Boats, blunders and backbone
By JEREMY RUDEN
Public diplomacy must be modeled after military, considering every situation threatening Israel's image as a conventional attack.
Micha Lindenstrauss is saving the best for last. With his tenure as State
Comptroller ending in just a few weeks, he released the long-awaited report as
to the government’s performance in the Turkish flotilla debacle in May 2010. The
report was less than flattering toward Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his
ministers and the IDF.
The report really takes to task the decision
making process employed by the prime minister and the IDF. Unlike other
military connected operations, the flotilla was something which could have been
prepared for in advance. The intelligence community knew the IHH was planning to
try and break the Gaza blockade months ahead of time.
From what can be
read into the report and the various analyses published in the Israeli press,
the problem was that no one took this flotilla too seriously. By the time the
threat was understood, it was too late and events took a turn for the worse.
IN MY opinion, the flotilla incident was probably the single
worst hasbara (public diplomacy) fiasco Israel has experienced in over a decade,
and that includes the Second Lebanon War. It turns out that at least some of
that damage could have been avoided.
Before I get to that, though, I’d
like to point out a few facets of the report I found particularly interesting.
First is the wide international media coverage the story has gotten. A good
percentage of the articles I read implied the IDF commando raid was illegal
despite the fact that the report itself did not indicate that whatsoever. It’s a
shame that so many of the pieces failed to mention the Turkel committee and the
subsequent United Nations inquiry which both found the Gaza blockade to comply
with international law.
ANOTHER ASPECT which must be taken very seriously
is the lack of coordinated public diplomacy effort before, during and after the
incident. Reading between the lines of the various articles written in the
Israeli press, it’s clear that one of the major problems is too many cooks in
the kitchen. Both the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Foreign Ministry
were chastised in the report.
In response, senior officials from both
branches went on the defensive. Officials at the Foreign Ministry went so far as
to say that they were the first to kick into damage control mode during the
confrontation, despite the lack of information from the army. Minister Avigdor
Liberman even suggested that his office should be the one speaking to the
The questions remain: Who exactly is in charge of dealing
with public diplomacy at this level and is there anyone coordinating the
message? I suspect that the answers will depend on who you ask and which day of
the week they get the question.
The logistics of dealing with situations
like this, though, should be clear. Public diplomacy must take the format from
the military, considering every situation which threatens Israel’s image as if
it was a conventional attack. Hasbara war rooms, coordinating all of the
players, must be manned 24 hours a day and on alert for potential threats.
Extensive preparations need to be made weeks in advance in cases such as the
If there’s an ongoing story, every correspondent needs
information immediately. If we don’t provide it, they’ll only be reporting the
narrative eagerly handed out by our enemies. Pertinent data coupled with
background information must be made available to the international
At all costs, we must avoid the situation where the reporting has
spiraled out of control with lies, slander and fake or doctored visuals. The
price for failure in the media war is very high. There might not be Israeli dead
or injured but every time an opinion is changed from pro to anti-Israel is a
WE ARE used to fighting to defend ourselves and our right to live
in peace. Sometimes, though, we also need to seize to moment with the
international media. We now are at that crossroads with regard to the
On Friday, the story broke that the President of the IHH,
Bulent Yildirim, is being investigated for allegedly transferring funds to
al-Qaida. This is according to reports out of Turkey, no less.
to the Turkish daily Haberturk, the head of the organization which organized the
flotilla might have been funneling aid to the organization which perpetrated
9/11. Not only that but the Turks apparently raided the IHH offices in
Istanbul and found weapons, explosives and bomb making instructions. Allegedly,
there was also documentation showing the IHH was planning to take part in terror
attacks in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia as well.
We can’t let this
story get buried.
Israel has taken a weak stance towards Turkey on the
flotilla. We were in the right in stopping the boats from reaching Gaza. We
regret the loss of life but our soldiers were attacked and their lives were at
risk. We have repeatedly tried to mend fences with Ankara, to no avail. That has
not stopped the Turks from demanding an apology and reparations, slapping
sanctions on us and indicting the top IDF commanders who were involved in the
raid. This is something which we should not tolerate.
So now the time has
come for Israel’s public diplomacy to spearhead an offensive. Not only should we
press the story of the Yildirim investigation, we should be pointing out that
this is not the first story to indicate that the IHH is rooted in terrorism and
murder. We have the ammunition – it’s time to use it.
While we coordinate
this media blitz and hopefully gain some leverage, our diplomats must discreetly
reach out to and propose an end to the diplomatic freeze. While there
were some innocent activists aboard the boats, the flotilla was organized by a
terrorist organization. It’s time to put the incident aside and offer a
normalization of relations. We shouldn’t ask for an apology, but should be ready
to match every demand that Turkey made from us, if that normalization is
The writer is an independent media