Israeli media has put on one of its circuses of prolonged discussions following the publication of the State Comptroller''s Report on the incident invovling the Turkish ship Marmara carrying protesters toward Gaza in May, 2010.
The essence of this report is that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not carry out all of the consultations required in such circumstances, and as a result was not fully prepared, and did not prepare underlings to handle the situation in the way most favorable to Israel.
The great majority of commentators appear to agree with the State Comptroller, and they have not been shy of piling on the Prime Minister for his alleged failings.
A prominent exception to the endorsement of the report comes from MK Hanin Zoabi, arguably one of the brightest and most extreme of the Knesset Members, an Arab woman, who was a passenger on the Marmara.
"Instead of investigating the nature of the pirate operation, of the murder of activists and the attack on a civilian ship, the State Comptroller is cooperating with the Israeli security establishment in suppressing the facts,"
Some of the commentators have other issues with the State Comptroller. While his report accuses the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister for not consulting with all who should have been in their loops, critics note that the report indicates that there was a lot of consultation with personnel having expertise and responsibilities for the relevant political and military issues.
Relations between Israel and Turkey had already soured. Netanyahu sought through a variety of channels an assurance from Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan that he would keep the flotilla from sailing. At one point it was thought that Erdogan was inclined to cooperate, but in hindsight it appears that he was intent on embarrassing Israel.
Commentaries have raised again details about the Marmara incident, the inquiries, condemnations, reports, and continuing squabbles with Turkey, including its most recent decisions to bring criminal charges against the senior Israeli military personnel involved.
Israel''s State Comptrollers have issued incisive reports revealing important flaws in government policy or exposing corruption, that have resulted in significant changes. On the other hand, many reports deal with details that are improper in terms of official procedure, but do not clearly lead to decisions that may be faulted in terms of wasting significant resources, or violations of citizens'' rights.
The State Comptroller''s report on the Marmara differed from reports that put the onus on bureaucrats for not following all the required procedures. This one directed attention to the Prime Minister and Defense Minister. It allowed politicians and commentators to make strong assertions about the most prominent politicians of them all, bolstered by the prestige of the State Comptroller.
Like other reports of the State Comptroller that fault officials for not following all of the written rules, this one does not ask the difficult question, Did those lapses make a significant difference for the outcomes?
No doubt the incident was less than ideal. However, many confrontational encounters, especially those involving extremists and the likelihood of violence, are also less than ideal. People get hurt. It could always be better or less costly. However, the outcomes in this case appear to have been produced by factors other than those emphasized by the State Comptroller. Moreover, they do not appear to have been the catastrophe that commentators are describing.
- The head of the Turkish government seemed intent on making a problem for Israel.
- The ship did not make it to Gaza.
- Nine individuals died as a result of conflict with Israeli personnel. Films of the confrontation justify labels as extremists or terrorists for the violent passengers on the Marama
- While some IDF personnel were injured, the men sent to the Marmara recovered from whatever surprise they encountered and overcame their adversaries
A senior official in Office of the State Comptroller once conceded to me that many of its reports were trivial. "Not all of our employees are geniuses," he said, "and we must give them something to do."In settings where optimal outcomes are the stuff of aspirations rather than reality, one should always ask, How did the outcomes compare to other confrontations?
We must always say that all human life is precious, but the numbers of dead and injured associated with the Marama are less than occurred in numerous Turkish actions against Kurds, the protests in Cairo, confrontations between Hamas and Fatah, current activities of the Syrian government, or the costs versus the accomplishments of the United States and allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya.
Israel emerged from the incident with some international battering of the type that has been conventional and was expected. Its loosening of the isolation on Gaza hardly seems to be a major defeat. What has occurred in Gaza since the Marmara owes more to changes in Egypt than to what Israel''s Prime Minister did, or failed to do. The sea blockade remains in force, and there has not been a serious challenge since the Marmara incident.
Israel''s response to the flotilla came after considerable discussions about political and military issues, even if they did not include all of the discussions with all of the personnel that may have been appropriate.
It is not possible to plan for all the contingencies likely to occur in military or quasi-military confrontations. One''s opponents, antagonists, or enemies have their own plans, resources, skills of maneuver, surprise, and improvisation.
The bottom line is what counts most, and it is hard to see a significantly different bottom line coming from a process where there would have been more consultations prior to the IDF''s encounter with the Marmara.
We should not be surprised at how the media has responded to yet another report on an event that all would call imperfect.
That is the way Jews govern themselves.
It could be worse.