Analysis: Ashkenazi tries to save face

IDF chief could have been remembered as hero.

ashkenazi 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
ashkenazi 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Had Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s tenure as chief of the General Staff ended in mid- May, he would have been remembered as the army commander who restored the IDF to its former glory following the failed Second Lebanon War in 2006 and oversaw the successful Operation Cast Lead.
Instead, Ashkenazi will be remembered as the chief of staff who got into an unprecedented fight with his defense minister and as a result did not receive an extension to his tenure, who oversaw the botched raid on the Mavi Marmara and who appears to have lost control of his General Staff in what has led up to the infamous Galant Document.
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On Wednesday, during his testimony before the Turkel Commission, Ashkenazi did what he could to restore something of his tarnished image by taking the high ground and openly accepting responsibility for the Mavi Marmara raid in late May, which ended with nine dead Turkish nationals.
In his testimony, Ashkenazi said all the right things from his subordinates’ perspectives.
He took responsibility for the commando raid and detailed some of the military’s flaws, but overall did not try to push the responsibility up or down the ladder – not to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, nor to Israel Navy commander V.-Adm.
Eliezer Marom – as he easily could have.
This was a sharp break from the testimonies of Barak the day before, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earlier in the week. In these cases, Netanyahu pushed the responsibility down to Barak and Barak pushed it down to the IDF, going as far as to say that the government tells the military what to do but not how to do it. It is the military’s job, he said, to tell the government if it cannot carry out its assignment.
That is very convenient to say, but it is not exactly the case, at least not in the Israeli model of political-military relations – something of which Barak, a former chief of staff, should be well aware.
Barak is also far from being a hands-off defense minister.
He has even said on more than one occasion that as defense minister, he gets down to the smallest details before approving operations.
He regularly holds discussions on operations before they are approved and is known to send the IDF back to the drawing board if the pending plan is not to his liking.
This is also in contradiction to the image Barak has tried to create for himself: the defense minister that this country desperately needs to counter the growing threats and challenges it faces. If that were the case, then where was Barak in the planning stages of the operation to stop the Turkish flotilla? Netanyahu’s testimony is also slightly misleading. In his effort to pass the buck, Netanyahu claimed he had only discussed the media and hasbara (public diplomacy) ramifications of stopping the flotilla with his top cabinet, known as the septet, and had left the rest up to Barak.
This was contradicted by the defense minister, who claimed that the forum of seven top ministers had discussed the actual operation.
In this case, Barak is likely right.
After all, since this government took office in mid- 2009, Netanyahu and Barak have gone out of their way to stress how deep, thoughtful and comprehensive the septet’s meetings are. Barak even said a few months ago that in his almost 40-year military and political career, he had never sat in such a serious forum that debated every issue down to the smallest detail.
So what went wrong with the Mavi Marmara? That will be up to the Turkel Commission to determine. Judging from the results of the Winograd Committee, which investigated the Second Lebanon War, Netanyahu and Barak are likely hoping for a similar outcome – that the IDF will take the fall.