Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and other top officials were put on the defensive over the weekend after a state comptroller’s report on political failures during the 2014 Gaza war was leaked.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Friday called for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate who leaked the secret report, which is expected to be made public in the near future, but was provided to Netanyahu, Ya’alon and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot in February.
By late Thursday, the sides had already preemptively made arguments designed to shape the public’s view of what will be a hard-hitting and controversial report by Shapira, in a term in which he has mostly walked carefully around controversial political issues.
Reports from Channel 2 and Haaretz were framing the report as worse than the Winograd Report after the 2006 Lebanon War, which led to resignations by then-defense minister Amir Peretz and then-IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz.
Other anonymous sources are attacking the report as “not serious,” and not from a serious comptroller.
The comptroller and a wide range of political officials have hit back at Netanyahu and Ya’alon for attacking the leaked report.
According to the leaked report, the comptroller first slams Netanyahu, Ya’alon and former IDF chief-of-staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz for failing to warn the security cabinet about intelligence they had from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) about the possibility of war with Hamas prior to the start of Operation Protective Edge.
The leaked report says that the trio passed on the Shin Bet’s warnings only once the country was already in the midst of the conflict.
Next, the report attacks the trio for failing to hold serious security cabinet meetings about the Hamas tunnel threat, holding only one meeting on the issue, in March 2014, four months before the start of the war.
Even once the war started, Shapira allegedly says that Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz reportedly kept most of the key decisions and details to themselves to a problematic extent.
At the same time, the report is said to slam some of the security cabinet members as not sufficiently educating themselves regarding war issues in order to properly fulfill their duties.
Shapira reportedly also blasts the three top war policy- makers over mistakes which led to extending the war unnecessarily, with terrible results for how hard the country got hit during the operation.
He said this occurred because of a communications disconnect between top military commanders and political officials from commanders in the field.
For example, Gantz claimed after the first Hamas tunnel attack that there would not be another such event, when in fact Hamas attacked from tunnels four more times.
These are all highly sensitive points for Netanyahu, whose claim to fame politically is being Mr. Security, not being questioned for poor security preparation and for unnecessarily exposing the homefront to attack. Netanyahu has also recently claimed finding Hamas attack tunnels as a victory under his watch by investing in new tunnel-detection technology.
Sources close to Netanyahu responded to the reports of what will be in the draft by saying there is “no resemblance” between the leaks and what is in the actual comptroller’s report.
Moreover, the sources said, this draft will also certainly be changed before the final report is written, following answers that will be provided by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The sources said that without getting into the content of the report, the comptroller does point out that Netanyahu defined the tunnels as a central threat long before Operation Protective Edge, and directed the defense establishment to deal with them.
According to the sources, the draft was leaked and its content distorted by people with vested interests, including “irresponsible politicians who were cabinet members, who know the truth and prefer to falsify it to make political points.”
“Operation Protective Edge was managed responsibly and with good judgment, and it delivered Hamas the most difficult blow it has ever received,” the sources said. “The period since Operation Protective Edge was the quietest for the communities near the Gaza Strip since 2000.”
Responding to their attacks, comptroller spokesman Shlomo Raz on Friday emphasized three points. First he called into question the objectivity of those attacking the report, since they are so far emanating from political officials whom the report is critical of.
Second, he said that all criticisms in the report of war policy-making are based on unimpeachable and objective data and documentary evidence, inviting the report’s attackers to try to rebut its arguments instead of making mere ad hominem attacks.
Third, he said the attorney-general should investigate who illegally leaked the report and what their motivations were, saying it had not been leaked from his office.
In reaction to the leak, Gantz said on Friday that the operation was carried out “in a reasoned and responsible manner. There’s no need to drag it into the headlines. I’m disappointed that the draft report reached the media before the relevant parties.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said that Netanyahu and Ya’alon represent “leadership that avoids responsibility, that is incapable of making the required decisions, and is unable to ensure the security of Israel’s citizens.
“What is no less serious [than Netanyahu and Ya’alon’s conduct in 2014] is that just as before Operation Protective Edge, Israel today also merely responds to Hamas’s actions and threats and takes no real initiative to change the situation at its foundation and remove the ongoing threat from Gaza, which is becoming more powerful, for the residents of Israel,” added Liberman, who served as Netanyahu’s foreign minister during the war.
Former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar also called the Gaza operation “a failure for Israel” in a tweet on Friday.
“The way to fix the mistakes is not to avoid criticism. One must learn from mistakes and failures. Denying reality is not the right way,” he wrote.
MK Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), who was an observer in the security cabinet during Protective Edge, condemned the leak, which he said came from an attempt to score political points.
The politicians “forgot the report’s true purpose, which is a professional and values-based discussion to draw conclusions and accept criticism about the operation. Only in this way can we learn the appropriate lessons, fix the shortcomings and improve what needs to be improved to protect Israel’s security.”
Meretz began gathering the 40 signatures necessary to hold an emergency Knesset meeting during the Knesset recess, in order to discuss the draft report. The debate is expected to take place this week.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) responded to the report that “then, just as now, the cabinet of talk dealt with slogans against Hamas instead of stopping and striking Hamas.
“It turns out that not everyone who shouts is really scary,” he added.
“Instead of defeating the comptroller, who is a very serious man, they should work on defeating Hamas.”
Knesset State Control Committee chairwoman Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) expressed disappointment that the highly classified report was leaked, saying that “even when the state comptroller is dealing with human lives and decision-making processes, the political level acts on narrow political interests.
“Instead of responding to the claims, the Prime Minister’s Office and politicians from the government are choosing to delegitimize the State Comptroller’s Office,” she added. “In a civilized democracy, criticism is necessary and preventing it causes serious harm to Israeli democracy.”
Elharar also pointed out that MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) warned in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the situation before and during Protective Edge, and that the panel began working on a report following the operation, but was forced to stop when the Knesset was dispersed ahead of the 2015 election.