Analysis: The Terkel Committee

Probe will deal with external problems.

Turkel 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Turkel 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
From the moment Israelis heard about the events on the Turkish-flagged ship that provocatively tried to break the Gaza Strip naval blockade, saw the video of the soldiers being clubbed and heard the world condemnations, the responses have come on two different planes.
The first plane was anger and frustration at the world for not realizing that this ship was not carrying boyand girl-scouts to Gaza to dispense baby formula and medicine, but was rather carrying – along with some genuine, naive peace activists – radical Islamic true believers and terrorist fellow travelers whose purpose was to throw a lifeline to Hamas so that the terrorist organization could live to fight us another day.
The world’s reaction, despite the video clips of the soldiers’ bloodied faces, and the knife and axe wielding ‘peaceniks’ with links to terrorist organizations, led to an Israeli desire to justify ourselves in the world. There was a desire to say we were operating within our legal rights; to say, “Look, we were not responsible for the nine deaths on the ship, it was them. They came looking either to break the blockade and make it easier for Hamas to kill us, or to pick a fight with the soldiers they knew would not let them through.
The soldiers acted in legitimate self-defense.”
The second response upon seeing the videos of the soldiers dropped on to the ship by rope, and then set upon brutally by those on the deck, was anger at those in charge. How could they put the soldiers in that nightmarish and impossible situation? Why didn’t they know what was on the ship? Where was the intelligence? What were they thinking? The investigative committee that the government formally set up on Monday is meant to answer the first plane – to justify our actions to the world – not the second one.
This committee will likely show that Israel acted well within its rights as a sovereign nation with the right to stop ships from turning Gaza into a repository for Iranian weapons; that the soldiers behaved in a reasonable fashion to defend themselves, and even acted with restraint, considering the frenzied mass on the deck of the ship; and that those on the deck who attacked the soldiers did indeed have certified connections to the global jihad network.
In Israel’s ongoing battle with the world, the objective of this type of investigation is not insignificant, and will serve to show the world that not only was Israel within its rights in the way it responded, but that it also knows full well how to investigate its own actions. David Trimble and Ken Watkin, the Irish and Canadian observers on the panel, are meant to demonstrate that this is no Israeli whitewash, but rather an independent, transparent, credible and professional committee.
It is hard to believe that any committee that does not damn Israel for the episode will be accepted by countries such as Turkey, South Africa or Malaysia.
Those governments, and the publics they represent, have their minds made up already, and no committee that does not find Israel 100 percent culpable would sway their opinion.
But there are fair-mined, reasonable people out there for whom the findings of this committee will have weight, and for whom it is important to know the identity of those on the ship, what they were seeking and how they comported themselves when the ship they were sailing on was boarded by the soldiers of a country whose territorial waters were about to be violated.
There are those who will argue that this battle, at least in Europe, is already lost, because even reasonable people in those countries are poisoned by a predominantly left-wing media with a strong anti-Israeli bias. One can argue that on a case by case basis. But the battle is as much to convince governments as it is to convince the people, with the hopes that the government messages will have an impact on the masses.
If, for instance, the Terkel Committee can convince governments in places like Italy, France and Germany, then those governments’ messages will also trickle downward. Governments in a democracy do impact on public opinion; it is not only public opinion that sways governments.
But what this committee won’t deal with is the second plane – where did we mess up.
And an answer to that question is also badly needed – not because of a desire to please the world, or because of a need to find someone to blame, or a communal instinct for self flagellation, but rather so the lessons are truly learned.
Anyway you look at it, since the beginning of the year Israel has spent an inordinate amount of time and energy cleaning up after its own messes: be it the low couch episode with the Turkish ambassador, the fallout from the Mahmoud al- Mabhouh hit in Dubai, the dust-up with US Vice President Joe Biden over the illtimed announcement of building in Ramat Shlomo, or the flotilla episode.
Anyway you look at it, something isn’t working; the various government organizations are not functioning as well as they should, the judgment is not what it needs to be. This doesn’t mean that after every mistake an inquiry committee needs to be set up – but an internal mechanism needs to be found to establish where things went wrong, and correct the problem.
The IDF will investigate what happened on the Mavi Marmara, and will probably learn the operative lessons.
But the problem is not only an operational one. It also has to do with how decisions are made, who is making them and what information is and is not known.
Both the Mabhouh incident and the flotilla raid reveal a country that is dangerously underestimating its enemy.
Did no one think that the Dubai hotel would be covered with surveillance cameras? Did no one realize that there would be some really bad people on the flotilla? Decision making is not a science – sometimes the right choices are made, and sometimes they are not. But when you have a string of incidents that seem to be self-inflicted goals, it is incumbent on the country – especially a country like this faced with so many challenges – to find a way to figure out what is wrong, and then fix it.
Those questions will not be addressed by the Terkel Committee; that is not its mandate.