public diplomacy (hasbara) during the flotilla incident was a lack of centralized coordination, and the IDF Spokesman Office's tendency – because of its access to data and material, and also because of its manpower – to essentially take control of the country's messaging.

According to the National Information Directorate's statement, the report pointed  out  – as indeed it did – a vast improvement in coordination.

"The Comptroller pointed out the recognition by the political and diplomatic echelon of the importance of hasbara," the statement read. The statement also pointed out another favorable mention in the report: progress in getting Israel's message out on the social media and in Arabic.

"In accordance with the recommendations, formulation of a comprehensive plan to improve and correct the information apparatus will be considered," the statement read. In addition, the statement continued, work has already begun trying to fix some of the problems pointed out in the report.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said in response to the report on the public diplomacy that his conclusion is that the hasbara should be concentrated in the Foreign Ministry.

Liberman added that the flotilla showed that when too many organizations are involved with dealing with the issue, the process becomes uncoordinated.
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