Despite the failings pointed out by the State Comptroller’s report on the 2014 Gaza war, Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to emerge unscathed.

An IDF officer is seen in a Hamas cross-border attack tunnel (photo credit: REUTERS)
An IDF officer is seen in a Hamas cross-border attack tunnel
(photo credit: REUTERS)
IT TOOK just 24 hours for the shock effect of the Comptroller’s Report on Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Gaza war, to dissipate.
The fact that the report’s shelf life expired so quickly was surprising even by Israeli standards where the public’s attention span is short-lived.
The only possible explanation is that the Israeli public has scandal fatigue.
State Comptroller Justice Joseph Shapira’s report, published February 28, found a litany of errors and poor decisions ‒ both at the government level led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the military level led by then chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz ‒ before and during the confrontation with Hamas.
The public’s lack of interest has led to the reasonable conclusion that the report will not damage Netanyahu’s already Teflon- coated image as he approaches his fourth mid-term as the unchallenged leader of Israel.
And yet, according to the report, there is one person who holds primary responsibility for the flaws laid out ‒ Netanyahu. The report says the prime minister, “despite the fact that he was well-versed in the tunnel threat and knew that it was defined as a central and even strategic threat at the end of 2013,” did not instruct the National Security Council and defense establishment “to present the tunnel threat to the cabinet in a clear and detailed manner.”
Netanyahu was like an analyst who dissected the situation and gave warnings but did not ensure that his words were followed up with the necessary actions. For example, the report criticized Netanyahu for hiding important intelligence from the cabinet, for not bringing the gravity of the tunnel threat before the cabinet nor devoting meetings to discuss diplomatic alternatives and strategic options to avoid confrontation, and only focused on military operational plans.
Nevertheless, it did not recommend that the prime minister personally be held to account.
Those who are liable to actually be hurt by the report bear far less responsibility than Netanyahu. They are the defense establishment brass at the time of the summer 2014 war: defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, Gantz, and the head of IDF Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Like Netanyahu, they were the subject of “criticism” by the Comptroller. According to the report, Ya’alon and Gantz, among other things, did not present to the cabinet “the trend of escalation” with Hamas or the fact that the IDF was not properly trained and prepared to deal with Hamas’s tunnel threat.
KOCHAVI WAS criticized for not presenting to the cabinet “significant information” ‒ referring to Hamas’s intention to attack Israeli territory through the tunnels. The report adds that Kochavi did not report that Military Intelligence suffered from an “intelligence gap,” meaning the information gathered on the tunnels was insufficient.
Ya’alon, Gantz and Kochavi may be hurt by the report, not for what they did or didn’t do before and during the war, but because of what they may want to do in the future.
Ya’alon wants to return to politics and lead the Israeli right-wing, rather than either Netanyahu, his successor at the Defense Ministry Avigdor Liberman or the head of Bayit Yehudi, Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Gantz, meanwhile, is considering entering politics with Yesh Atid or the Labor Party when the three-year moratorium on retiring IDF officials entering politics ends. Kochavi is a leading and worthy candidate to be the next IDF chief of staff in 2019, when current IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot is scheduled to end his tenure.
The Israeli army withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 as part of the “disengagement plan” initiated by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. Gaza, in fact, became an independent entity, especially after Hamas carried out a coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007 and took control.
This necessitated a change in the intelligence community, and direct contact between a case officer and agent became more difficult and complicated than it had been for the 40 years that Israel ruled over and was present on the ground in Gaza.
HOWEVER, IT took the Israeli intelligence community 10 years to adjust to this new reality, mainly because the Israeli government, due to political concerns, did not want to define Gaza as an “enemy state” or a “target state,” a move that would have allegedly been seen as recognition of a Hamas state. As a result, the proper division of labor among the various bodies of the intelligence-gathering community was not implemented.
The Gaza war report emphasized that, in order for the government and cabinet to make decisions, and particularly if they wish to make quality decisions, they must receive all the necessary information from the intelligence community.
According to the report, IDF Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) made a great effort to gather quality information but did not always present their findings before the security cabinet, or did not present the severity of the developing tunnel threat to the cabinet members in detail.”
The report also found that, despite the intelligence-gathering efforts, coverage of Gaza as a whole, and the tunnel threat specifically, was not complete and there were “intelligence gaps.” According to the Comptroller, while a shortage of intelligence can indeed occur, it is the responsibility of the heads of the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence, as well as the IDF chief of staff and defense minister, to inform the security cabinet of the shortcomings.
No less serious is the fact that Kochavi and then-Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen did not inform the security cabinet of a “concrete plan” to counter “significant enemy activity. This refers to the attack tunnels dug by Hamas that facilitated the infiltration of its operatives into Israeli territory during the war. The report recognized that Military Intelligence did not have specific information on the time of the infiltration, but said “the cabinet should have been informed of this.”
The report also revealed battles over prestige and ego, and arguments over authority and jurisdiction between Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet. The two organizations and their leaders did not fully cooperate, at times hid information from one another and were reluctant to take part in National Security Council discussions led by Yossi Cohen, who today serves as head of the Mossad.
The report, however, put to rest the fundamental disagreement that arose between Shin Bet chief Cohen and Gantz and Kochavi over a story on Channel 2’s investigative news program Uvda. In the television report, Shin Bet senior officials claimed they warned that a war was coming in the summer of 2014. After the broadcast, however, Cohen apologized to Gantz and Kochavi, who were angered by the claims.
According to the Comptroller, the IDF was right, and there was not a concrete warning that a war would break out in the summer because, in reality, the two sides did not want war and were dragged into it against their will, among other things.
Only when Eisenkot became IDF chief of staff in 2015 was the decision made to define Gaza as a “target state,” and at the urging of Kochavi and his successor as Military Intelligence chief, Gen. Herzi Halevi, a pact was agreed upon in November 2016.
THIS PACT, or “Magna Carta” in intelligence jargon, was put together by the Service Heads Committee, which is led by the Mossad chief and includes the chiefs of Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet. The pact defines the distribution of authority between the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence in all intelligence coverage of Gaza.
It can be assumed that the Shin Bet is responsible for Human Intelligence and that Military Intelligence uses its abilities in the technological intelligence field, including cyber warfare.
However, despite this pact, cooperation between the organizations is inefficient, and the old spirit of suspicion and territoriality still exists.
But what is buried in the report are a few sentences that should have left a major impression on the Israeli media or public: the fact that the war could have been prevented.
The report admitted that both sides – Hamas and Israel ‒ didn’t want a confrontation and, in the end were dragged into it against their self-interests.
The report cited Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the body that deals with the occupied West Bank and independent Gaza, who at the end of June 2014, weeks before the war broke out, warned that “the Gaza Strip is descending into crisis... which has reached an unprecedented point.”
In other words, it is possible that if government of Israel had understood the severity of the economic and humanitarian crisis in Gaza and acted accordingly, perhaps the war was preventable.
Even more worrying is the admission by Ya’alon on the third day of the war that it could have been prevented. Now, he accuses his arch rivals Liberman and Bennett of pushing the weak Netanyahu into a process of escalation that eventually resulted in the war which claimed the lives of 75 Israelis and 2,125 Palestinians.
One could ask Ya’alon, “Where were you at the time; why did you act so passively and let the IDF be dragged into the war?” After all, the post of defense minister is the second most important in the government.
Despite the Comptroller report, it is impossible to ignore the built-in paradox in Israel’s wars. The committees of inquiry and various reports from the Comptroller or other bodies criticize and censure both the military and political echelons, as it is their job to do. However, some of the wars with which these critics have found the most flaws actually brought Israel the best results strategically.
Peace with Egypt was achieved after the Yom Kippur War. Quiet has been kept on the Lebanese border for 11 years following the Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah in 2006. And Israel is currently experiencing the longest period of quiet on the Gaza front since 1968 ‒ this is because both Hamas and Israel don’t wish to be drawn into another round.
Ironically, it is now Liberman who is calling to show restraint, saying, “We have no intention of initiating military steps against Gaza.”
■ Yossi Melman is an Israeli security commentator and co-author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon.’ He blogs at and tweets at yossi_melman