Investigate why J'lem is always a step behind

The “internal” c'tee can only look outward.

Gaza Boat 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Gaza Boat 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The investigative committee into the events of May 31, announced Sunday by the Prime Minister’s Office, is meant to deflect international diplomatic pressure from Israel over its handling of the Gaza flotilla affair. While it is important that the committee investigate the circumstances of the interception, Turkey’s involvement, the legality of the Gaza blockade and all other relevant legal questions surrounding the affair, what the committee will not investigate is why Israel’s leadership seems always to be surprised by countries and groups that consistently manage to be one step ahead of Jerusalem.
Despite the impressive gravitas of its members, the “internal” committee has only been given a mandate to look outward. It will not investigate why the National Security Council was not properly involved in deliberations ahead of the flotilla. It will not question members of the Foreign Ministry’s political research division over what they knew about the diplomatic atmosphere at the time the flotilla was announced. Why was Turkey’s diplomatic shift not spotted earlier, and why were efforts not made to counter that shift earlier? The committee will not question the National Information Directorate about what plans it made or didn’t make to present Israel’s case ahead of the flotilla. In short, this will not be a Winograd committee, and Israelis will just have to remain used to their government being led from one diplomatic disaster to another.
From US Vice President Joe Biden’s surprise in Ramat Shlomo, to Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s demise in Dubai, from the NPT conference in NY, to the flotilla fiasco in Gaza, the Israeli government has stumbled into one hole after another, and the pace seems to be accelerating.
It is now clear that if it weren’t for the Free Gaza flotilla, nobody official in Israel would now be talking about ways to ease the blockade on Gaza. If it weren’t for the massive attention that flotilla received, the EU would not be proposing a joint monitoring mechanism in Cyprus, or to have other international actors inspect Gaza-bound ships for weapons. The government of Turkey, the Islamist IHH, hundreds of individual activists – some armed with knives and clubs, others with cameras and Twitter accounts – a handful of back-bench members of parliament and one Nobel Prize-winner have managed to effectively bring Israeli policy over the Gaza Strip to an end. In the absence of forward-looking Israeli action, there is only damage control.
Nobody official will say this on the record, but the ban on non-military goods entering Gaza was a lever Israel used to pressure Gaza’s citizens to lean on Hamas to cough up Gilad Schalit. Banning coriander and pasta from Gaza is collective punishment and can’t be defended in international legal proceedings. Israel is in a state of armed conflict with the sovereign entity ruling the Gaza Strip, so a naval blockade to stop Hamas from arming itself is a legally defensible position. Now that we’ve been forced, due to external events, to reexamine policy on the Gaza blockade, that lever on Hamas to release Schalit will evaporate. Why has the Justice Ministry, or the MFA’s legal department, not proposed some formula to wage international legal war over Hamas’s holding of Schalit without visits by the Red Cross?
Now that Israel has been strong-armed into allowing almost all non-military goods to enter Gaza, it begs the question of what other policies our adversaries can bring their activism to. Nuclear ambiguity? The recent NPT conference in NY singled out Israel, not Iran, for censure. How did that happen? Did Israel take it for granted that America would vote down that resolution? Was the possible diplomatic fallout from an assassination in Dubai using passports from friendly countries taken into account? While Mabhouh was a valid target, will the booting of Mossad representatives out of England, Ireland and Australia have a debilitating effect on Israel’s external intelligence operations? And now the arrest of an alleged agent in Poland who may have been oblivious to the fact that German prosecutors had issued a Europe-wide warrant for his arrest.
If it weren’t for the way the government and army handled the Freedom Flotilla, Israel would have retained its (already wobbly) image as a regional superpower, a country that can clandestinely take out nuclear sites and assassinate terror masterminds at will. Instead, it now looks like the picture of one of its naval commandos held on the Mavi Marmara: bloodied, bewildered and alone, surrounded by enemies; and like that gutsy teenager in Los Angeles, protected by American cops from a crowd of angry protesters. Netanyahu is right when he says there is hypocrisy in the world, but his government is playing into it, time after time.
It is clear that our navy and intelligence brass failed to properlyprepare to stop the flotilla. Instead of a shock-and-awe operation bythe Shayetet (Flotilla 13), a unit we’re accustomedto never hearing about, the IDF launched a predictable assault thatrapidly got out of control. This will be investigated by formerNational Security Council head Giora Eiland’s committee. These thingshappen in military operations, and hopefully the lessons will belearned.
But with at least two months’ advance knowledge that the flotilla wascoming, a forward-looking government could have tried to take the windout of the its sails by initiating a discussion about an internationalmonitoring system for boats sailing to Gaza. Even if this were justtalk, the mere possibility, raised by Israel, to establish aninternational, cooperative monitoring system would already have paintedthe Free Gaza flotilla in a different light. Perhaps if Israel hadasked Dutch and German UNIFIL vessels to join its interception of theflotilla, things would have worked out differently. If Israeli leadersknew, as they did, that both Egypt and the Palestinian Authority wereboth secretly dead-set against lifting the blockade on Gaza, why didJerusalem not find ways to leverage this?
Unfortunately this kind of forethought and strategic planning is notcommon in these parts. This constantly repeating theme of failing tothink ahead, and to involve friendly countries – just as important, ifnot more so, than the legal, intelligence and logistical facets of theinterception – should also be the focus of an independentinvestigation. The committee, if it wanted to get serious, should shinea harsh light on the Foreign Ministry’s political research division,the septet, the National Security Council and other planning bodies. Itis these departments that are tasked with looking at global trendsIsrael needs to defend itself from or find opportunity in.