Special report: Netanyahu and the defense establishment's failures in the 2014 Gaza war

The report cites major failings from the prime minister, defense establishment, security cabinet, and others which could have cost the country dearly.

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February 28, 2017 15:57
idf gaza

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

 
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State Comptroller Joseph Shapira published his report on the conduct of the 2014 Gaza war and the Hamas tunnel threat on Tuesday that accused a wide range of the political and security establishments of major failures.

The 50-day war led to the deaths of 74 Israeli soldiers, a number of whom were killed by Hamas tunnel surprise attacks. It also included 4,251 rockets being fired on the home front – paralyzing the South, briefly halting flights at Ben-Gurion Airport and leaving most of the country a target at one point or another.

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The report found that the tunnel threat, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon had defined as “the highest level of strategic and significant threat,” had only been presented to the Security Cabinet “in general and limited statements which were insufficient to clarify the severity of the threat and to establish the necessary level of awareness for the rest of the cabinet.”

In fact, the report found that only after the cabinet met on June 30 and after its first meeting in July – just days before war broke out – did the cabinet understand the severity of the threat from the tunnels.
Operation Protective Edge

Shapira also slammed the Security Cabinet ministers themselves for failing to show interest; request a wider presentation of the tunnel threat; and demand that the IDF present them a plan for counteracting that threat.

The report also blasted Netanyahu, Ya’alon and then IDF chief-of-staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz for not initiating any discussions with the cabinet on how they proposed to counteract the tunnel threat in the event of hostilities.

Part of what went wrong was that the defense establishment repeatedly refused to cooperate or delayed cooperation with the National Security Council, whose primary job is to keep the cabinet fully informed and prepared on all major issues of war and peace.

Moreover, the report criticized the NSC itself for failing to push the various parties to fully discuss all relevant war and peace issues and alternate options, as well as its failure to provide the Security Cabinet with all intelligence.

Shapira wrote that even the trio of Netanyahu, Gantz, and Ya’alon at the top of the pyramid, and the intelligence chiefs who knew the level of the threat, did not invest enough resources or properly prioritize the tunnel threat.

Even once they started to treat the tunnel threat more seriously, the report said that too little was done too late.

Within the IDF, insufficient resources and attention were allocated to cope with the tunnel threat, leaving forces on the front needing to come up with ad hoc solutions for destroying the tunnels.

Shapira’s conclusions and criticism threaten to topple Netanyahu or to permanently wound his “Mr. Security” image, making him far more beatable when the next election comes along.

The report’s conclusions also could tarnish the reputations of Ya’alon, Gantz, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yoram Cohen and former National Security Council chief and current Mossad director Yossi Cohen.

Leaked transcripts of Security Cabinet meetings from the war show Education Minister Bennett in repeated confrontations with Ya’alon over the need to provide more information, and with Gantz over Bennett’s desire that he present more aggressive options for using force against Hamas.

Some key figures in the report who are likely to remain unscathed are then-IDF intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who was hit with heavy criticism, but has already been promoted to IDF deputy chief-of-staff in-waiting, and former Mossad director Tamir Pardo, who was frequently mentioned without being criticized.

Then-head of Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman was also portrayed as showing insight regarding the tunnel threat.

Two major political forces who blasted Netanyahu in the past regarding his conduct of the war but have been silent recently, are Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman who, having moved from the opposition to a top ministry job, must tread carefully, and former top Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar.


The impact of the report has led most of the above figures and a number of others into waging a media battle of leaks dating back nearly nine months.

In May, Shapira asked the state prosecution to investigate who leaked drafts of the report, which were under gag order until the order was lifted on Tuesday.

The Justice Ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Monday it is still reviewing the leaks, but pressed about the status of its review after some nine months having passed, refused to provide any details, including whether the issue had become a full criminal investigation or was mere procedure.

In an attempt to protect his stature, Netanyahu even held an approximately four-hour session with representatives from the Post and other media outlets, around 90% of which was devoted to his narrative on issues raised by the report.

Besides the tunnels issue, other central criticisms of the report were: the war was avoidable; at 50-days it was too long; and the Security Cabinet was not kept fully informed or consulted on big-picture strategy.

According to the report, the Security Cabinet for the 2013 to 2015 government did not hold meetings to decide on the country’s broader strategic policy and goals toward Gaza from 2013 to 2014. “When it did hold meetings on global strategy, it was presented with a very limited number of options, which only touched on the potential level of the use of military force,” wrote Shapira.

He continued, “It did not entertain alternative foreign policies or policies regarding the difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza, regarding which the security establishment estimated which could have consequences for the State of Israel.”

The strategic meetings were held after such a long delay that the IDF was forced to develop its own strategic goals beforehand, which focused on military concerns and did not necessarily take into account the full range of concerns of the political echelon.

The comptroller found that “significant and necessary information... regarding significant strategic hostile activities which could potentially emanate from Gaza, major gaps in intelligence which existed at the time regarding the Gaza Strip and on the limitations on the impact of aerial attacks on the Gaza Strip – were not presented to the ministers in a sufficiently comprehensive manner before the war.”

This was despite the fact that “the information was in the possession of the prime minister, the then-defense minister, the then-IDF chief-of-staff and the then-intelligence chiefs: the head of military intelligence and the head of the Shin Bet.”

Missing from the picture presented to the Security Cabinet, was that Hamas might overreact and escalate into a full war on any given incident, if Israel escalated its application of military force beyond the usual targeted responses and beyond the extent of the tunnel threat.

More disturbing, the report found that with earlier homework and more serious efforts prior to the war, results could have been very different.

The unnecessary length of the war, which had terrible consequences for the country, was attributed to miscommunication between the political and military echelons.

Collectively, the report questions whether the war was a success or failure and whether top officials managed war and peace issues well or poorly.

Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz have responded to the report’s conclusions mainly by attacking Bennett, while not comprehensively addressing those conclusions.

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