Analysis: 2014 Gazan war criticisms are mostly political spin

The truth of the report is complicated, and the reality of the war even more so.

January 29, 2017 06:25
4 minute read.
idf gaza

IDF FORCES operate inside the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

A subcommittee of the State Control Committee of the Knesset will decide today whether to publish the State Comptroller’s Report on the decision making processes before and during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he has no objections to the report’s publication, increasing the likelihood that the committee will order it published within two weeks.

Some parts of the report, however, have already been leaked, including the quote that then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said to then-economy minister Naftali Bennett, “You will not manage the army for me,” to which Bennett replied: “I will, if you don’t report the truth.” Or the quote from OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who was head of Military Intelligence during the Gazan war, that, “There are dozens of indications that Hamas does not want a confrontation.”

These quotes and many others, which were published last week in Yediot Aharonot, are nothing more than a smoke screen, a political spin from ministers and MKs who are trying to improve their ratings.

The truth of the report is much more complicated, and the reality of the war even more so.

The report consists of four chapters, the second of which, titled “The Cabinet’s Decision- Making Process in Regard to the Gaza Strip Prior to Operation Protective Edge and at its Beginning,” was presented to the State Control subcommittee. It is considered the most “political” of the four, and is therefore getting the most attention.

The first of these chapters, on the preparedness (rather the lack of it) of the home front, was published last month. It received little attention, even though it is, perhaps, the most important of the four because of the possible extent of its influence on Israeli lives. The third and the four chapters, titled “Intelligence, Operations and Technology” and “Legal Aspects,” respectively, are both expected to be published at a later date.

Those who have seen the second chapter claim that it is very “significant” because it highlights multiple mistakes by Netanyahu and Ya’alon, who allegedly did not share the tunnel threat with the security cabinet and did not properly prepare the country for the threat, together with then-chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz. The report also criticizes Kochavi and his subordinate at the time, Brig.-Gen Itai Baron, then-head of the Military Intelligence research division.

Even though the IDF knew since mid-2013 about the tunnel threat, the report says, the cabinet was not told of the scope and significance of the threat.

The report echoes public criticisms at the height of the war by some of the cabinet ministers, led by Bennett, then-finance minister Yair Lapid and then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, and rejects the positions of Netanyahu and Ya’alon.

Two-and-a-half years have since passed and the political map has shifted, as have political alliances. Bennett, now minister of education and leader of the right-wing Bayit Yehudi, has an interest in goading and belittling Netanyahu, who has been turned into a “lame duck” by the investigations into his alleged corruption.

And Bennett’s former “brother,” Lapid, who is now in the opposition and sees himself as a prime ministerial candidate, also has a political interest in attacking Netanyahu, as does Ya’alon, who left his defense post and the Knesset but still sees himself as a contender to replace Netanyahu as leader of the Likud.

Conversely, Liberman is now the defense minister and no longer has an interest in taunting Netanyahu because doing so would strengthen Bennett in their covert battle for the leadership of the Right, in the event that Netanyahu is forced to resign.

In an atmosphere of political spin, it is difficult to seriously examine the real issues. For example, was the war really negligently managed, or did Netanyahu and Ya’alon actually display responsibility and caution?

Indeed, they understood, as did the IDF chief and his generals, that hasty action – being “galloping horses,” as Bennett urged at the time – would cause many deaths.

They also knew that the IDF could conquer the Gaza Strip and topple Hamas rule, but what would happen after that? A renewal of the occupation of Gaza? Was there really a strategic alternative to how the 50-day war was managed?

The reality regarding the tunnels is also complex. In November 2013, eight months before the war, I reported that the IDF knew that Hamas had built at least 30 attack tunnels. After the war, the IDF confirmed that 31 tunnels were unveiled and destroyed. If I knew, surely the cabinet ministers did as well.

It’s true that the IDF, Netanyahu and Ya’alon were slow in their response to develop measures and technologies to expose the tunnels and did not prepare the troops to effectively deal with them. But it’s not an easy task. Even today, despite the financial and scientific resources invested in this field, no effective solution against the tunnels has been found.

All in all, despite the flaws and the state comptroller’s findings, the war was reasonably conducted.

And there is another truth that must be admitted: Neither Hamas nor its tunnels serve as a strategic and existential threat to Israel’s military power. At the most, they are tactical nuisances.

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