Defense minister discusses readiness for tunnels with MKs during closed session

State comptroller’s probe of cabinet’s wartime conduct, legality of IDF actions during Protective Edge, continues.

Moshe Yaalon
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Wednesday responded to criticism regarding the IDF’s readiness to confront the Hamas tunnel threat during the recent Gaza war.
His testimony to the Knesset State Control Committee was closed to the media, but committee chairman Amnon Cohen (Shas) issued a press release confirming that he would continue to call other Defense Ministry officials to testify and that the State Comptroller’s office would also be reviewing the IDF’s readiness on the issue.
Almost immediately following Cohen’s statement, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira issued a statement confirming that he was checking both the tunnels issue, possible cabinet leaks and whether IDF actions during the war conformed with international law.
Shapira reminded the public that he had announced the start of such an investigation as early as mid-August, while the war was still under way.
Several surprise attacks emanated from the tunnels, attacks in which soldiers were killed.
Heavy criticism was directed against the political and security establishments claiming the IDF was unprepared for the scope of the Hamas tunnel threat, with each establishment leaking off-the-record attacks on the other to shift responsibility.
A primary defense by politicians and some military officials has been to blame the intelligence sector for not being fully in the know, but a 2007 state comptroller’s report on the issue that said the entire defense establishment had been part of an “ongoing failure.”
Among those mentioned as being involved in the anti-tunnel effort at the time were then-IDF chief and current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, then-deputy IDF chief Maj.-Gen. Dan Halutz, then-OC Ground Forces Maj.- Gen. Yiftah Ron-Tal and then-OC Combat Engineering Corps Brig.-Gen.
Shimon Daniel.
The report came after several incidents in which soldiers were killed or kidnapped, most notably tank gunner Gilad Schalit, by Hamas men attacking from tunnels, in ambushes similar to the recent ones.
The 2007 report recommended numerous urgent changes, “in light of the flawed handling of the threat in the three areas reviewed, the conceptual foundation for addressing the issue, technological efforts and intelligence handling of the threat, each of them individually and collectively.”
The first recommendation was to appoint a point-person in the IDF who would have full coordinating power to make sure that all efforts were undertaken in a unified fashion.
This was in contrast to the previous appointment of certain officials to handle the issue in theory, where the comptroller found that they were never given sufficient authority or included in all government meetings on the issue, such that their ideas were ignored.
The second recommendation was that better mechanisms for alerting soldiers and civilians in real-time about threats emanating from tunnels, as well as for providing intelligence to forward troops to react promptly, needed to be developed.
This recommendation mentioned the necessity of oversight and intervention by the political leadership.
Third, the resources of the IDF, the Defense Ministry and private-sector experts needed to be better pooled and mobilized to address faster location and neutralizing of the tunnels.
At the time, the IDF gave a number of responses to the report’s conclusions, including that the threat of tunnels would take time to address because it was unprecedented.