Security and Defense: Paying the price

Officers are not accountable for their mistakes.

aluf giora eiland 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
aluf giora eiland 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It all started because of a movie. On Monday, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland held a briefing for the press and presented the findings of his investigation into the botched raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish ship Mavi Marmara.
During the briefing, Eiland showed a short movie, about 20 minutes long, that chronicled the operation from mid-February when the IDF began planning the operation until May 31 when navy commandos seized the ship and sailed it into Ashdod Port.
When chronicling the preparations for the operation, Eiland inserted a throwaway line about a letter that Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi had sent Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on May 13 – about two weeks before Operation Sea Breeze 7 – in which he wrote that the military option needed to be the last resort.
“Interministerial action is needed,” Ashkenazi wrote Barak and Netanyahu. “The military option, including seizing the ship and arresting the passengers, should be a last resort.”
Feeling under fire, Barak’s response was quick to come. The reason was obvious. The appearance of the letter in the movie and later in the media made it seem that Ashkenazi was aware of the potential risks involved in seizing the ship and as a result had urged his superiors to work diplomatically to stop the flotilla. The unfortunate results, one could conclude, were the result of Barak’s and Netanyahu’s failure to heed their military chief’s advice.
Barak, in response this week, claimed that several weeks before the operation, he had ordered the IDF to “fill intelligence gaps” and to prepare for the possibility that terrorists would be aboard the ship. He was showing that he had been aware of the potential complications and had stressed the need for more intelligence.
The relevant meeting was held in the Defense Ministry on May 3, before Ashkenazi’s letter. During the meeting, Barak ordered Military Intelligence and the Mossad to collect intelligence on the ship’s passengers and their intentions. He also reportedly instructed OC Navy Vice-Admiral Eliezer Marom to prepare the commandos from the Shayetet for the possibility that live fire would be used against them.
The problem was that the specific meeting from which Barak’s office leaked his comments was the weekly meeting between the IDF and defense minister during which missions for the coming week are approved. The contents of the meeting – called “Mog,” a Hebrew acronym that stands for “missions and sorties” – are considered top secret.
As a result, IDF officers were quoted in the media on Wednesday accusing Barak’s office of leaking classified information from top secret meetings. The officers called for all those who attended the specific meeting on May 3 to undergo a polygraph test to identify the person behind the leak. The idea was to show that the leak came from Barak’s people, not the IDF.
This is not the first time that Barak and Ashkenazi have clashed in recent months. In April, ties between the two grew extremely tense after Barak decided not to extend Ashkenazi’s tenure as chief of General Staff by an additional year, as had been done for the head of the Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Another clash came over the appointment process for the deputy chief of General Staff, which was dragged out for months because the two could not agree on a candidate. Barak wanted OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant; Ashkenazi wanted OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. In the end, they compromised on Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, who was serving as the military attaché in the US at the time.
The relationship between Barak and Ashkenazi, both of whom seemed to be focused this week on making the other look bad, also likely played a role in the “professional mistakes” – as Eiland called them – which led to the botched raid on the Mavi Marmara and the subsequent diplomatic damage.
If the two cannot decide on appointments and cannot get along in meetings, but can find the time to coordinate with their associates who are sent to slam one another on the day that an important report is released, critics asked this week, can they deal with the real issues, such as Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas? DURING HIS briefing, Eiland seemed to go out of his way to protect the General Staff, to which he once belonged. He refused to criticize any specific officers and just issued a statement that “there were mistakes at high military levels.” This was expected and, indeed, it was likely why he was chosen to lead the IDF’s panel.
Four years ago, he led the investigation into the abduction of Gilad Schalit by Hamas. The only consequent penalty was the recording of the incident in the personal files of several senior officers from Southern Command, including Col. Avi Peled, the commander of the Southern Gaza Brigade at the time.
A year later though, Peled was appointed commander of the Golani Brigade, a clear indication that Schalit’s kidnapping was not held against him. The commander of the Gaza Division, Brig.-Gen.
Aviv Kochavi, also emerged unscathed from the probe. He is currently awaiting a promotion and an appointment within the General Staff, and in the meantime served as a member of Eiland’s investigative team.
Eiland this week also stressed that his panel was not given the mandate to investigate the political echelon’s role or that of the Mossad and Shin Bet. While there were mistakes made in the IDF, Eiland seemed to hint that the responsibility might lie elsewhere.
This could be, but what is also clear from the recent flotilla affair, and others before it, is that the military culture here does not believe in holding individual officers responsible for their mistakes. This is without a doubt the case when it comes to high-ranking officers but can also be applied to the junior ranks.
In both of the military investigations he has led since retiring, Eiland indicated he did not believe that officers need to personally pay the price for their actions. Presumably, he was a comfortable choice for Ashkenazi and Marom when deciding who should run the probe.
There is however a second school of thought which holds that following a tactical mishap that led to extraordinary diplomatic damage, someone needs to pay the price.
Only this way, say adherents of this approach, will the defense establishment learn from its mistakes.