IDF soldiers take part in Operation Protective Edge.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
For better or worse, there is one main person responsible for Operation Protective Edge: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This responsibility stems from his role and status, as well as his control over setting the agenda for the government and the cabinet.
In his report on Operation Protective Edge, the third gaza war in the summer of 2014, released Tuesday, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira determines that “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,” Netanyahu did not instruct the National Security Council and the defense establishment “to present before the cabinet the tunnel threat in a clear and detailed manner.”
There is also criticism of Netanyahu’s conduct and behavior in the year leading up to the 2014 Gaza war. According to the report, Netanyahu was like an analyst in that he dissected the situation, gave warnings, but did not bother to ensure that his words would be followed up with the necessary actions.
Despite this, the chances are slim that he will be damaged by the report. While it did “criticize” Netanyahu on a few other occasions for his behavior and leadership, it did not recommend that the prime minister personally be held to account. Netanyahu’s Teflon coating that has made him “invincible” for years will likely stay in place now and he will manage to survive the crisis of the report.
Those who are liable to actually be hurt by the report are far less responsible than Netanyahu. They are the defense establishment brass at the time of the summer 2014 war: then defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, then IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz and the head of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
Like Netanyahu, they are the recipients of “criticism” from the comptroller. According to the report, Ya’alon and Gantz, among other things, did not present to the cabinet “the trend of escalation” with Hamas or the fact that the IDF was not properly trained and prepared to deal with the tunnels.
Alongside praise for Military Intelligence’s efforts to gather intelligence in Gaza, Kochavi was criticized for not presenting the cabinet with “significant information” on Hamas’s intention to attack Israeli territory through the tunnels. However, the report does not accuse Kochavi of purposely hiding this information from the cabinet, adding that Kochavi did not report an “intelligence gap,” meaning, the information gathered on the tunnels was not sufficient.
Ya’alon, Gantz and Kochavi 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. Kochavi is a leading and worthy candidate to be the next IDF chief of staff in 2019, after current chief Gadi Eisenkot is scheduled to end his tenure.
In addition to these four figures, two others were criticized by the comptroller in his report: Former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yoram Cohen and then-National Security Council chief Yossi Cohen, who today heads the Mossad. However, the report does not recommend measures be taken against them either.
Even if the comptroller would have recommended that they be held personally responsible, it is doubtful that this would actually happen. There is no culture of taking responsibility in Israel. To the contrary, there is a tendency to pass the buck, as we saw in the last few days leading up to the publication of the report, when all of the senior military and political officials entrenched themselves in their positions and pointed fingers at each other.
There are few people who were given positive feedback in the report. One of them is OC Southern Command Sami Turgeman and the other is Yoav Mordechai, who at the end of June 2014 – weeks before the war broke out – warned in defense establishment discussions 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 had understood the severity of the economic and humanitarian crisis in Gaza and acted accordingly, perhaps the war was preventable.
Despite the comptroller’s 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 or other bodies criticize and censure both the military and political echelons, as it is their job to do. However, some of the wars with which these critics found the most flaws and failures 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 we are currently experiencing the longest period of quiet on the Gaza front since 1968. This calm will continue, according to many estimates, because Hamas is deterred and has no interest in embarking on a fourth round of violence in a decade. This can be called deterrence, or it can be called the cunning of history.